Hiding her true identity for 10 years… Ai Kinugawa, former World Athletics “beauty” representative, “hell days” until she became a top cosplayer. | FRIDAY DIGITAL

Hiding her true identity for 10 years… Ai Kinugawa, former World Athletics “beauty” representative, “hell days” until she became a top cosplayer.

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Kinugawa begins dual life as a runner and cosplayer

If my first life is as a track and field athlete, my second life is as a cosplayer. In my third life, I want to do something that only I can do by combining my first and second lives.

Renya, a cosplayer who has become a character from the road-racing anime “Weak Mushi Pedal,” is one such person. Renya is a top cosplayer who has been selected as one of the best cosplayers by a magazine for two consecutive years, and has over 20,000 followers on X (formerly Twitter).

Renya’s real name is Ai Kinugawa (34). Some readers may be thinking, “Oh? Some readers may be thinking, “Oh? Kinugawa is a famous athlete who has twice been selected to represent Japan in the women’s World Championships in Athletics (in Osaka in 2007 and in Daegu, Korea in 2011). Kinugawa, who has charmed many fans as a “beautiful track and field athlete” with her lovely smile, has been hiding the fact that she is Renya, a cosplayer, for about 10 years, and confessed her true identity for the first time in an interview with “Sports Hochi” dated May 7, 2011. In his own words, Kinugawa introduces the difficult half of his life before embarking on a third life.

I was fast from the time I was in kindergarten. I was always in first place at elementary school athletic meets. But the reason I started track and field in earnest in junior high school was because I wanted to lose weight. My height (about 155 cm) was almost the same as now, but I weighed about 10 kg heavier. I joined the track club because I thought that if I ran, I would lose weight and be able to wear cute clothes.

I was surprised when an old man I didn’t know said, “Hey, hey, hey!

Becoming a character in “WIMUSUME PEDAL

Kinugawa’s natural talent has led him to achieve good results in various competitions. On the other hand, his natural character sometimes makes his fans laugh. At the All-Japan Junior High School Championships in his third year of junior high school, he was running alone from the beginning of the race, but was overtaken by the following team and came in second place when he was gut-punching himself just before the finish line. Such an unlikeable Kinugawa met his destiny in junior high school.

At one of the competitions,” he says, “an old man I didn’t know started talking to me, saying, ‘Ya, ya. I was running with a waist-high Tsuma-tsuki like Kenyan and Ethiopian athletes, which is rare for Japanese. The old man seemed to have taken notice of that and said to those around him, “I can be raised to be a world-class runner. He said, “I might be able to train him to be a world-class runner. The old man was Takao Watanabe, the coach of Sendai Ikuei High School (Miyagi Prefecture), a prestigious track and field school.

On Watanabe’s recommendation, Kinugawa entered Sendai Ikuei High School. Watanabe called Kinugawa a “fragile light car with a turbo engine” and trained him without excessive practice. The training method worked perfectly, and Kinugawa won the first place in the first section of the high school relay race in her sophomore year, and placed third in the 10,000m at the Japan Championships in her junior year. The same year, she participated in the World Championships in Athletics as the only female high school athlete and placed 14th (10,000m). However, …….

I was aiming to make the team for the Beijing Olympics to be held in August 2008 at Mizuno, a sporting goods manufacturer, which I joined after graduating from high school. But right before the Olympics, I began to suffer from unexplained health problems. I had a string of injuries, including a fatigue fracture in my foot, and when one healed, I repeatedly hurt the next part of my body. ……

I also suffered from a viral disease that made me dizzy, and I lost my sense of balance and could not even walk properly. It was difficult for me to even lead a normal life, let alone make the Olympic team, and I spent every day in a hellish state of anxiety.

Kinugawa dressed as a man.

Even after finally recovering his health, he was still unable to motivate himself. What pushed him back were two sad events that occurred in 2011.

One was the Great East Japan Earthquake that hit the Tohoku region where my alma mater is located. The other was the death of Samuel Wanjiru, the gold medalist in the men’s marathon at the Beijing Olympics, who was from Kenya. Wanjiru died in an accident in May 2011. He was only 24 years old. …… Mr. Wanjiru studied at Sendai Ikuei and was a senior whom I admired and ran with.

Takao Watanabe, who had mentored me after graduating from high school, lamented, “You are the only one of my students who can compete on the world stage. That’s when I started running again. I resumed running in earnest. When I thought about the people of Sendai and Mr. Wanjiru who were affected by the Great East Japan Earthquake, my desire to ‘carry on his spirit’ became stronger and more powerful.

Thanks to the enthusiastic guidance of his mentor, Mr. Watanabe, Kinugawa also made a comeback. In June 2011, he won the Japan Athletic Championships, setting a new personal best in the 5000m. In November of the same year, he was selected to represent Japan at the World Championships in Daegu, Korea. But the glory days were not to last long. In Part 2, we will introduce Kinugawa’s struggle to find a second life as a cosplayer, and the rock bottom period when she lost sight of herself after her retirement.

Part 2: Ai Kinugawa, the “beautiful track and field athlete,” “wanted to be a different person,” and experienced despair.


Ai Kinugawa was born on August 7, 1989 in Takasaki City, Gunma Prefecture. Born in Takasaki City, Gunma Prefecture. A track and field athlete who has attracted attention since her days at Sendai Ikuei High School. She has participated in the World Championships in Athletics twice. Her cheerful character attracts many fans. She is also active as a cosplayer under the name Renya.

Only athletes look good in sportswear.
Athlete-like muscles on the calf and other parts of the body
Kept his identity a secret for about 10 years.
Active as cosplayer Renya
Started his third life as a hybrid of athlete and cosplayer.
Popular since high school for his lovable smile
Talks passionately about his love of cosplay
  • PHOTO Hiroyuki Komatsu

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