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Sumire Hata, Athletics – Breaking the Japanese record in the long jump for the first time in 17 years. Aiming for the unknown realm of “over 7 meters,” she challenges her own limits.

2023.12.08

On July 14, 2023, the history of the Japanese track and field world was set in motion. Sumire Hata, competing in the women's long jump at the Asian Athletics Championships in Thailand, set a new Japanese record of 6m97cm. This is the first time in 17 years that she has achieved such a feat. Aiming to exceed 7m, which is an unknown field for a Japanese woman, she has a unique background in that she switched to long jump after becoming a working member of society. We interviewed this jumper about her approach to the record and her thoughts on the World Athletics Championships Tokyo 25.

Sumire Hata
Born in 1996 in Osaka. Women’s long jump Japanese record holder (6m97cm).
She started athletics in high school, where she competed in short distance and high jump, and then moved to long jump, which is still her main event from working adult. After graduating from Mukogawa Women’s University, she joined Shibata Kogyo Corporation in April 2019.
In 2019, she became a leader in the Japanese women’s long jump after her first win at the Japan Athletics Championships; in July 2023, she broke the Japanese record at the Asian Athletics Championships for the first time in 17 years.

 

Her admiration for high jump started with Shun Oguri-san.

–What made you start running track and field?

I was always good at running from childhood and was always first in athletic events. When I was in elementary school, I took up swimming as a lesson, and since there was no track and field team at junior high school, I joined the basketball team and thought about continuing in high school. However, I wanted to test myself to see how strong I was, so I started track and field.

–You were a sprinter when you started track and field and then switched to high jump. What was it that got you interested in it?

When I was in junior high school, I saw a TV drama in which Shun Oguri-san was a high jumper and he looked so cool that I always had a crush on him.(Note: “Hana Zakari no Kimitachi e – Ikemen♂ Paradise”) I wanted to try it even after I joined the track club, but I was expected to run and it was difficult to tell my advisor. But when I boldly said, “I want to try it,” he readily said, “You should try it,” so I started high jump (laughs).

Hata-san, who initially specialized in high jump, admired Shun Oguri-san in a TV drama.

— Since entering college, you have been challenging yourself in the long jump as well as the high jump.

My coach at the time said, “I think Hata is suited for the long jump”. Then, I thought, “Well, let’s practice”. I enjoyed it so much that I decided to try competing in competitions.

–Did you have any doubts about your decision to switch to long jump after that?

I was very hesitant, I think for about two years (laugh). High jump was my dream, so I couldn’t say “I quit” right away. Besides, my high jump record had been slipping since the latter half of college, and I didn’t want to give the impression that I had “given up” or “run away” if I quit now. However, it was also the year I graduated from university and started working, so I decided to focus on one of them if I wanted to compete in the world championships, so I decided to switch to long jump, which was going well.

Decided to switch to long jump to aim for the world (Photo from Seiko Golden Grand Prix Athletics 2019 Osaka)
©Getty Images for World Athletics

Moved to long jump; broke the Japanese record for the first time in 17 years

–You won the Japan Championships less than a year after you switched to the long jump.

It was a very emotional moment for me. I had been aiming to win the Japan Championships for a long time, and I recorded a personal best at that time, which gave me confidence that I could do well on such a big stage.

— This July at the Asian Athletics Championships, you broke the Japanese record for the first time in 17 years, 6m97cm, what was it like when you jumped?

At the moment I jumped, I had the feeling that if I had not fouled, I would have set the Japanese record for sure. When I didn’t jump well, I didn’t have a sense of rebound; I felt like I was losing to gravity, or that I jumped too far up. But when it went well, at the moment I stepped off, there was a sense of pushing each other with my foot and the rebound that came back, and then it popped. I had that feeling then, too.

–What do you think you need to do to break the 7m record for the first time as a Japanese woman?

I think it is necessary to raise the average. Even if I fail, if I can raise my average to a level where I can fly 6m70cm without fail, then, for example, if there is a tailwind or I am in good condition, I should be able to reach 7m. Rather than technical improvement, I think it is important to stabilize my current performance at a high level.

–You said, “It’s only 3 cm, but it’s only 3 cm”. It is an unknown world, so I imagine it is a difficult challenge to shorten it.

No Japanese woman athlete has ever jumped 7m, but the Asian record is 7m01cm, so I think it is a possible challenge for Asians, and I would like to break the Asian record as well. But there is still only one competition where I am close to 7m. My average is around 6m70cm, so I actually feel about 30cm.

Hata-san is 3cm away from becoming the first Japanese woman to reach 7m, but she says it still feels like “about 30cm”.

I want to jump in a packed National Stadium.

–I think that facing the records is synonymous with facing yourself. How do you face yourself on a daily basis?

I try to clear my mind as much as possible; I have a personality that if I think about one thing, I think about it forever (laughs). As soon as possible, I clarify why I am thinking the way I am thinking. Then my head is clear, and I don’t have to use my energy for the time to think about it. Recently, I frequently work on clearing my mind and my feelings.

–What exactly do you do?

It is analog, but I write down my feelings in a notebook. I think about many things, but in the end, there are sometimes only three reasons that are bothering my head. I try to make a “notebook in my head” by writing down as I go along, “In this case, I could have solved the problem if I had done this”. It also depends on the relationship, but I talk honestly about what I think to other people. This makes it easier for me to deal with them and I don’t have to take an attitude that I don’t like.

–You seem to have a stiff Achilles tendon, is that one of your strengths?

Yes, it is. One student do an experiment for his graduation thesis, and my results was four times higher than other subjects. The image is like having a thick rubber band in my leg. There is a big difference in power between stretching and snapping a normal rubber band and stretching and snapping a thick rubber band. In the long jump, the load of stepping off is very heavy, so I think all of it is returned to my body as a rebound without loss.

–The Paris 2024 Olympics will be held next year and the World Athletics Championships Tokyo 25 the year after. What are you aiming for?

I had a roadmap until this year’s World Athletics Championships, but it didn’t help me much, so I don’t have a specific goal in mind for Paris or Tokyo. As for Tokyo, I have set a Japanese record at the Asian Championships, and I have not been able to fly in front of my fans and parents, so I would like to aim for a record close to 7m.

–What are you looking forward to and what are your expectations for World Athletics Championships Tokyo 25?

I would like to see the National Stadium filled to capacity. There are many empty seats at track and field events held in Japan, so I really want to jump with a full house like I saw at the Budapest 2023 World Championships, with everyone cheering for me.

The packed view seen at the Budapest 2023 World Championships in Tokyo
©Getty Images for World Athletics

Usually I’m cautious, but I buy cars instantly.

–Please tell us about your personal side. What do you do when you are off duty?

Basically, I have one day off, so rather than going out somewhere, I just hang out at home reading manga (laughs). I also go shopping if I feel like it. During the off-season, I try to take a long vacation, so I go on trips with friends or go for long drives.

–I also saw a photo of your car on Instagram!

Yes, I did. When I decided to buy a car, I thought that the prettier the car is, the better I feel about myself, so I bought the Fiat of my dreams. I had been thinking about a Fiat if I were going to buy one for a while, but when I went to the showroom without any intention of buying one at the time, I thought, “I’m definitely getting this one already” (laughs). I decided on the spot.

Her favorite car, “Fiat”. She says she is usually cautious but bought it on the spot.

–Do you often make quick decisions elsewhere?

No, I’m more the type of person who worries. When I come across an item of clothing that I like, I put it on hold for the time being, and if I still want it after I cool down, I go out and buy it. I don’t often make a quick decision, especially when it comes to expensive purchases, but when it comes to cars, I just think, “I probably can’t afford anything else,” and I’ve made my decision.

 

The words of “Haikyu!!” make me cry!

–What kind of manga do you usually read?

Shonen manga such as ” Jujutsu Kaisen” and “Haikyu!!”. I did not read them for a long time, but when I was in the Corona disaster and had nothing to do, I thought, “Let’s read manga,” so I went out and bought some. Then I got hooked on shonen manga (laughs). Sometimes I can imagine that even if they lose here, they will win the next game, and that’s what moves me. Before a game where I want to get a result, I read them thinking, “These words give me energy” (laughs).

–Do you have a favorite manga or a favorite scene that cheers you up?

For example, in “Haikyu!!”, Karasuno High School plays Aoba Josai High School and Karasuno High School wins, but there is a scene where Mr. Oikawa (Toru) of Aoba Josai, who loses, says, “Talent is something that blooms, and sense is something that is polished,” which makes me cry a lot. They are all wise words!

 

Some things you just don’t know unless you’re there.

–Do you sometimes get energy from music?

The lyrics of Masaki Suda’s “Longhope Philia” are what cheer me up. I interpret the lyrics as meaning that there are times when you have to sink in order to achieve good results, just like in sports. Before a game, I tend to listen to rhythms and things that give me momentum rather than lyrics; I have a “Ganbare Sumi Suzu Playlist” on Apple Music, and I put in a lot of music (laughs). Recently, I’ve been listening to “Kesera-sera” by Mrs. GREEN APPLE a lot.

–What has moved you the most recently?

I went to Shirakawa-go on a trip during the off-season. The weather was so nice and the contrast of blue and green was amazing. I always take pictures with my phone, but they are never as beautiful as what I actually saw, and I was cleansed by the thought that there is nothing more beautiful than what you see. You have to be there to understand some things.

–Lastly, could you give a message to your fans?

I think it is difficult to watch track and field events on site because there are many different events going on at the same time. However, that makes it possible to see a variety of events.
I hope you will be able to see the super athletes from all over the world at the World Championships, and I hope that seeing the athletes happy will give you a chance to feel something. I myself will do my best to produce results and make everyone happy!
I will be waiting for you at the National Stadium!

X:@suuum1r
Instagram:sumiiiiire0

text by Moritaka Ohashi
photographs by Kiyoshi Sakamoto

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