Yuri Kano is running for Japan in NYC

Updated: March 18, 2011, 6:01 PM ET
Associated Press

NEW YORK -- A broken heart won't slow Yuri Kano in the New York City Half-Marathon.

She's even hoping it will make her run faster.

The Japanese marathoner became a late entry in Sunday's race following last week's catastrophic earthquake and tsunami.

"It broke my heart when I see the devastated scenes in northern Japan," said Kano, who has run races in Sendai and Fukushima, two of the hardest-hit cities.

She had been training to defend her title in the Nagoya Ladies International Marathon and qualify for this summer's world championships in South Korea. Then came the disaster, and the race was abandoned. Kano's agent and coach reached out to New York Road Runners on Monday. Four days later, Kano was in New York.

"It is with open arms that we welcome Yuri at a time when we would like to embrace all of Japan," NYRR President and CEO Mary Wittenberg said at a news conference Friday.

Kano joins a field that includes U.S. Olympian and world championships bronze medalist Kara Goucher, 2010 New York City Marathon champion Edna Kiplagat, Ethiopian Olympian Werknesh Kidane and British Olympian Jo Pavey.

"I'm grateful and thankful I was invited to run in the race here," said Kano, who hopes her performance can provide an example, give her countrymen something to ease their difficulties.

Kano has run the New York half-marathon three times, finishing third once (2008) and fourth twice. She also has run in the New York Mini 10K four times and the NYC Marathon once, finishing ninth in 2009 after taking a nasty spill early in the race.

"I consider New York my home ground," Kano said, speaking through a translator. "So I'm very excited to be here."

The 13.1-mile course will take runners on a loop through Central Park, down Seventh Avenue through Times Square, across 42nd Street, and along the West Side Highway to Battery Park, finishing with a view of the Statue of Liberty.

When the earthquake struck, Kano was in Nagoya in the south. Her family lives in Osaka, also in the south and far from the massive destruction. But things changed when she returned to Tokyo, where she saw the evidence of the quake in her apartment, experienced the rolling blackouts and felt the aftershocks.

"Till I came to New York City, I could feel tremors every day and was woken up by them every night," she said.

Kano continued to train, though fears of radiation gave her pause.

"There were a few moments when I was not sure I could leave the house, but I have been practicing in Tokyo as normal," she said.

Even so, her country's plight was never far from her mind.

"It was difficult to concentrate on training when I saw the news in north of Japan and I started to think how I could help them," she said. "We feel that we have to help each other to rebuild Japan. I think this is a time to endure."

And that's what she plans to do Sunday.

For its part, the NYRR has renamed its annual Japan Day Run the Japan Day Run for Hope and will use it to raise money for Japanese relief. The four-mile race in Central Park on May 8 is co-organized with the Japanese Consulate and features a Japanese festival.

The NYRR also is working on a virtual component, where runners could run four miles wherever they are and have their entry fee donated to the relief fund. A similar run the NYRR organized for Haiti relief raised $400,000.

"As an organization of runners with big hearts we are already looking to how we can help," Wittenberg said.

Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press

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