© Keita Yasukawa
The restrictions in sport are the rules. In hammer throw in particular, from the size of the circle to the opening range of throwing cage, —all of these are pre-set. A hammer thrower then goes through a continuous process of trial and error in determining what can be accomplished within those restrictions through training. In doing so, the thrower is seeking an answer to the question: “How can I throw the hammer as far as possible?”
If such restrictions called “rules” did not exist, some athletes would probably get away from the true joy of sport, which is repeatedly thinking and striving to perform better. Because of rules, we athletes can feel enjoyment in pursuing the essence of sport and experience the excitement of going toe to toe with one’s rivals.
A Japanese literature professor whom I particularly respect often says, “Beauty is born by applying restrictions”. I feel the same way. Beauty in sport is important, and I too believe that beauty emerges out of restrictions and rules.
The 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games was the first Olympic Games I experienced in person. I remember the crowd being all revved up and excited as if it itself were a living thing, and the cheering filling the stadium like a thunder. I told myself I wanted to compete one day on a stage like this, but I was still only 9 years old and it was only a vague aspiration at that time.
The turning point in my life came when I entered Narita High School. Athletically, not only was I respected there for my unique qualities, but I also received a great deal of stimulation from a variety of people like the world champion in hammer throw at that time, and trained together.
In addition, under the supervision of the track and field coach, I lived in a dorm and learned that it’s not enough only to achieve good performance results. Athletes are members of society as well and I learned there are other important things to be observed in order to live as part of society.
What I learned at Narita High School is still very much with me today, and I am grateful for the invaluable assistance I received from my Olympian father and my coach.
© Julian Finney/gettyimages
For me, what is fun and fulfilling about hammer throw is discovering new techniques that work specifically for me and then generating real results with them. To go a bit further than that, you could say I enjoy defying conventional wisdom.
I have been able to consistently throw over 80 meters weighing only in 90 kilogram range, even though many people involved in hammer had believed that it would be impossible to throw over 80 meters if you didn’t weigh more than 100 kilogram. Achieving what people say can’t be done is really the ultimate excitement for me, and perhaps this is the true joy of sport.
Growing as a person and as an athlete, pursuing your limits—these are also what make sport fun and interesting. So to compete in a sport just to set a record or win a gold medal is not, I think, all that interesting; you miss out on what it’s really all about.
Achievement in competitions, which place you get to, is of course important. But a winning throw is not necessarily your “best performance.” The sense of fulfilment that comes from having performed as well as you possibly could and your place in the competition doesn’t always match up. This itself may be why we do our best to achieve our peak performance, which can lead to ideal results.
© Keita Yasukawa
I think “perfection” in sport has strong shades of artistic meaning. We should always be striving for perfection in ourselves as long as we are athletes. “Doing your best” and “striving for perfection” though are two different things; doing your best differs at different times. My current best, for example, is very different from when I was in high school. However, unless you pursue your best, you won’t get anything; nothing of value will return to you. And somewhere beyond that perhaps may be perfection.
To get close to perfection, the vector of efforts is crucial. For me, my coach and those who have an objective eye are invaluable, preventing my passion and efforts from going off track.
In the future I want to be the one with an ‘objective eye’ in the role of observing and advising people who pursue perfection. I myself was able to grow with the help and support of the people around me, and I believe providing the same support for the next generation of athletes is my responsibility.
© Keita Yasukawa
Beauty is bred of rules and restrictions. For example, taking a drug that would be perfectly legal for a regular member of the public may be considered doping if taken by an athlete without following the proper procedures; it could imperil that person’s athletic life and subject them to harsh public criticism. It is possible that the person would not only lose their status as an athlete but also their social credibility as well. To draw out your own potential to the maximum extent without in any way being involved in improper activities is the pride of an athlete. It is from this that “beauty” is born.
Through the pursuit of beauty in sport, I can now face myself directly and feel that I have grown as an athlete and as a person.
The next mission of the “truth” inside me is to establish an environment where a large number of young people can experience the joy of sport and achieve their own growth as individuals through sport.
The Olympics and Paralympics are set to be held in Tokyo in 2020. I would like to take this opportunity to assist athletes in achieving pride in themselves through sport and, from where beauty is bred, I would like to contribute to raising the value of sport in society.
At age 15 Koji Murofushi attended Narita High School and trained under its renowned coach the late Tsuguo Takita. After gaining experience in a variety of events, he began the hammer throw under the rigorous instruction of his father, Shigenobu Murofushi.
At the 2004 Athens Olympic Games, he became the first Japanese hammer thrower to win an Olympic gold medal. And, at the 2011 IAAF World Championships in Daegu, he won the gold medal and became the oldest ever men’s world champion. He is also the first Japanese athlete to win gold medals at both the World Track and Field Championships and the Olympics.
He was the Sport Director for the Tokyo Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games. In October 2020, he was appointed as the Commissioner of Japan Sports Agency and is proactively disseminating the values of sport globally.