Yuko Arimori

Yuko Arimori may have risen to prominence for winning the silver medal in the marathon at the Barcelona Olympic Games - the first track and field medal for a Japanese woman for 64 years - but for a while the scandal surrounding her marriage threatened to overshadow her athletic achievements.

In 1998 Arimori shocked the Japanese media by announcing she had married Gabriel Wilson, a 32-year-old teacher from Colorado who' previously lived in Japan. The couple had managed to keep their relationship secret from the press, but would fail to keep the media from getting the true story in time. Immediately speculation began about the couple one theory proposed Arimori was marrying to get a green card, with the intention of running for the US at the Sydney Games. Within a month the couple had separated, and things began to heat up when revelations about Wilson's personal life came out—he made the infamous statement "I was gay," which sent reporters scurrying to Shinjuku ni-chome to dig up sleaze. Wilson claimed he'd informed Arimori and her parents of his previous sexual inclination before the marriage, and that it had no bearing on the break-up. The situation seemed to lend credence to the green card theory though, despite Arimori's vehement denials and professions of her love for Wilson. When news of Wilson's extensive debts surfaced, there was blanket coverage in the media, and even Arimori hinted that divorce was being considered. After a week or so, things began to die down and after a period of separation the couple were reunited out of the public eye and have remained together. Arimori has even joined the board of directors of Wilson's dance school, the Andana Academy, in Colorado.

Since the scandal Arimori has kept a relatively low profile, and although she has continued to compete she has yet to recapture the form that catapulted her into the spotlight. The Okayama native and graduate of the Japan Physical Education University was virtually unknown until she won the Osaka 1990 International Women's Marathon, setting a new national record in the process. The following year she came in fourth in the World Championships in Tokyo before her medal-winning run in Barcelona.

Following an operation on both her heels in 1994, Arimori was absent from the sport for a year before resuming her training in Boulder. It wasn't the first time she'd had trouble with her feet - amazingly she was born with a congenital dislocation of her foot joint, which was corrected with a cast when she was a child.

Arimori made her comeback with a win at the Hokkaido Marathon in 1995 and went on to take the bronze at the Atlanta Olympics in 1996. On completing the event she made the supposedly groundbreaking statement, "jibun de jibun o homete agetai" (I want to praise myself) - apparently Japanese athletes do not usually indulge in such self-praise. Following the Olympics, Arimori turned pro in 1996, becoming the first athlete accorded professional status by the Japan Amateur Athletic Federation. She also penned her autobiography "Animo," detailing her life as an athlete. After riding out the storm-in-a-teacup surrounding her marriage, Arimori returned to training and set her personal best marathon time of 2hr 26min in Boston in 1999.

Arimori has since capitalized on her celebrity status, founding the Hearts of Gold charity, which manages the Angkor Wat Half Marathon in Cambodia to raise funds for land mine victims. And unable to achieve her dream of winning gold at Sydney, Arimori took up residence behind the mike to commentate for Asahi TV and passed the crown of marathon queen to Naoko Takahashi. Matt Wilce

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ISSUES 248/9-