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Officer Shibata Takes Step Toward Olympic Dream With Breakthrough Win at Osaka Half

translated by Brett Larner

At the Jan. 29 Osaka Half Marathon, Osaka Prefecture police officer Shunsaku Shibata, 23, won the men's division in a course record 1:03:05.  Breaking his PB by more than 3 minutes, Shibata now turns his attention to making his marathon debut.  Interviewed after the race he expressed a strong desire "to make the Tokyo Olympics."

Shibata graduated from Hotoku H.S. and Senshu University, enrolling with the police in April, 2015.  After studying at the Police Academy and undergoing training at the Miyoshima Police Station he was assigned to the Riot Police Company #1 in October last year.  Shibata had run long distance seriously since high school and his third year of university he had the chance to realize his dream of running the Hakone Ekiden, but shortly before the race he strained a ligament and was cut from the team.  Even as a police officer he felt that he "wanted to keep running competitively," and in July last year he joined the police track and field team.  For the first time since university he resumed full-on training, ramping up his monthly mileage to 800~900 km.

The Osaka Half Marathon was his competitive debut for the Police Department.  Amid top-level corporate league competitors who had run as fast as 1:01 for the half marathon, Shibata's best was only 1:06:12 dating back to his university days.  Even so, as he stood on the starting line in Osaka Castle Park, Shibata said, "I was feeling good and had nothing to worry about."  From the side of the course Police Department head coach Naoki Kirikuri repeatedly called out to him to "stay in the race," so Shibata fought to hold on to the lead group.

With 5 km to go he was still there, and, he said, "Starting to think about when to make a break for it was both fun and stressful."  Shibata waited until just before the entrance to Nagai Stadium and the finish line to make his move, kicking away from those behind him to break the tape in 1st, shouting "Aw yeah!" almost by instinct.  Analyzing his winning run post-race he said, "Well, if you're even just 1 second faster than 2nd place then it's a success.  Coach told me to find my competitiveness and to take control of the situation myself, and I was able to put that into play."

Shibata plans to improve his speed on the track and then to tackle the marathon.  With a three-minute improvement to his PB off just a half year's worth of training coach Kirikuri was full of hope for Shibata, saying, "He still has plenty of headroom."  With polite words Shibata was also optimistic, saying, "Step by step, I want to get ready for the marathon.  Someday I will be Japan's top marathoner and run in the Olympics."  A new 'civil servant runner' may be on the way.


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