Athletics: Mission Helsinki for diplomatic Mara - More Sports - Sport - The Independent

Athletics: Mission Helsinki for diplomatic Mara

From the Foreign Office to foreign fields. Simon Turnbull talks to a Briton inspired by Radcliffe

Mara Yamauchi has encountered the phenomenon of the femme formidable before. In her time as a Foreign Office diplomat in Tokyo, the runner who finished second to Paula Radcliffe in the British women's section of the London Marathon a week ago was asked to keep the Iron Lady of politics up to speed.

Mara Yamauchi has encountered the phenomenon of the femme formidable before. In her time as a Foreign Office diplomat in Tokyo, the runner who finished second to Paula Radcliffe in the British women's section of the London Marathon a week ago was asked to keep the Iron Lady of politics up to speed.

"Yes, I did some informal interpreting for her at a dinner," Yamauchi said, recalling a visit to the British Embassy by Baroness Thatcher. "That was very exciting." An Oxford woman who returned from Tokyo with a Japanese husband and a Japanese surname, Yamauchi can also reflect on the time she found herself taking a hot-sand bath in the company of Jack Straw - talking about the football club of which the Foreign Secretary and the Baroness of Kesteven, curiously enough, both happen to be honorary vice-presidents. "My father is a fan of Blackburn Rovers and I knew Jack Straw was," she said. "I mentioned it to him and he's obviously a very keen fan. He came out for an official visit just before the World Cup and we were showing him the work we were doing related to it."

Another of the highlights of Yamauchi's posting to Tokyo was helping to run the World Cup Office at the British Embassy in 2002. Three years on, the woman from the Foreign Office is preparing for another special assignment at a major sporting event overseas - running in the marathon at the track-and-field World Championships in Helsinki in August. She will be in the Finnish capital as the British No 1 or 2 in the event, depending on whether Radcliffe, now restored as the Iron Lady of long-distance running after her lapse from invincibility in Athens, decides to go for gold in the marathon or in the 10,000 metres.

Either way, Yamauchi will make the trip as the rising new starlet of British distance running. In London a week ago she finished 10th in the international women's field, clocking 2hr 31min 52sec. In doing so, she took the scalp of Tegla Loroupe, the Kenyan whose marathon CV includes two world records, two victories in New York and one win in London. She also beat Liz Yelling, the Bedford and County clubmate of Radcliffe and the first British woman to finish in Athens. Her time was an improvement of 7min 24sec on her marathon debut in London 12 months previously.

It was a major advance, but no competitive flash in the pan. Yamauchi was the first British runner home in the 8km long-course race at the World Cross Country Championships at St Galmier, France, last month. She finished 27th, 10 places clear of Yelling, who, like Radcliffe, trains full-time as a distance runner.

Yamauchi has made her breakthrough at international level, at 31, while working in the diplomatic service in London. Since returning from Japan and settling in Richmond with her husband, Shigetoshi, a student, she has been employed as head of the diversity team in the Human Resources Directorate of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. She returned to work on Monday to an official message of congratulations from Sir Michael Jay, the Permanent Under-Secretary to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

"My office is just off Trafalgar Square," she said, "quite near the finish of the marathon, actually. I work on diversity issues, such as disability, gender and race equality. The great thing is the Foreign Office has a flexible working scheme, which allows me to combine my career and my running. I work from 10am to 4pm, so I can train in the morning and again in the evening."

Yamauchi has made a bit of a name for herself as a runner once before. As Mara Myers of Oxford University, she ran for Great Britain in the European Cross Country Championships of 1997, finishing 38th. She also won the English women's cross country title in 1998 before heading off to Japan, initially for a year at a language school in Kamakura, and then for three years at the British Embassy in Tokyo. "I didn't do any serious running when I was out there," she said. "I just tried to keep my fitness going with a bit of steady running, for health reasons as much as anything."

Her emergence in the slipstream of the trailblazing Radcliffe has been achieved with the guidance of Bob Parker, the man who coached David Bedford, the race director of the Flora London Marathon, to a world record at 10,000m on the track. She has also been assisted by Alan Storey, the technical director of endurance events for UK Athletics, and Bud Baldaro, the national marathon squad coach.

"I've only raced against Paula a couple of times," Yamauchi said. "I was in the British Students' Cross Country Championship race in 1994 and I think she won that. I don't think I'm within her sphere now, but she's an inspiration. It's great for the other British runners that we have such a fantastic role model."

Yamauchi is a member of the same club as another inspirational British athlete, Dean Macey. It remains to be seen if the dashing, injury-plagued decathlete will make it to the World Championships this summer, but at least Harrow Athletics Club will have a vested interest in the women's marathon. The event has been scheduled to start at 2.20pm local time, specifically to follow the main news programme on Japanese television.

Japan has long been a nation gripped by marathon mania, and the women's marathon enjoys a particularly high profile, daughters from the land of the rising sun having won the last two Olympic races: Naoko Takahashi in Sydney in 2000 and Mizuki Noguchi in Athens last summer. Yamauchi has already received one call from a Japanese journalist since her London run, although she modestly suggested: "I don't think my time is that impressive to most Japanese runners."

It is impressive enough to have the Oxford woman preparing for the World Championships marathon, though. The race starts in the centre of Finland's capital and finishes in the Olympic Stadium, where the great Emil Zatopek completed his hat-trick of Olympic golds in 1952 with an epic marathon victory. It might have been different, though. The 2005 World Championships were awarded to London, before the proposed stadium at Picketts Lock became a £100m pipedream.

Asked whether she would rather be taking on the world on home ground, Yamauchi replied: "Oh, I can't really comment on that. I don't know enough about what happened when London were awarded the championships." So there you have it: a true diplomat - and a truly talented marathon runner, too.

Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape
music
News
Paper trail: the wedding photograph found in the rubble after 9/11 – it took Elizabeth Keefe 13 years to find the people in it
newsWho are the people in this photo? It took Elizabeth Stringer Keefe 13 years to find out
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Damon as Jason Bourne in The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)
filmMatt Damon in talks to return
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Evil eye: Douglas Adams in 'mad genius' pose
booksNew biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Life and Style
Bono and Apple CEO Tim Cook announced U2's surprise new album at the iPhone 6 launch
tech(but you can't escape: Bono is always on your iPhone)
Sport
FootballFull debuts don't come much more stylish than those on show here
Arts and Entertainment
Fringe show: 'Cilla', with Sheridan Smith in the title role and Aneurin Barnard as her future husband Bobby Willis
tvEllen E Jones on ITV's 'Cilla'
News
i100
Sport
Tim Wiese
sport
Life and Style
Kim Kardashian drawn backlash over her sexy swimsuit selfie, called 'disgusting' and 'nasty'
fashionCritics say magazine only pays attention to fashion trends among rich, white women
Arts and Entertainment
TVShows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Arts and Entertainment
Hit the roof: hot-tub cinema east London
architectureFrom pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
Travel
travel
News
The ecological reconstruction of Ikrandraco avatar is shown in this illustration courtesy of Chuang Zhao. Scientists on September 11, 2014 announced the discovery of fossils in China of a type of flying reptile called a pterosaur that lived 120 millions years ago and so closely resembled those creatures from the 2009 film, Avatar that they named it after them.
SCIENCE
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Project Manager with some Agile experience

£45000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Chelmsf...

Data/ MI Analyst

£25000 - £30000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client are cur...

Secondary Supply Teachers to work in Peterborough

£110 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Cambridge: Supply teachers required fo...

Project Manager (retail, upgrades, rollouts)

£40000 - £45000 Per Annum + benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Project...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week