Making a 4th consecutive appearance at the Olympics through the support of family
ATHLETE MANIFESTO Vol.2 Hirokatsu Tayama
I just managed to get into a fourth consecutive Olympics.
What were your thoughts when you decided to enter the final race that actually could qualify you to get into the Rio de Janeiro 2016 Olympics?
Well, it had then come to the point where the only way I could get into the Olympics was to win the Asian Championship Race. I went to that race resigning myself to the fact that if I failed in this last chance, it was not meant for me to be in another Olympics. As it turned out, I was able to have the race I imagined I could. I owed that great success to my not giving up on myself, and to the support I got from many people. I had a great feeling of accomplishment when I realized I had done it.
What is your condition now?
It’s a month and a half until the Olympics, and at our camp to get me strengthened up I’m building a body that will perform well in all three races of the triathlon.
Unlike the previous Olympics, you are the only Japanese male entry. How do you feel about that?
I feel disappointed, but at this final camp I am training with the guys who went with me to the London 2012 Olympics and the Beijing 2008 Olympics, and we are still very much a team struggling together to get into condition. My teammates are giving me the push I need before competing in this Olympics, so it is not as one person but rather as part of Team Japan that I am heading for Rio. I feel much stronger in spirit thanks to them.
The support of my family gave me the power to get into this Olympics.
This is your first Olympics since creating a family of your own. Have you changed as a person?
My daughter is going to be two, and no matter how tired I am when I come home, when I see her smiling face as she comes to me and says “Papa! Welcome home!” my fatigue seems to disappear. I feel that I have to do my best as well, for the sake of my family. She is an enormous presence in my life.
Your wife was an athlete. Is her understanding of your struggle a help for you?
Yes, she used to be an athlete. After I finish a triathlon, she doesn’t ask about pain in my legs at all. She knows that if someone did ask “Tayama, how are your legs?” when my legs were really hurting, I wouldn’t be able to tell him that. It is out of considerateness that she doesn’t ask “How does it hurt?” even when I'm putting plasters on my legs or massaging them. Instead, she changes the topic of conversation to something pleasant like our daughter. That’s how she supports me.
Tayama is best at swimming
Tell us the special appeal of the triathlon for viewers.
Let me start with swimming. It is different from swimming competitions in that there is no lane for each athlete. There are no ropes along the course where 50 people are swimming. We all swim toward a buoy, and so we bump into each other. It is interesting to see one swimmer start to lag behind or catch up with the leaders. In the cycling portion, we are separated into groups, a lead group and a second group. There are several nationalities within each group, but we are able to understand each other. Teamwork is born, and everyone in the group will come to agree that “We must pull away from the other group” or “We must catch up with the other group”. There are moments when countries are not competing with each other; this is a very appealing feature of this sport. In the run, we all test how much strength we can squeeze out of ourselves in these last ten kilometers. Our overall results are decided here, and various strategies are employed to finish higher. It’s interesting to watch these strategies being executed.
What got you started competing in triathlons?
I have been swimming since I was three, and in school I was on the swim team until my senior year in high school. In addition, in my junior year in high school, the school cross country relay (ekiden) team didn’t have enough members, and the cross country coach told me “Tayama, you’re running one leg.” After making a decent run, I was told “You can swim and you can run. If you learn to cycle you can do a triathlon.” In my senior year, the triathlon was made an Olympic event and was written about in the newspapers. I was impressed that these athletes run in their swimwear, and write ID numbers on their arms and legs before racing. Finally that coach told me “You swim and your running is getting faster little by little. If you start cycling you can go to the Olympics!” That’s how I ended up doing this. (laughter)
I have never thought I was tired doing a triathlon.
You have done triathlons for Japan for many years now. Are you worried about damage to your body?
Let me tell you, in all the triathlons I have done, I have never thought I was tired. I have struggled with leg pain and injuries, but I have absolutely never thought about quitting because of how hard this sport is. On the contrary, I often think how much fun this sport is. The combination of various types of swims, cycling courses, and runs we do make even the practices fun.
In your daily life are there things you are careful about?
I don’t wear sandals. I have to protect my toe nails and I can’t let my Achilles tendon get cold, so I take care to keep warm from the feet up. In the summer, sandals are fashionable; I want to start wearing them after I retire. (laughter)
I’ve learned that you must never give up.
Why do you think you have been able to stay at the top level in this sport for so long?
In the London 2012 Olympics and this time as well, the words “You cannot give up” have been my support. After being told “Tayama, you can’t compete in Olympics anymore,” I continued to believe that even if there was just a one percent possibility, I would manage somehow to get in the Olympics again. No matter what the result of one competition is, that effort will lead to a chance for success in the future. From my participation in many triathlons, I have learned that I must never give up.
Hirokatsu Tayama in 2020
You now are guiding young athletes. What are your expectations for them in the Tokyo 2020 Olympics?
I tell the students I am instructing, “You have nothing to lose, so put everything you have into this race.” If they try to do better, to put out more effort than they ever have before, they are certain to find untapped potential. That’s why they must not play it safe in a race. I am always saying this to them. I want them to feel aggressive, to attack without fear.
You will be 39 in 2020. Do you want to compete in the Tokyo Olympics?
I am close to having that desire. (laughter) But when I stand at the starting line in the Rio de Janeiro 2016 Olympics, I want to think, “I’ve had a good career.” I’m making preparations for having this be my final race.My dream as an instructor is to have a successor who tells me “It’s all right for you to quit now,” and who says some kind words about me when I am gone. My greatest hope is that the athletes I am guiding compete in the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. I have no hopes beyond that.