Athletics: Bhutan could possibly have the ideal settings to help train long-distance and middle-long distance runners.

Owing to its high altitude and clean air, Naoko Takahashi, a former Japanese Olympian who is currently in the country said that Bhutan provides a perfect location to groom athletes especially long-distance runners.

“I always wanted to train in Bhutan but I couldn’t make it,” said the 45-year-old former Olympian. “The atmosphere and the environment in Bhutan is ideal to build fundamentals for a good long-distance runner.”

Naoko Takahashi won the gold medal at the Sydney Olympics in 2000, a performance that held the Olympic record until the London Olympics in 2012. For her achievement at the Olympics, Takahashi became the first female athlete to receive the People’s Honour Award, a commendation bestowed by the Prime Minister of Japan in 2000.

During an interaction session with athletes of the Bhutan Amateur Athletic Federation (BAAF) in Thimphu yesterday, Takahashi explained the importance of training and setting an ambition and pushing oneself towards achieving the goal.

She said that in order to participate in a global event like the Olympics, athletes need to practise regularly and the respective federation has to provide all necessary support for the development of talent.

“I have seen potential in Bhutanese athletes especially in the long-distance running. If they want to be in the Olympics they need to train hard, she said adding that it is a gradual process and individuals need to take it one step at a time.

Currently there are around 20 long-distance (21km to 42km) and middle-long distance (800 to 10,000 metre) runners with BAAF, of which 50 percent comprise of soldiers.

Takahashi added that the remaining three and half years before the Tokyo Olympics in 2020 will be crucial. It was during this period 17 years ago that Takahashi trained vigorously before winning the gold at the Olympics. “It’s not late for athletes provided they have the dedication and will to train,” she said.

Takahashi also became the first woman to break the 2-hour-20-minute barrier at the 2001 Berlin Marathon setting a new world record.

In 2008 Takahashi retired from professional athletics. She is currently serving as the Chair for the Tokyo 2020 Athletes’ Commission. As a JICA official supporter, she has visited around eight developing countries promoting sports.

Meanwhile, a month-long winter coaching camp is currently underway at the National Athletics Track with 50 elite athletes from around the country. Six athletes will be selected at the end of the programme who will undergo training in Japan for the 2020 Olympics.

Younten Tshedup