Niiya (right) at the 2012 Olympics
|Born||26 February 1988 (age 26)
Sōja, Okayama, Japan
Hitomi Niiya (新谷 仁美 Niiya Hitomi?, born 26 February 1988 in Sōja, Okayama) is a Japanese long-distance runner who competes in cross country running and marathon races. Niiya competed for Japan at the 2012 Summer Olympics. She represents Team Toyota Industries in national competition.
She formed part of the Japanese junior team at the IAAF World Cross Country Championships from 2004 to 2006, helping them to team medals each time. She also won a bronze medal over 5000 metres at the 2005 World Youth Championships. Niiya won the 2007 Tokyo Marathon at the age of eighteen in her debut over the marathon distance. Her best for the event is 2:30:58 hours. She has also had success in ekiden relay running, having represented Japan at the Yokohama International Women's Ekiden and helped Toyota Industries to their first team title domestically.
Niiya attended Kōjōkan Senior High School and began competing in track and field and cross country running while there. After winning the junior selection race at the Chiba Cross Country, Niiya made her international debut at the 2004 IAAF World Cross Country Championships and her nineteenth place finish helped the Japanese junior women to the team bronze medal. She took a consecutive victory in Chiba in February 2005, thus returning to the world event the following year. She improved to thirteenth place and helped the Japanese team to another bronze alongside Akane Wakita and Yurika Nakamura. The 2005 World Youth Championships in Athletics in Marrakesh provided her the venue for her first international individual medal, as she claimed the bronze in the 3000 metres. That October, she won the 3000 m at the 2005 National Sports Festival of Japan in Okayama, being the only local athlete to win at the festival. At the end of that year she won at the inter-high school championships and ran the second fastest time ever for a Japanese high school student in the 5000 metres, taking her title with a time of 15:28.70 minutes.
Niiya repeated both her thirteenth placing and team bronze at the 2006 IAAF World Cross Country Championships junior race, but began to move towards ekiden road running competitions that year. She represented Japan in the Yokohama International Women's Ekiden and just edged past Ethiopia's Ameba Denboba on the final leg to lift Japan into the top three. After graduating from high school she chose to focus on running full-time, working under coach Yoshio Koide, who trained Olympic champion Naoko Takahashi. The rebooted Tokyo Marathon in 2007 did not invite any elite level women and Niiya filled the void, entering the race among the thousands of public runners, and won the women's race, recording a time of 2:31:01 hours for her debut over the distance.
In March 2008, she debuted in the half marathon, finishing with a time of 1:11:41 hours to take third place behind Mara Yamauchi and Rie Takayoshi at the Matsue Ladies Half Marathon. She competed in her second marathon that August but found herself behind Yukari Sahaku (also coached by Koide) and finished in second place at the Hokkaido Marathon. Her year ended on a high note as she helped Toyota Industries to their first title at the All Japan Corporate Team Women's Ekiden Championships.
Her third marathon came in March 2009 at the Nagoya Marathon – she was leading at 30 km and although she achieved a personal best time of 2:30:58, she slowed in the latter stages and finished eighth. At the Oda Memorial in April she won the 5000 m with a personal best time of 15:23.27 minutes. The following year, a third place finish in Fukuoka gained her a place on the senior team for the 2010 IAAF World Cross Country Championships, where she finished in 31st place.
Her 2011 season began with two domestic victories at the Chiba and Fukuoka Cross Country races, winning by large margins in both. At the 2011 IAAF World Cross Country Championships she finished in 26th place, helping Japan to seventh in the women's team rankings. On the track, she ran a 5000 m best of 15:13.12 minutes in June then claimed the 2011 Asian Athletics Championships silver medal in the event a month later, finishing behind Ethiopian-born Bahraini Tejitu Daba. She was selected for the 2011 World Championships in Athletics and reached the 5000 m final, coming 13th overall. At the Chiba International Ekiden in November she ran a stage record on the final leg to help Japan to second place behind Kenya.
The Inter-Prefectural Women's Ekiden in January 2012 saw Niiya win the final 10K stage to lift the Chiba team into third place overall. She was the best-performing Asian-born runner at the 2012 Asian Cross Country Championships, where she finished fourth in the women's race. She gained the Olympic A standard for the 10,000 m with a world-leading and personal best run of 31:28.26 minutes to win at the Hyogo Relays. She represented Japan in both the 5000 m and 10,000 m at the 2012 London Olympics. She set a best of 30:59.19 minutes for ninth place at the 10,000 metres final and ran a best of 15:10.20 minutes in the 5000 metres heats. She won the 5000 m at both the Japanese National Games and the Japanese Championships that year.
She won the Fukuoka cross country title for a third year running in February 2013.
Niiya competed in the 10,000m at the World Athletics Championships in Moscow on 11 August 2013. Taking the lead early on, she led for the majority of the race but was outsprinted in the last 600m eventually finishing fifth in a personal best time of 30:56.70.
On January 31, 2014, at a press conference, Niiya officially announced her retirement from running professionally, citing her foot injury as the cause. In November of 2012, she was diagnosed with plantar fasciitis in her right foot and had decided then that the 2013 World Championships would be her last professional race. When asked to reflect back on her past career as a runner, she said, "Once I'm a granny I might think, 'Man that was hard,' but right now I have nothing but good memories" and that her favorite memory was winning the National High School Ekiden Championships while attending Kōjōkan High School. When asked about her future away from the sport, she said, "It's a complete blank. I can't imagine what I'll be doing. I can't do anything useful for society, but I will completely cut off connection with the world of athletics." She cried with her mother and left these final words for future athletes: "Always do what you think is the right thing no matter what anybody tells you." She will be missed by her adoring fans.  
- Hitomi Niiya (Japanese). Toyota. Retrieved on 2011-02-27.
- Nakamura, Ken (2005-02-20). Niiya, Yamanaka, Sato and Wanjiru excel in Chiba Cross Country. IAAF. Retrieved on 2011-02-27.
- 2004 World XC Championships – Junior race. WJAH. Retrieved on 2011-02-27.
- 2005 World XC Championships – Junior race. WJAH. Retrieved on 2011-02-27.
- 2005 World Youth Championships. WJAH. Retrieved on 2011-02-27.
- Nakamura, Ken (2006-03-21). Juniors again the strength, as Japan unveils Fukuoka line-up. IAAF. Retrieved on 2011-02-27.
- Niiya Hitomi. IAAF. Retrieved on 2011-02-27.
- Nakamura, Ken (2006-02-26). Russia take runaway victory – Yokohama Ekiden. IAAF. Retrieved on 2011-02-27.
- Nakamura, Ken (2007-02-18). Njenga wins Tokyo Marathon’s first ever mass-entry race. IAAF. Retrieved on 2011-02-27.
- Mara Yamauchi wins Matsue Ladies Half Marathon. Association of Road Racing Statisticians. Retrieved on 2011-02-27.
- Nakamura, Ken (2008-08-31). Defending champion Gitahi well beaten by Takamizawa; Sahaku wins women's race in Hokkaido Marathon. IAAF. Retrieved on 2011-02-27.
- Nakamura, Ken (2008-12-14). Toyota Industries win their first Ekiden Championships. IAAF. Retrieved on 2011-02-27.
- Nakamura, Ken (2009-03-08). Fujinaga wins Nagoya Women’s Marathon in 2:28:13. IAAF. Retrieved on 2011-02-27.
- Nakamura, Ken (2009-05-06). National women’s 200m record and world season 10,000m lead – Japanese competition round-up. IAAF. Retrieved on 2011-02-27.
- Nakamura, Ken (2010-02-27). Japanese World XC selection firms up over ‘Power’ and ‘Camel’ hills – Fukuoka Cross Country. IAAF. Retrieved on 2011-02-27.
- Karoki wins again – Kenyans and hosts dominate at Fukuoka Cross Country. IAAF. Retrieved on 2011-02-27.
- 2011 Asian Championships - Women's 5000 m. 2011 Kobe. Retrieved on 2011-11-25.
- Nakamura, Ken (2011-11-23). Teenagers Mwikya and Mokua lead Kenya to Chiba Ekiden victory. IAAF. Retrieved on 2011-11-25.
- Nakamura, Ken (2012-01-15). Osaka wins women’s Inter-Prefectural Ekiden in Kyoto. IAAF. Retrieved on 2012-01-16.
- Krishnan, Ram. Murali (2012-03-25). Bahrain dominates at Asian XC champs. IAAF. Retrieved on 2012-03-26.
- Larner, Brett (2012-04-22). Mathathi and Niiya Run 10000 m World Leaders at Hyogo Relay Carnival. Japan Running News. Retrieved on 2012-04-28
- Hitomi Niiya. London 2012. Retrieved on 2013-03-02.
- Nakamura, Ken (2012-06-11). Japan announces Olympic team as national champs conclude. IAAF. Retrieved on 2013-03-02.
- Nakamura, Ken (2013-02-23). Ndirangu and Thuku continue winning streak in Fukuoka. IAAF. Retrieved on 2013-03-02.
- Hitomi Niiya at Retirement Press Conference: "Nothing But Good Memories". Japan Running News. Retrieved on 2014-01-31.
- Olympian Hitomi Niiya Announces Retirement. Japan Running News. Retrieved on 2014-01-25.
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