KYOTO, Japan: Closing in on his 104th birthday, a twinkle-toed Japanese sprinter has thrown down the challenge to the world’s fastest man Usain Bolt, telling him: “let’s rumble!”
Hidekichi Miyazaki—who holds the 100 metres world record for centenarians at 29.83 seconds and is dubbed ‘Golden Bolt’ after the Jamaican flyer—plans to wait another five years for his dream race and was happy to reveal his secret weapon: his daughter’s tangerine jam.
“I’d love to race Bolt,” the wispy-haired Miyazaki told AFP in an interview after tottering over the line with a joyful whoop at a recent Japan Masters Athletics competition in Kyoto.
“I’m keeping the dream alive. I try to stay in top shape and stay disciplined and healthy. That’s important for everyone—even Usain Bolt.”
Born in 1910—the year Japan annexed Korea and when the Titanic was still under construction—the pint-sized Miyazaki offered some dietary tips to Bolt, whose world record is 9.58 seconds.
“My body is small so I take care of what I eat,” said Miyazaki, who stands just 1.53 metres (five feet) tall and weighs in at 42 kilograms (92 pounds).
“When I eat, I chew each mouthful 30 times before swallowing,” he added, loosening his Usain Bolt running shoes. “That makes my tummy happy and helps my running. And I eat my tangerine jam every day.”
In a country with one of the world’s highest life expectancies, Miyazaki is the poster boy for Japan’s turbo-charged geriatrics.
Some 6,000 pensioners are registered at the Masters federation which hosts more than 40 track and field meetings every year across the nation.
Serenaded by buzzing cicadas in sweltering heat, Miyazaki fell into the arms of 73-year-old daughter Kiyono after clocking 38.35—more than 20 seconds behind race winner Yoshio Kita, a relative spring chicken at 82.
“I’d give myself five out of 10 for that,” he said after regaining his breath and copying Bolt’s trademark ‘lightning’ pose. “Before I ran I curled up for a little nap—big mistake! I felt stiff.
“I’m still young so it’s a learning process,” joked Miyazaki, grinning from ear to ear as he put on a straw hat. “I can run for another five years.”
Miyazaki, who hails from tea-growing Shizuoka prefecture, about 200 kilometres southwest of Tokyo, was a late bloomer, only taking up running at the age of 92 after watching an old people’s sports day broadcast on television.
Having become the planet’s fastest centenarian in 2010, he now has his sights on another milestone in the unlikely 105-109 age group category.
“That’s what I’m training for,” said Miyazaki, who loses valuable seconds at the start of races because he can’t hear the gun go off.
“It’s my birthday next month and that’s my next goal.”
He need only cross the finish line to set the new world record as no official mark exists in that age class.
As Miyazaki left the track, 85-year-old Mitsue Tsuji tossed a shot put 4.73 meters— this after she had set a mark of 2.07 metres in the long jump. Not content, she set a meet record of 13.85 in the women’s 60 metres sprint.
“I started doing athletics when I was 81,” she said. “My husband had passed away and I thought there was no point moping around at home alone.”
Tsuji will join Miyazaki at next month’s Asia Masters championships in northeast Japan.
“I had a bit of a fall last year and was going to skip it,” said Tsuji, who credits power naps for her age-defying stamina.
“But my son told me I might not live much longer so I’ll do as I’m told. I’ll keep going as long as I’m around.”
As the pair tore it up with the other high-fiving grannies and granddads in Kyoto, 78-year-old endurance runner Yoko Nakano pounded the streets in Tokyo, preparing for her latest world record tilt.
Nakano ran her first full marathon at 70 “for fun” while vacationing in Honolulu — clocking four hours, four minutes, 44 seconds — and now holds the world record for 75 to 79-year-olds, as well as those for the 3,000 and 5,000 metres.
“We were on holiday so I thought we might as well run,” she smiled, perched on a tree stump in a canary yellow T-shirt and polka dot scarf. Her world marathon mark now stands at 3:53.42.
The bespectacled Nakano, whose has also run marathons in New York and Boston, bounced back from stomach surgery last year, building her post-op fitness by walking up and down the hospital corridors.
“I walked about seven kilometres a day inside the hospital,” she said. “I guess I’m too stubborn to quit.”
Miyazaki, who is also handy with a shot put, gave an insight into his need for speed.
“I make sure not to use my brain,” he said. “I always keep it empty and uncluttered. That’s important.”