Japan's Powerhouse: Yuko Sakuyama

Published on Mon, 2014-04-07 10:45
Tomomi Sasaki

"I'm committed to getting the title of fittest woman in Asia, not only for myself, but because it would be the ultimate opportunity to spread CrossFit in Japan," Sakuyama said.


Since Yuko Sakuyama started CrossFit in late 2012, she’s competed at the 2013 Asia Regional—where she placed fifth—ran her first marathon, and moved to her country’s capital to work as a CrossFit coach where she kick-started a powerlifting career. 

Last year, Sakuyama entered her first competition and won the 57-kg class. This June, she’ll be representing Japan at a powerlifting competition in South Africa, following the Asia Regional in Seoul, Korea.
With her sights set on the top of the podium in Seoul, Sakuyama has already made her mark with a third-place finish in Asia after the Open. 
How did you start CrossFit and how have you developed as an athlete since then?
This YouTube video (featuring Andrea Ager and Rita Benavidez doing WOD 120919) was the reason I started CrossFit. I had to pick my jaw off the ground at the high reps of 100-kg deadlifts and 60-kg overhead squats. This video changed everything that I ever understood about training. I was absolutely floored.
With CrossFit, I'm able to increase my endurance without negatively affecting my powerlifting capabilities. I never imagined myself as someone who can run full marathons but I was able to run the Honolulu Marathon and now enjoy running in the mountains, too. Recently, I placed fifth in a trail running race. Me, with a powerlifter’s body type, which is quite different from the other slender runners.
How do you combine training and coaching?
I used to train in a small gym in Sendai City (Japan) for one hour in the mornings, using a three days on and one day off schedule. There were three of us training together, and even though none of us were very experienced, I feel really lucky to have found CrossFit in this way.
This February, I became a coach at CrossFit Daikanyama in Tokyo. I participate in the morning classes, and then coach in the afternoon. On my days off, I train, work on programming for our classes or think about ways to improve our box. I basically spend most of my time with CrossFit.
2013 was your first Games season. How did that happen and what were regionals like for you?
To tell you the truth, I hadn’t even planned on participating in the Open. It was already February when the owner of CrossFit Daikanyama suggested it. I hadn’t done any specific training for it and really struggled during the Open. To my surprise, I made it to the next level and made the commitment to keep competing.
After the Open, I focused on improving my efficiency of movement as a way to get closer to the top competitors. There wasn’t enough time to amp up on muscular strength. At regionals, I did well on the workouts with heavier weights. I was satisfied to get fifth place.
I still think about the 100 chest-to-bar pull-ups. The skin on my hands had peeled away and the bleeding wouldn't stop but I chalked up and grabbed the bar, again and again. I couldn’t finish all of the reps inside the time cap though, and that was so frustrating.
What’s your goal for 2014?
My goal for 2014 is to be No. 1 in the Asia Region. My current training is focused on increasing my ability with heavy weightlifting, along with improving my weaknesses, which are pull-ups and muscle-ups.
I’m committed to getting the title of fittest woman in Asia, not only for myself, but because it would be the ultimate opportunity to spread CrossFit in Japan.
I also want to start competing in weightlifting events and reach the point where I can represent Japan by 2020: the year of the Tokyo Olympics.
How did the Open go for you?
Workout 14.1 didn’t go very well. I’m not great at double-unders and used up a lot of energy. I’ll need to practice before regionals.
Last month, I did 200 pull-ups with a 4-kg vest for two Saturdays in a row. The workouts left me with a stress fracture on the base of my left ring finger. By the time Workout 14.2 came around, I hadn’t done any pull-ups for a month and my finger wasn’t recovered yet. My butterfly kipping movement was pretty inefficient—another thing to work on before regionals!
Because of a cold, my ranking for 14.3 wasn't as high as I'd hoped, even though the deadlift is one of my best movements. 
I was healthier for 14.4 but really struggled with the toes-to-bars. I was one of the slowest athletes at my box. Rowing and wall-ball shots don’t favor athletes of my stature (152 cm), but I managed to get to the muscle-ups by covering ground with the cleans. I shall increase training that will target my weaknesses.
I'm satisfied with my performance on Open Workout 14.5. I was able to save energy on the burpees because I'm comfortable in the push-up position, and managed to keep going on the thrusters. 
Did you ever repeat the workouts? Did you check the Leaderboard often?
I tried the workout once on Saturdays, to experiment with pacing. Then, I did the workout for real on Monday.
I checked the Leaderboard often. It’s disappointing that Nicole (Tainatongo), last year’s Asia champion, is not competing this year. I keep a close eye on what’s happening in Asia, of course, but I’m also really interested in how other competitors at my height are doing. I always check Annie Sakamoto’s score. Annie is my hero. At the same time, she’s the one I look to as my goal to beat. 
Now that the Open is over, my focus has completely switched over to regionals. I'm looking to drastically increase my strength. I also want to ramp up on training volume once I've settled into my new life in Tokyo. I'm incredibly excited. The heavier weights will work in my favor. I want to lift more than anyone else. My height is no excuse!
そして、今年2月末から、Reebok CrossFit Daikanyamaにてコーチになりました。現在は朝のクラスに参加してメンバーのみなさんとWODをしてから、午後にコーチの仕事をしています。休みの日は、トレーニングをしたり、新しいクラスのプログラム作りやボックスの改善点について思案しながら過ごしています。四六時中、クロスフィットに関わっているような気がします。
去年は正直、オープン予選に出ることすら考えていませんでした。Reebok CrossFit Daikanyamaのオーナーに出てみないかと言われたのが、直前の2月あたりだったため、出る準備も足りなかったように思います。そのため、オープンではかなり苦戦しました。しかし驚いたことに、リージョナル予選に進むことができ、さらなる参戦を決めました。


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