Record-breaking teen heptathlete aims to raise bar

Meg Hemphill points to the electronic scoreboard and her 5,519-point total after winning the heptathlon at the National High School Games on Saturday in Kofu.

KOFU - People who know 18-year-old heptathlete Meg Hemphill respectfully refer to her as the "Girl of Steel."

Why? Take a look at the ongoing National High School Games (inter-high school championship) held in Tokyo and the surrounding prefectures. Hemphill on Saturday won the heptathlon competition-which features seven events such as the high jump and the javelin-for the second straight year with 5,519 points, setting a national junior record.

But that's not all. She also took part in the individual 100-meter hurdles on Sunday, and outran a nationwide group of rivals to bag the title.

Hemphill also took part in the 4x100 and 4x400 relays, helping her Kyoto Bunkyo High School finish third in the latter event.

The tough schedule is not unusual for her.

In the Kinki region preliminaries held in June, Hemphill took part in 10 events over four days.

"Daily practices are much harder for me. I never felt reluctant to take part in races," Hemphill said.

She won the first heptathlon event, clocking 13.57 seconds in the 100 hurdles. That victory gave her a lead of more than 100 points, and as the competition wore on, she steadily stretched her advantage.

The teen also won the 200, and the 5.81-meter leap she nailed in the long jump would have been good enough to qualify her through for the final in the individual event at the championships.

In the 800, the last heptathlon event, she was overtaken by Konoka Takahashi of Tokyo just before the finish line to finish second. However, at the close of the seventh event, Hemphill still finished a dominating 401 points ahead of runner-up Takahashi.

After crossing the finish line, Hemphill was all soaked in sweat. She pushed her hair back from her face and took a glance at the electronic scoreboard.

When it lit up with a "5519" reading, Hemphill broke into a huge smile.

"My goal was to break the 5,500 mark. I'm twice as happy that I also broke the [junior and high school] records," Hemphill said.

Rapid development

Hemphill is a bi-cultural athlete with an American father and a Japanese mother. She began athletics after entering middle school, and initially focused on the 100 hurdles.

When she was a third-year student, Hemphill took part in a national meet that included a watered-down heptathlon-omitting the long jump, javelin and 800 meters-and she won the competition.

Since entering Kyoto Bunkyo, she has devoted herself to the heptathlon. She has been progressing rapidly-in her second year at the school last year, she won her first National High School Games title with 5,143 points. And now, she has won her second title, scoring 376 points more than last year. The national record is Yuki Nakata's 5,962 points she posted at the Japan Championships in June 2004.

Hemphill said participating at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics is in her sights. At the same time, however, she knows she has to improve, especially in the shot put and javelin.

"The throwing events are far from satisfactory," she said.

Beside the Tokyo Olympics, the "Girl of Steel" has another ambition.

"I want to raise the profile of the heptathlon and hurdles events."