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Yuma Yamamoto, Athletics – “I found a reason to work hard”, taking one more step forward with my late mother’s thoughts in my heart.

2024.04.09

“To be honest, athletics wasn’t the best at that time“ Yuma Yamamoto, who competed in the women's 5,000m at the World Athletics Championships Budapest 23, has a history of taking a break from athletics in her second year of college. However, feeling frustrated by the success of her peers and touched by the thoughts of her late mother, she regained her passion for competition. She has a different character from previous athletes. The athletics hope, loved by many fans, is now on a solid growth curve.

Yuma Yamamoto
Born in 2000 in Aichi Prefecture. Women’s middle- and long-distance runner

At Hikarigaoka Girl’s High school, she participated in the Inter-High School Athletics Championships in the 800m, 1500m, and 3000m, and contributed to the Aichi Prefecture team’s victory in the National Women’s Ekiden Road Relay Race. She attended Meijo University where she became one of the top runners in Japan by winning sectional prizes in both the All-Japan University Women’s Ekiden and the University Women’s Selected Ekiden. In her senior year, she won the 5000m at the Japan Intercollegiate Championships for the first time, and also won the Japan Games with a new record of 15:16.71, the second best ever by a Japanese student (and the first ever by a Japanese), ahead of Ririka Hironaka, who was the Japanese record holder at the time and was as old as Yuma.

She has been a member of Sekisui Chemical CO., LTD. since April 2023. In her first year with the team, she became the first Japanese female athlete to win the 5000m at the Asian Games in July, and also competed in the World Athletics Championships Budapest 23 in the same event. As an athletic athletes of the new era, she won first place in the “Best Performance Award” in the top athletes category of the JAAF Fan Vote 2023, beating out a number of other athletes.

 

 

“I’ve grown so much”

――How did you get started in athletics?

When I was in elementary school, I played basketball in the youth basketball team. But my junior high school basketball team was not very strong, and the athletics team was very strong. I had won first place in every elementary school marathon, and my parents suggested that I might shine more in individual sports, so I decided to join the track and field team.

――Were you good at middle-distance running when you started athletics?

I started 800m at the beginning of junior high school and switched to 1500m and 3000m when I reached the third grade. I also did 800m until my second year of high school, and was able to participate in the Inter-High School Championships. I also trained for long distance during winter season, so I was able to combine the strength I developed there with my 800m speed, and I became good at 1500m and 3000m.

Yamamoto speaks cheerfully from start to finish
Participated in inter-high school competition during high school

――During your four years at Meijo University, you won the All Japan Women’s Ekiden and the Mt. Fuji Women’s Ekiden. During which period did you feel you grew the most?

I competed in the 5000m at the “Golden Games in Nobeoka” in May of my senior year of college, and at that time, I shaved about 10 seconds off my time and ran 15:23.30. At that time, I felt that I had grown so much. There were many fast foreign runners in that race, and my coach told me, “Let’s follow them as far as we can. I was running at an excessive pace for the entire race, but surprisingly I was able to hold on until the end and finish ahead of the foreign runners. But I think I was able to do so because of the confidence I gained from winning a sectional prize at the All Japan University Women’s Ekiden, the race before that.

She won the All Japan Women’s Ekiden and Mr. Fuji Women’s Ekiden
for four consecutive years
*Courtesy of Yuma Yamamoto

Becoming a normal college student. Two reasons to start running again.

――What were some of the turning points in your athlete life?

I took a break from athletics during my sophomore year of college. Before and after I left, my life in athletics was completely different. In high school, I was not a fast athlete, so I never thought I could enter Meijo University, the strongest university in Japan. When I finally joined the team, practice was really tough and dormitory life, which I was not used to, was also very hard. Even when my friends asked me to hang out, I was the only one who could not go every time because of practice. Then it seems that a life where I earned my own money, got dressed up and went out to have fun seemed so sparkling. When I went to the coming-of-age ceremony, there were a lot of people like that around me… After that, I went to my coach and said, “I want to play, and I want to be a normal college student”.

Taking a break from athletics during her sophomore year
That was a turning point in her athletic life

――What made you decide to return to the team from that situation?

One was when I saw the news that Yuna Arai and Narumi Kobayashi, who are as old as me, had been chosen to represent Japan at the Universiade, and I thought it was amazing. I was playing around and not running at all, but they worked hard and grabbed the ticket to represent Japan. I was inspired by that, and to be honest, I felt frustrated. The other thing I heard about my mother was from my sister. My mother passed away when I was very young, and this was the first time I heard her story clearly. She loved sports and was a very good swimmer. She also had a spinal cord disorder and lived with a wheelchair. She gave birth to me in stead of her advanced age. At the end of that talk, my sister told me that she wanted Yuma-chan to enjoy the sports that her mother liked to play instead. My mother had given me such a healthy body, and I thought I had to take advantage of it. So I decided to return to athletics.

――What was the biggest change in your life since returning to competition?

Most importantly, I found a reason to work hard. To be honest, athletics wasn’t the best thing for me, but now it is the best. Of course, I also have time to play. Of course, I also have time to play. I run properly and play well. This is the right approach for me, and I intend to get faster with it.

Hearing my sister tell me about my late mother
“gave me a reason to work hard.”
*Courtesy of Yuma Yamamoto

Actually, I’m sensitive. Learning to make a positive change.

――It was your first year in the company team in 2023, and you became the first Japanese female athlete to win the 5000m at the Asian Games in July. Also you competed at the World Athletics Championships Budapest 23.

When I started competing in international competitions, I realized that the hardest part is getting to the starting line. I didn’t realize how difficult it would be to get myself into the best shape possible with the time difference, food, and lack of surroundings… I almost got heat stroke due to the high temperature and humidity in Thailand, and I got a stomach ache because the water did not agree with me in Hungary. Nevertheless I have gotten used to it after participating in a few competitions. At first I was frightened of people speaking to me in English, but now I am used to it and can speak to them! Now I have the mentality that even if the environment is bad, I can say, “Oh well. It’s OK”.

――I think that facing records on a daily basis is synonymous with facing yourself. Is there anything you are conscious of in your daily life?

There was a monthly training for new employees, and we learned how to think positively about things. That’s where I learned about “reframing”. (note: Psychological term for changing the framework of things, events, and situations so that we can have a different perspective)For example, even if it is windy and I find it hard to run today, I might find that contrary to the strong wind, the better my practice will be. In other words, I make it a habit to spend time with a positive outlook on everything. With that way, no matter how many uncertain situations I find myself in at a race, I will be able to replace them with positive ones. I will continue to practice this more and more.

Spend time with a positive outlook on everything
There were many positive words during the interview

――That is a good habit. I get the feeling that you leave a positive impression from this interview, but do you sometimes think negatively?

Maybe not so much negative, but of course I am anxious about the races, and there are times when I don’t want to run. But now, I am able to run with a positive mindset to enjoy the race. I also get nervous, and I’m sensitive in this way!

――Oh, I’m sorry about that.

 

Going to the finalWatching it live

――What kind of stage is World Athletics Championships for you?

Although I was disappointed with the poor results, having stood on stage in World Athletics Championships Budapest 23 was like a dream. It was so sparkling and powerful all around. It was a great experience to be able to run in that space, and I also realized how weak I was for not being able to run properly there. The experience and memories of that time are the reason why I can do my best now. World Athletics Championships was totally different from other competitions.

――You are now representing Japan and competing against the world. How do you feel about wearing the Japanese flag?

Now I am seriously aiming for Paris 2024. At Budapest, I honestly thought, “am I allowed to run for Japan?”, but then I became confident and thought, “I’m going to run for Japan”. Next time, I want to win the Japan Athletics Championships in June and be selected for the national team so that I can say, “I won it by myself”.

I also made friends with Sumire Hata, a long jumper who has been featured on this website before, as well as athletes from various other disciplines in Japan national team. These athletes are still working hard for the Olympics, and I want to compete at a high level and make the national team together. That feeling is getting stronger every day!

The experience of World Athletics Championships has increased her level of awareness

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

My goal is to make it to the finals in the 5000m. I need to surpass myself now and become one step stronger. I am excited to see what kind of athlete I can become at that time.

What I’m looking forward to is recently getting into watching videos on TikTok and Instagram of foreign tourists being amazed at the wonders of Japan! They eat sushi and say it tastes good, or that it is clean with not a single piece of garbage on the floor, or that the Japanese are polite… I love to see videos of people feeling Japan and being amazed! Don’t you think we are happy if foreign athletes and tourists coming to Japan were impressed by the food and the well-equipped environment? I am looking forward to that, and I hope I will be able to see it in the real world.

 

You can be fashionable and have fun.

――Please tell us about your personal life, Yamamoto-san. How do you usually spend your days off?

I travel quite a bit. My recent trips have been to Gifu, Fukuoka, and Ibaraki. In Gifu, I went glamping, ate Hida beef, looked at the stars, and visited a waterfall! In Fukuoka, I spent time surrounded by nature, and I’ve been a nature person lately. I also did some fishing in Ibaraki.

――Do you often go fishing?

I am still a beginner, but there are people around me who like fishing, so I was influenced by them and bought a fishing rod. I also went to Enoshima, and at the training camp in Miyazaki (where I went just before this interview), the hotel I was staying was right in front of the ocean, so I did it during breaks.

Fishing is my latest addiction
When she has time during training camp!
*Courtesy of Yuma Yamamoto

――What do you enjoy about fishing?

It is interesting just to hear about the points where you can catch fish, saying, “You can catch fish in these places.” I was like, “What? I didn’t know they were in such rocky crevices. I was surprised to find that you can catch a fish using salted squid as bait. There were days when I couldn’t catch anything at all, but the sunrise was beautiful, and it was fun just to see that. When we didn’t catch any, we bought a lot of fish at the market and roasted them on a Shichirin (a Japanese charcoal grill).

――When I look at your social networking sites, I see a lot of photos with a great atmosphere.

I like to dress up and do it actively, but there are not many athletes who upload such things on their SNS. My SNS is seen by long-distance athletes and middle and high school students, and I hope to convey to them that you can enjoy being fashionable.
If you are competing, you may think that you are not allowed to play even on your days off. I enjoy fashion as well as running, and lately I’ve been getting a lot of questions from fans like, “How do you do your makeup?” Where do you buy your clothes?” Fashion is one of the ways to enjoy your life, and I am very happy to be asked positively. I hope that more girls will enjoy fashion and gain confidence through my posts on SNS.

Many ordinary “Yuma Yamamoto” posts on her SNS
Her character was loved by many followers and was voted No. 1 by the JAAF fans
 *Courtesy of Yuma Yamamoto

Every day I think, ‘I don’t care if I die’

――I have heard that you admire the actress Masami Nagasawa, but what made you like her?

I never miss to watch any movie or drama that Masami Nagasawa is in, and I always feel comforted by her! Ever since I watched her drama called “Operation Love” when I was in junior high school, I have always admired her. I also felt that my older sister was a bit like her. My sister is 10 years older than me, but she is also very lovely! Her name is Yuri Yamamoto, and she is a startup community manager in Nagoya, Japan. She also gives workshops, and many people say to me, “I worked with Yuri-san the other day”. She is a career woman and I respect her very much.

――You also seem to like ONE OK ROCK (called One-Oku), how did you get into it?

I used to listen to music recommended by others, but I fell in love with One-Oku on my own. I happened to hear them on a TV commercial, and the moment I heard it, I thought, “that’s really cool”. That’s how I fell in love with them all at once. All of the songs are my favorite and I always listen to them before races and have been to many live concerts!

――What is your favorite song out of all?

I think “Kimishidai Ressha”. I love the tune and the lyrics. It’s a song about making every day count, and I really like the phrases “my past self is the foundation of my present” and “Thinking more than whatever, I’ll die this way because I foolishly live on”. I wish I could live my life to the fullest so that every day I would think, ‘I don’t care if I die’.

At ONE OK ROCK live concert
Loves it so much to always listen to it before a race!
*Courtesy of Yuma Yamamoto

I want that person to call me Yuma-chan someday.

――Other than yourself, who would you recommend as a player?

I’m a little excited! My best recommendation is Satoken-san (Kentaro Sato), who was also featured on this website! I have been a huge fan of him for a long time and was really happy to be in the same national team with him! And also Julian-san (Walsh Julien). I love these two guys!

――Have you talked to them?

I talked to Satoken-san like “can you take a photo with me?” or “I wish good luck in the race”. Basically, one rally. I have not talked to him that much. Two rallies are impossible. When I was having dinner with other female runners, they pushed me out of the way and said, “Yuma-chan, you can go now”. And I forcibly approached him and said “good luck”, and run away. I really like his sincerity and lack of treats. He is humble even when he sets records, he has a very cool way of running, and he is very sweet to talk to! Right now he calls me “Yamamoto-san”, but someday I would like to be called “Yuma-chan”. I will do my best to be properly recognized by him!

Aiming for 2 rallies!
Supporting her fave is tips for a good life?

――I guess the reason why you like them is that they are “cool and personable”?

That’s not all! I was into 400m for a while. In fact, 400m is really tough, isn’t it? Watching that race motivated me to practice harder. Watching the athletes run that hard made me run very well, too. I saw how he swung his arms and how he pushed himself to run the last 100 meters, and when I imagined that in my point practice, I ran really good. That’s how I like 400m, especially Satoken’s and Julian’s running. I like them very much.

――So, shall we consider an interview with Sato-san and you before World Athletics Championships Tokyo 25?

Really? I would love to!

――Sure. Finally, please give a message to our readers who are looking forward to World Athletics Championships Tokyo 25!

I want people in Japan who were unable to watch Tokyo 2020 at the venue to experience how much fun it is to watch live athletics competitions. I am also a genuine athletics fan, so I would like to see many events other than long distance, and of course the atmosphere and cheers at the venue. I think there are not so many opportunities to see top international athletes together. Whether you are an athletics fan or not, I hope you will come to the venue at least once and experience the dream stage of the World Athletics Championships with us!

X:@ yy_oneok69
Instagram:_yuma0501

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