Trailblazers: MUROFUSHI Koji – “Awareness can be raised by setting higher goals.”

Koji Murofushi of Japan competes in the men's hammer throw final during the Athens 2004 Summer Olympic Games. (Photo by Michael Steele / Getty Images )
Koji Murofushi of Japan competes in the men's hammer throw final during the Athens 2004 Summer Olympic Games. (Photo by Michael Steele / Getty Images )

In every day and age, there are people who pioneer uncharted territory. They are often referred to as trailblazers. In this series, we look back on athletes who led the way for Japan and delivered unprecedented success for the nation. In the sixth part of the series, we focus on MUROFUSHI Koji, who won Asia’s first gold medal in hammer throw at the Olympic Games Athens 2004.

“It would have been nice to receive my gold medal on the podium,” said MUROFUSHI Koji after missing the opportunity to step on top of the podium for the medal he and his father had worked so hard for.

In the Athens 2004 final, Hungarian hammer thrower Adrián Annus, Murofushi’s rival in his bid for the gold, recorded 83.19m on his third attempt. With his personal best being 84.86m, Murofushi knew he had the potential to beat the Hungarian.

On his sixth attempt, after pausing for a breath, he hurled the hammer – a metal ball attached to a grip by a steel wire – with all his might as he let out his usual roar.

As the hammer tore through the air, he appeared satisfied with his performance. Although the distance of 82.91m was a season's best, it fell short of Annus’ mark by 28cm.

Murofushi collapsed to his knees, his head drooping in disappointment. However, when the Japanese thrower stood on the podium, he smiled as the silver medal was placed around his neck.

However, seven days later circumstances took a dramatic turn. Annus was stripped of his title on suspicion of a doping violation, which resulted in the gold medal being awarded to Murofushi.

Speaking on the last day of the Games, the Japanese athlete commented: “Of course, I’m delighted, but it’s the effort made toward clinching the ultimate prize that really matters, rather than the gold medal itself.”

He was bursting with confidence, not so much for having earned a gold, but for proving to himself that his efforts were more than worthwhile.

Murofushi Koji

Murofushi was born in 1974 in Shizuoka Prefecture to four-time Olympic hammer throw MUROFUSHI Shigenobu, nicknamed the “Iron Man of Asia”.

Having watched his father as a child, Murofushi took up hammer throw at the age of 10. He started following in the footsteps of his father in the summer of his first year in high school, dropping other sports to focus on hammer throw.

With his father’s coaching, he was able to achieve consecutive victories at the inter-high school championships, setting a new high school record with a 6.35kg hammer and a high school record with a standard hammer (7.26kg).

Murofushi’s signature throwing form of rotating four times at high speed was originally contrived by his father after years of detailed research into how Japanese throwers could win despite their relatively small physique.

By pursuing and honing the technique, Shigenobu set a Japanese record of 75.96m in 1984. Koji was lucky to have a Japan record holder as a role model. He followed his father’s instructions to the letter and studied and worked just as hard as him.

As a university student, Murofushi set a new Japan student record and a new Japan junior record, and achieved four back-to-back victories at the Japan intercollegiate championships. In 1998, after graduating from college, Murofushi set a new Japan record of 76.65m at a competition in Gunma Prefecture, surpassing his father’s record, which was his long-held goal.

“Awareness can be raised by setting higher goals.”

In 2011, Murofushi clinched the gold medal at the Athletics World Championships held in Daegu, Republic of Korea at the age of 36, becoming the world’s oldest male champion in the event.

Murofushi first aimed at reaching the level of his father and then, in collaboration with his father, climbed to the top of the world.

Both father and son have competed at seven editions of the Olympic Games between them. Murofushi’s feats testify that his accomplishments couldn't have been achieved alone.