By Richard Stevens – Senior Writer/GoLobos.com
When cultures clash with a visit to foreign soil, there are a few items on a visitor’s agenda that take immediate priority. Eating just might be number one on the list. The language of the stomach is universal. A stomach growl in Japan is a stomach growl in America.
For Japan’s Miwako Yamanaka, who is on a one-year sojourn to study the crafty coaching ways of Joe Franklin, New Mexico’s track & field coach extraordinaire, there have been a few culinary breakthroughs.
“The food is good here,” said Yamanaka. “I like burritos and salsa and dip.”
Yamanaka hasn’t been in Albuquerque long enough (about three weeks) to answer the age-old question: Red or green? But there is another obvious priority on her culture-clash list: communication.
She needs to better understand Joe – and back at you. It’s Yamanaka who is making the leap to hurdle the language hurdle.
“I’m learning English. Not good yet in conversations,” said Yamanaka through a captivating smile.
“We are working with a language barrier,” said Franklin. “She is taking English classes at UNM and we communicate better every day.
“Miwako is very outgoing, very energetic, and very positive in her approach. You can tell she is excited to be part of our coaching. She is not reserved or quiet and is eager to help both our men and women runners.”
Yamanaka is a renowned long distance runner. She won an international medal (bronze) at the 1997 Summer Universiade (Italy) at 10,000 meters. She also won Kobe (Japan) Women’s Half Marathon in 2001 and won the 2002 Fukuoka (Japan) International Cross Country title. She was fourth at the 2002 IAAF World Cross Country Championships held in Ireland and won the Chiba (Japan) International Cross Country run in 2005.
Now, she is on the coaching end of running.
She will be shadowing Franklin for about a year as a “Coaching Scholar in Residence”. Her visit is part of Japan’s Overseas Training Program for Athletics Coaches. She is sponsored by the Japan Association of Athletics Federations which is that country’s national governing body for athletics.
Yamanaka said her No. 1 priority on her visit is “to learn different ways.” She said Japanese long distance runners have been coming to the U.S. and to New Mexico for years to take advantage of elevation training. She said Franklin’s success with long distance runners at Albuquerque’s elevation (5,000 feet) steered her to the University of New Mexico.
She said she is interested in comparing the cultural differences between Japan and the U.S. in their approach to developing young athletes. Yamanaka said already she is seeing and appreciating a different style of coaching.
“In Japan, the long distance running is very serious,” said Yamanaka. “There is more fun here. The runners seem to enjoy more the training for competition. The Japanese runner is so serious. If you want to do something for a long time that (is difficult), you need to enjoy. I’m very interested in Joe’s training methods.”
To grossly simplify Franklin’s method, it’s work hard, be mentally and physically prepared, and train and compete in a stress-free environment. Yeah, his Lobos have a little fun and seem to enjoy the hard work and the hard miles that also bring success and titles.
Yamanaka says she plans to take what she learns back to Japan, but she also says she plans to bring her Daihatsu Motor Company-sponsored team to Albuquerque to train. That team currently is using Flagstaff, Ariz., for high-elevation training.
“Japanese marathon and distance runners have trained in Albuquerque for years,” said Franklin. “The Japanese Athletics Federations want to improve their distance running, which already is excellent. So we have Miwako for a year.
“There aren’t really a lot of technical differences in how we train, but there are some cultural differences in how we approach things and how they approach things; how we interact with athletes and how they interact with athletes. It’s not that one is better. It’s just that they are different.
“We hope to learn from Miwako. She was a world-class runner and she brings a wealth of knowledge about the sport and knows what it takes to compete at a world-class level. She is a great addition to our staff. It’s a great experience for me. She has a lot to offer.”