Japanese Runners
The long distance runners from the University of Tsukuba are (l. to r.): Yukako Omori, Shiho Takeda, Miho Niiyama, Haruka Kyuma, Moe Kyuma, Momoko Akiyama and Reiko Monma.

Yasushi Enomoto, associate professor of Health and Sport Sciences from the University of Tsukuba, Japan, is at the University of New Mexico with seven student runners studying the effects of high altitude on hemoglobin and performance levels.

Enomoto and the students are on campus as a result of UNM President Robert Frank and Lisa Kuuttila, STC.UNM chief economic officer, who led a small delegation to Japan earlier this year for a series of meetings designed to enhance a strong partnership between UNM and the Japanese government, select Japanese universities and key private corporations. During the course of the visit, a discussion arose about the possibility of Japanese long distance runners coming to Albuquerque to conduct high altitude training and research. Possibility turned into reality when Kuuttila coordinated the details and made the trip happen.

“We are very excited about the emerging partnerships with Professor Enomoto and Miwako Yamanaka and UNM’s track and field program,” Kuuttila said. “Albuquerque is an ideal place for high altitude training and the University of New Mexico’s track and field program under Coach Franklin is first class. You couldn’t ask for a better place or program to provide optimal training conditions and expertise.” 

"We believe that through the development of sports, we can contribute to the global community,” Enomoto said. “However, in order to do so, we need to gain knowledge and theory not only from our own culture, but also from international perspectives. That is one of our roles in sports science.”

Coaching Scholar in Residence
Yamanaka, a “Coaching Scholar in Residence,” is at UNM for one year studying under Joe Franklin, coach for UNM women’s track and field. Yamanaka's visit is part of Japan’s Overseas Training Program for Athletic Coaches.

“Miwako brings to UNM a perspective of a world class distance runner,” Franklin said. “She has placed very high in major championships and events. We are sharing knowledge with the hopes of helping Japan distance running in the future. We all have the same goals to compete at the highest level, but the path to attain those goals can be different. We are trying to show her our way, which has produced world class athletes in itself, so that Miwako has another methodology to take back to Japan.”

Yamanaka said that Japanese long distance runners are coming to the U.S and to New Mexico to take advantage of high elevation training. She said Franklin’s success with long distance runners at Albuquerque’s elevation of 5,000 feet is what steered her to UNM as well.

Runners involved in study
The seven all-female runners currently training in New Mexico are excited to be part of the study because earlier this year a fellow student from the UT, Mayuko Nakamura, participated in altitude training here with impressive results. When she returned to Japan, her performance level had improved by 10 percent, and she came in second in the Japanese national championships. Nakamura has been selected for the Japanese National Team and will compete in the 3000 meter steeplechase at the Asian championships this September.

“I hope that the seven runners that are here not only improve their physical performance by the high altitude training, but also take interest in the environment and the different cultures through this experience in Albuquerque,” Yamanaka said.

Goal number one
Yamanaka added that she intends to develop an even stronger relationship between UNM and UT for future collaborations, which complements goal number one (there are seven) of UNM2020, a mission and plan of action initiated by President Frank in 2012. It calls for UNM to be an institution that is recognized and sought out by students and faculty globally for its cultural, academic and research distinction.

“We need to develop and nurture young generations who understand the global concept and practice it. Collaboration with UNM is a good starting point," Enomoto said.