There are still many remarkable women out there that have always been parts of the great history of the world. They are notable figures to be look upon to; their acts, contributions, and roles inspire us even until today. To keep up with the tradition started on 2018, each month Adorageek celebrates the life of a woman hero. And our woman hero of January is Kinue Hitomi! She was a Japanese athlete, the world record holder in several events in the 1920s – 1930s, and the first Japanese woman to win an Olympic medal.
Hitomi was born in what is now part of Okayama City in 1 January 1907. In November 1923 when Hitomi was 16 years old, during the 2nd Okayama Prefectural Women’s Games, she set an unofficial national record of 4m67 in the long jump event. In April 1924, Hitomi entered what is now the Japan Women’s College of Physical Education. After that she continued to enter many sports games in Japan and set unofficial and official records, both for national and world records.
In August 1926, Hitomi was selected to attend the “2èmes Jeux mondiaux féminins FSFI” games at Gothenburg, Sweden as the only Japanese woman athlete. She travelled by the Trans-Siberian Railway alone to Moscow, where a reporter from the Mainichi Shimbun met her and escorted her to Sweden. She won many medals, and also received an honorary prize from Alice Milliat, president of Fédération Sportive Féminine Internationale (FSFI) for the most individual points at 15.
During the 1928 Summer Olympics in Amsterdam, Hitomi was the only Japanese woman athlete to compete. She entered the 100m, discus, and high jump individual events but had been concentrating most on the 100m. However, she lost this event in semifinals. She then decided to join 800m in haste (she hadn’t run an 800m race at any official competition until that time), and as last-minute entries were still permitted, she was allowed to compete. Hitomi passed by 2:26.2 in the preliminary and received silver medal in the final with a time of 2:17.6 in a dead heat with Lina Radke. She became the first Japanese woman to win an Olympic medal.
In September, Hitomi participated in the “3èmes Jeux mondiaux féminins FSFI” games at Prague with five younger Japanese athletes. During this event, she won the gold medal for the long jump, silver medal for the triathlon and bronze medal for the javelin throw, despite suffering from a fever. She was also awarded a silver medal for her 12 individual points. After the event, Hitomi and the Japanese team went on tour to Warsaw, Berlin, Brussels, Paris and London for competitions within the next half-month. This extremely tough schedule took a toll on her health.
Even after her return to Japan, Hitomi was asked to lecture, and visited sponsors and contributors in many Japanese cities without much rest. She was also surprised by the unexpected hostile reception to her athletic successes by the Japanese public. On 25 March 25 1931, she entered a hospital in Osaka under a false name to avoid publicity. Hitomi died from pneumonia on August 2 at the age of 24, just three years after her Amsterdam Olympic 800m final.
Kinue Hitomi inspired us that women can be excellent athletes, no matter what her ethnicity is. But she also taught us that even a great athlete should take a rest from time to time, so her health will always be in top condition!