Japanese marathon champion Yumiko Hara blames eating disorder for shoplifting conviction

A Japanese world championship marathon runner has blamed an eating disorder and repeated arrests for shoplifting on the pressures she was under from her trainers.

Yumiko Hara, 36, was sentenced by the Maebashi District Court on Monday to one year in prison, suspended for four years, after being arrested for stealing food, including a bag of sweets worth 382 yen (US$3.40), from a store in Gunma Prefecture in February.

Hara, who represented Japan at two athletics World Championships and won marathons in Nagoya, Osaka and Hokkaido, was previously given a suspended one-year prison sentence in July 2017 for shoplifting.

Speaking at a press conference after the hearing, Hara said she had “only been thinking about how to hide from the public” after her most recent arrest, but was now trying to recover with the support of people around her.

Hara said she could trace her problems back to when she was starting out in long-distance running and joined an athletics team whose trainers were strict on runners’ diets and weight control.

Hara was required to measure her weight up to six times a day and had to eat all her meals in front of her coach. Her purse was taken away so she could not spend money on food.

She accused the coaches of “training a pet rather than a human being,” the Mainichi newspaper reported.

To control her weight, Hara began to force herself to vomit up her meals, which developed into an eating disorder. To sate her hunger, she subsequently started shoplifting.

Hara said the public should not “underestimate” eating disorders or the compulsion to steal and called on anyone struggling with the complaints to seek assistance.

“While it requires courage to talk about yourself, everything will change after confiding in a person you trust,” she said.

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