An emotional Koji Murofushi celebrates winning gold in the Hammer Throw (Getty Images) © Copyright
General News Daegu, Korea

One decade after first medal, Murofushi claims gold

While some athletes claim to be students of the game, Japanese hammer thrower Koji Murofushi actually holds a doctorate degree. He and his coach certainly came up with a winning formula to earn his first World gold medal on Monday night.

Following a painstakingly planned program leading up to the IAAF World Championships, Murofushi peaked at just the right time – including his lone throw in the qualifying round, he threw season's bests on four consecutive throws.

In the final, Murofushi matched his third throw of 81.24m with his fifth attempt, and when that mark held up when Hungary's Krisztian Pars uncorked a throw of 81.18m on his last attempt, he had his elusive gold medal.

"Of course I was trying to peak for this meet and I'm so happy to make it happen," said Murofushi, who completed a collection of each World Championships medal, adding to the silver he won in 2001 and bronze from 2003. "I'm so happy we had a good competition."

Murofushi's victory, at 36 years 325 days, made him the oldest world hammer champion in history, surpassing the legendary Yuriy Sedykh, who was 36 years 75 days when he triumphed in Tokyo in 1991.

As impressive as the string of seasonal bests might sound, Murofushi himself noted he had only competed twice this season before coming to Daegu.

He opened the season in May by finishing second to Pars at the Golden Grand Prix in Kawasaki, outside of Tokyo, with a 78.10m effort. The next month, he extended his own record of national titles to 17 straight with a winning toss of 77.01m. (His father had held the previous record of 12 consecutive crowns.)

Murofushi, who has recovered from back problems that plagued him after winning the 2004 Olympic gold in Athens, chalks up his longevity to his relationship with Swedish coach Tore Gustafsson.

Gustafsson joined the Murofushi team five years ago, basically taking over the coaching duties from Murofushi's father Shigenobu, a former Asian hammer champion and Olympian himself who was dubbed 'The Ironman of Asia'.

"We've been working for five years," Murofushi said of Gustafsson. "I don't want to bring up age, but when you get older, it's hard to keep your body in condition.

"So besides the training, I always have to do recovery [such as] massage. So he's one of my supporters. He was also a hammer thrower, so he knows how to look at technique. As a therapist he's a great person."

Gustafsson marvels at Murofushi's discipline and drive to succeed.

"He's a perfectionist," Gustafsson said. "I think it comes from his father's side. He's spent a long time training with his father and he passed everything on to his son. It's very Japanese in many ways.

"Since I've been involved with it, we've kind of continued with this. We had training camps for several weeks [in San Jose, California] leading up to this and every training that we've done has been planned. Every thing we've done has been exactly like that, so there haven't been any alterations in the program. The set up for this competition was perfect."

To say that Murofushi was bred for success might be an understatement as his mother was a Romanian javelin thrower. And the genes didn't stop with him – younger sister Yuka holds the Japanese records in the discus and hammer. His parents divorced years ago.

While Gustafsson has helped him extend his career – the 2012 London Olympics are firmly in sight – Murofushi adamantly credits his father for molding him into the athlete he is today. From the time that Murofushi began throwing the hammer as a schoolboy, Shigenobu has filmed and analysed every single training session and competition.

"Of course, if my father wasn't there, I wouldn't be here today," he said. "He's a big influence for me, as a father and as an Olympian. He made so much effort to bring me to today. So once again I'd like to say thank you."

As one of Japan's biggest stars in any sport – he does commercials for FedEx and a beer company – Murofushi has also shown both intellectual and compassionate sides away from the track.

Taking the time in a non-championship year in 2006, Murofushi worked on a doctorate degree in biomechanics at Nagoya's Chukyo University, which he completed in early 2007. His thesis: “A Biomechanical Analysis of Acceleration of the Hammer Head".

Like everyone around the world, Murofushi was deeply affected by the massive earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan's northeast Tohoku region on 11 March, which left more than 20,000 dead or missing and hundreds of thousands homeless.

As one of many charitable activities to aid the victims, Murofushi, his sister and several other Mizuno athletes visited a junior high school in one of the hardest-hit areas in June, hoping to lift the spirits of students facing an uncertain future.

At a recent Olympic Council of Asia forum held in Tokyo, Murofushi related how talking with the students and putting on a demonstration seemed to have little effect. Then the athletes decided to run a relay race together with them, and during the "competition", the school ground was filled with laughter and smiles as they cheered each other on.

"I experienced something amazing," said Murofushi. "How sport can bring people out of despair, bring us together. When everything else seems to divide us, sport is the one thing that unites us."

Before starting on his victory lap on Monday night, Murofushi was briefly joined on the track by Gustafsson holding a special Japanese flag inscribed with messages of support from that same Ishinomaki Junior High School.

"It's easy to forget the disaster is not over, even though we don't see it on TV so much these days," said Murofushi.

"It's been difficult for him this year," added Gustafsson. "I think that's why the gold medal means so much."

Ken Marantz for the IAAF