KOJI MUROFUSHI: JAPAN’S OLYMPIC GOLD-MEDAL WINNING HAMMER THROWER

KOJI MUROFUSHI

Koji Murofushi won the gold medal at the Olympics in Athens in 2004. He placed second in the competition behind Hungarian Adrian Annus but was awarded the gold after Annus failed to show up for a second drug test (he passed the first one but it was believed that the sample were tampered with or from another person). A team from the I.O.C. that was sent to Hungary to take the sample from Annus could not find him. When the IOC team went to Annus’s house they needed a police escort after being threatened by some of Annus’s neighbors. Annus refused to give up his gold medal. A new one was presented to Murofushi. Murofushi’s best throw in Athens was 82.91 meters, 28 centimeters short of Annus’s 83.19 meter throw.

A month before the start of the 2012 London Olympics, AP reported: “Being the son of "Asia's Man of Iron" gives Koji Murofushi plenty of confidence when he's throwing the hammer. Having studied the event in minute detail for a doctoral degree is yet another advantage in competition. With Olympic pedigree on both sides of the family, Murofushi is considered one of Japan's best prospects for a medal in track and field at the London Games. He doesn't consider age---he is 37---as a barrier. Murofushi has a gold medal from the Athens Olympics and almost got a bronze in Beijing. Last year, he became the oldest world champion in hammer throw, so his credentials are up to date. [Source: Associated Press, June 21, 2012]

The younger Murofushi is one of Japan's most recognizable athletes. His easygoing personality and good looks make him a natural for TV and he appears in commercials pitching everything from a major courier company to beer. While Murofushi is larger than most Japanese men, his 6-foot-1, 218 pound frame isn't big compared with many of his rivals in the hammer, and he needs to rely more on brains than brawn. [Ibid]

Koji Murofushi’s Life

Murofushi’s Japanese father is also a hammer thrower and his mother is a Romanian javelin thrower. His father won five straight Asian Games titles and 10 Japan championships and serves as Koji’s coach. Murofushi said that when he has a high school student he was inspired watching the legendary Soviet thrower Yuriy Sedekh triumph at the IAAF world championships in Tokyo in 1991.Ken Marantz wrote in the Daily Yomiuri "There were two new throwers who had come up and I didn't think he [Sedekh] could win," Murofushi said. "To see him win anyway was incredible. I watched the video over and over again.”

Ken Marantz wrote in the Daily Yomiuri: "Murofushi was introduced to the sport at a young ageby his father Shigenobu earned the "Man of Iron" nickname while throwing the hammer for Japan in three Olympics; his mother Serafina was an Olympic javelin thrower for Romania. He began learning the techniques of the hammer from his father when he was 10. To this day, his father---who competed at the Munich, Montreal and Los Angeles Olympics and won five Asian Games titles---offers advice and can usually be found watching competition from the stands with video camera in hand. "I'm very fortunate that my father was an athlete and also a coach," Murofushi said. "We always have something to talk about as we have been on the same stage. He's my biggest supporter." [Source: Ken Marantz. Daily Yomiuri, August 31, 2011]

Murofushi he enrolled in the Chukyo University Graduate School of Physical Education in 1997 to master the rotational theory and technique of hammer throwing and earned a doctorate degree in biomechanics in 2007. All the hard work in the library and the field paid off again last year when he won at the world championships in Daegu, South Korea.

Murofushi is well known in Japan. He has done also went to do well in Japanese versions of the Super Star event and appears in a number of commercials in Japan. Murofushi received a doctorate from Chukyo University. His dissertation was entitled “A Biomechanical Analysis of Acceleration of the hammer head.” After Athens lectured more on the hammer throw than competed. He has also been involved in charitable activities to help victims of the Great East Japan Earthquake.

Koji Murofushi's Sports Career

Murofushi won a silver medal in the hammer throw at the World Track and Field Championship in Edmonton in 2001. This was the first medal ever won by a Japanese athlete in an Olympic or world championship field event. He won the bronze at World Track and Field Championship in St. Denis in 2003. He was ninth in the Olympics in Sydney in 2000 and didn’t even make the finals. He was a surprise in 2001 and was expected to win in 2003 but was hampered by an elbow injury there.

Murofushi threw the third best throw ever (84.86 meters) at the Grand Prix II track meet in Prague in 2003. He won three Grand Prix events in 2004 going into the Olympics and was undefeated in competition in 2006. After winning the gold medal at the 2004 Murofushi was plagued with back painand related problems, which caused him to miss the 2005 and 2009 world championships. He managed to finish sixth at the World Track Championships in Osaka in 2007 after injuring his hip in a warm up session.

Murofushi finished 5th at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, with a throw of 80.71 meters, but was later awarded the bronze medal after two top finishers---two Belorussians who took the silver and bronze medals---tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs. Murofushi didn’t compete in the 2009 world championships in Berlin because of back and hip problems.

In December 2008, Murofushi was awarded the bronze medal in the men’s hammer throw for the Beijing Olympics after the original silver and bronze medalists---two Belarussians---were stripped of their medals after both tested positive for above normal levels of testosterone. Murofushi had originally finished fifth. Beijing was the second Olympics in which he moved up in the standings after the Olympics were over because other competitions were stripped of medals because of a positive drug tests. Later the bronze medal was taken back after the Belorussians appealed the ruling. The Court of Arbitration for Sport later ruled that the disqualified Belarusians should get their original medals, due to errors at the Chinese medical lab. Later, ," Murofushi tolf AP: "If you want to climb a mountain you have to prepare, you need a lot of effort and teamwork and when you get to the top, you feel a great deal of satisfaction. But if you are taking drugs to make your result better, it's like taking a helicopter to the top. It's not the same as doing it on your own."

Murofushi had a good season in 2010. He won at a couple of major meets in Europe and had the season’s best throw of 80.99 meters, at a the IAAF World Challenge in Rieti, Italy.

Koji Murofushi Wins Gold Medal at 2011 World Championship

Koji Murofushi won Japan’s only gold medal at the World Track Championships in Daegu, South Korea in August 2011, winning the hammer throw with a toss of 81.24 meters. Murofushi's victory, which completes his world medal collection after winning a silver in 2001 and bronze in 2003, makes him Japan's first three-time medalist and a candidate for a second Olympic gold in London next year. "I was just concentrating on my throws, that's all I can do," Murofushi said. "I'm so happy that we had a good competition." [Source: Ken Marantz. Daily Yomiuri, August 31, 2011]

Murofushi was the surprise winner at the world championships in Daegu.At 37 years 323 days, he became the oldest-ever world champion in the event. It was his first major title since capturing the gold in Athens. "I was so pleased to win the world championship at the age of 36," Murofushi said. "It was a credit to the hard work of my team and gives me confidence for London." Murofushi credits a lot of his recent success to Swedish coach Tore Gustafsson. "We've been working together since 2005," Murofushi said. "He used to be a hammer thrower, he holds the Swedish record. He's opening a chiropractic clinic in California so he can take care of the body and offer input on technique as well so we share a lot of information."

Ken Marantz wrote in the Daily Yomiuri, “The title did not come without a final nervous moment. Murofushi had led the competition from the opening attempt, recording season-bests with each of his first three throws. He hit 81.24 with both his third and fifth attempts, while no one else had exceeded 80 meters through five rounds. But Hungary's Krisztian Pars, who defeated Murofushi at the season-opening Golden Grand Prix in Kawasaki in May, sent his last throw over the 80-meter tape, drawing gasps from the crowd. After a few tense seconds, Pars' mark appeared on the scoreboard: "81.18." The gold medal was Murofushi's by all of six centimeters.” "Koji hasn't competed for three months, so I didn't know how he would do," Pars said. "We are friends, I'm happy for him, but I'm not so happy with the six centimeters."

For Murofushi, the gold medal was the culmination of a detailed plan put together by him and Swedish coach Tore Gustafsson that ensured he would be in peak condition coming into Daegu. "After 30 years old, you cannot push every competition," Murofushi said. "Maybe it's my problem, ...maybe for everyone, but to keep all the competition at the top level is almost impossible."

Murofushi prepared for five weeks at a training camp with Gustafsson in San Jose, Calif. "The setup for this competition was perfect," Gustafsson said. Knowing he had to conserve energy, Murofushi limited his season to the Kawasaki meet and the Japan championships, where he extended his record run of 17 consecutive titles. "Of course I was trying to peak for this meet and I'm so happy to make it happen," said Murofushi, who had a modest season-best of 78.10 meters prior to Daegu.

After the world championships, Murofushi was named as a nominee for the 2011 World Athlete of the Year along with Usian Bolt by the IAAF (International Association for Athletic Federations)

Murofushi’s Rehabilitation

Murofushi's "team", which is crediting with reviving his injury-plagued career, includes Swedish coach Tore Gustafsson and American physical therapist Robbie Ohashi, who together revitalized the Japanese's career and ensured he was technically and physically able to regain his place among the throwing world's elite. Their efforts culminated last summer in Murofushi's surprise victory at the world championships in Daegu, South Korea. [Source: Ken Marantz, Daily Yomiuri, January 19, 2012]

Since capturing the gold in Athens Murofushi battled through a series of injuries, mostly back related, and there was speculation he might end his career, particularly after he was forced to pull out of the 2009 world championships in Berlin. Murofushi said he never considered retirement, but it was obvious he needed to get on another track if he wanted to remain competitive. "Your body changes and you have to figure out how to use your body according to your age," he said. "You can't compete so much. You have to be smart and peak at the big meets."

The break in the clouds came two years ago, when Murofushi met Ohashi at Athletes Performance, a facility in Phoenix focusing on training, nutrition and physical therapy frequented by elite athletes from around the world. Ohashi later formed his own performance-enhancement company, the Chicago-based Performance in Motion, and became Murofushi's personal therapist. "My responsibility is when he gets into the circle, he's thinking about throwing far, and not thinking about if my back hurts," said Ohashi, who attended the ceremony.Ohashi, who also helped top Japanese tennis player Kei Nishikori recover from elbow surgery and rise to 26th in the world rankings, provided Murofushi with a program that included a training regimen prior to beginning his preseason workouts. [Ibid]

The result: almost as surprising as the world gold medal, Murofushi made it through 2011 completely pain-free. "I did more foundation stuff that I work on before getting into winter training," Murofushi said. "This prevents injuries up the Olympics when I start weight training and throwing."

Murofushi trained in five-week cycles up the Olympics at his training base in the United States. He remained there until June, when he returned for the Japan championships and won his record 18th straight national title. In January 2012 he said, "I feel great. I am enjoying every single moment of the road to the Olympics. There is a good energy flowing, so hopefully the Olympics will be a good competition for me."

Murofushi said he has no immediate plans to retire. "I want to compete as long as possible," he told AP. "When you are young you can compete in anything but when you get old you have to pick your competitions more carefully. I'll just have to be more selective." When he asks his coach if he reckons he can take part in the 2020 Olympics, which Tokyo is bidding to host, Gustafsson doesn't miss a beat, replying: "How about 2024?"

Murofushi Settles for Bronze in London in 2012

World champion Koji Murofushi won a bronze in the men's hammer throw with a season best throw of 78.71 meters. Hungarian Kristzian Pars took home gold with an 80.59 and Primoz Kozmus of Slovenia captured silver with a 79.36. Primoz Kozmus was gold medalist at Beijing. Krisztian Pars was the silver medalist. [Source: Kyodo, August 7, 2012]

London was the fourth Olympics for Murofushi. He fouled his first throw, and was in third after the cutoff point of the third attempt. In the lead was Pars, followed by Kozmus. Down to eight contestants from 12, Kozmus solidified his grip on the silver with his fifth throw after fouling on three straight attempts. Murofushi had secured a medal even before his final attempt as fourth-place Olexiy Sokyrskiyy failed to improve on his mark of 78.25. Murofushi measured 76.47 on his last throw. Eastern Europeans have dominated the sport over the years. "My goal in London is to throw consistently at 80 meters," Murofushi told AP before London. "That gives me more of a chance for a medal, if you can throw consistently at 80 meters -- that can take the pressure off."

Murofushi Removed from IOC Election

A medal wasn’t the only thing Murofushi was seeking in London. He was one of 21 athletes up for nomination to the International Olympic Committee's Athletes' Commission. "I am standing because I would like to help athletes after retirement," Murofushi told AP. "This is a very serious problem, I train in the U.S. and have seen how some athletes are not well prepared for life after their careers, all of a sudden their careers are over and they don't know what they are going to do."

About a week after the competition Murofushi was removed from athletes' IOC election.AP reported: “Two candidates voted by London Games athletes to represent them as International Olympic Committee members have been removed from the election for breaking rules by campaigning too hard. Japanese hammer thrower Koji Murofushi and Taiwanese taekwondo fighter Chu Mu-yen had their results wiped after finishing in the top four of a 21-candidate poll. [Source: AP, August 12, 2012]

IOC Athletes Commission chairman Frank Fredericks said both athletes received earlier written warnings before the IOC Executive Board withdrew them on August 11. The Japan Olympic Committee claimed that Murofushi was being punished for calling up the IOC website on his iPad to explain the committee to an athlete. But JOC official Yasuhiro Nakamori countered that the Japanese committee has photographic evidence proving that Murofushi was not showing material about himself, as he was accused of doing. “He was in no way promoting his own candidature,'' Nakamori said. [Ibid]

The Japanese were planning to lodge an official complaint. “It's a real shame about this election. I still don't know the truth of the matter but I would like to thank everybody for their support,'' Murofushi said. “From now on I will concentrate my energies on work, not for the IOC, but for the JOC.''

Image Sources: Japan Zone

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Daily Yomiuri, Times of London, Japan National Tourist Organization (JNTO), National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

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© 2009 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated January 2013

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