Members of the Mitsubishi Boat Club, Japan, not only travelled a long way but also surmounted a natural disaster that shocked the world to be in Poland for the 2011 World Rowing Masters Regatta.
On Friday 11 March, the largest earthquake ever recorded in Japanese history triggered a tsunami which devastated the coastal areas of the country. World Rowing spoke with Kenro Chiba, who lived in Kesun Numa, Miyagi, a town just 30 miles from the seismic centre of the earthquake. Fortunately, Chiba’s family were all safe, but his fishing business, warehouse properties and local boathouse were destroyed as waves up to 10m high hit the coast.
Chiba participates in this regatta to express his thanks to the Polish Government, who invited around 30 school students from Miyagi following the earthquake to show their support for the Karate Association. “All Japanese people are very thankful for that,” he says.
Chiba started rowing at age 18 at university, and by 1960, was captain and bowman of the Tohoku University men’s eight which competed for Japan at the Olympic Games Regatta in Rome. Despite narrowly missing out on the Olympic final in a tight photo finish with Italy, Chiba never lost his passion for rowing. Aged 74, Chiba is competing in Poznan for Mitsubishi Boat Club in the men’s ‘H’ single sculls and mixed ‘I’ quadruple sculls.
Mitsubishi Boat Club’s team manager Masayoshi Mori and captain Teruo Yamaguchi who train regularly on the 1964 Tokyo Olympic Regatta Course, are some of Chiba’s teammates. Chiba however, was unable to travel to Tokyo to train on water, so he prepared for the World Rowing Masters Regatta solely on an indoor rowing machine.
The Mitsubishi Boat Club first attended a World Rowing Master’s Regatta ten years ago in Hazewinkel, Belgium, and have been coming with other Japanese clubs every year since.
When asked about the earthquake’s effects on rowing in the country, the masters rowers became animated: “15,000 lives were lost, and a further 5,000 are still missing.” Mori stated. “All areas along the coast and all boathouses were destroyed.”
The rowers have a great impression of Poznan: “It is a beautiful city and all our delegates agree,” says Mori. “The people are mild, friendly, and gentle and there are older and more modern areas of the town which we enjoy. We have also sampled the local Poznan cuisine near our hotel in the city.”
However weather conditions have so far been a bit challenging due to winds which are expected to die down after today. “Whilst we are used to this in Japan, we expected Poznan to be fine! The weather has been very changeable. Nevertheless we are really looking forward to racing.”
Mori and Yamaguchi wish to emulate the successes of their teammate Kotaro Horiuchi at the World Rowing Masters Regatta in St. Catharine’s, Canada: “Kotaro is 85 year old and was head coach for Tohoko University for the Rome Olympics – he was Mr. Chiba’s boss! He got a gold medal in St. Catharines last year and inspired us. However, he had some health problems just before this regatta and had to cancel. But everybody aims to win like him. Rowing is a great sport. We train on the water twice a week, on the ergometer, and university students coach us when doing strength and conditioning work. We all want to row until we are 90 years old or more.”