“I won thanks to Mr. Mimura,” were the first excited words runner Hiromi Taniguchi said as he was swamped by the press on winning the 1991 world marathon championship. Such praise is usually reserved for coaches, but Kobe-based Hitoshi Mimura’s bespoke sports shoes have won him many devotees. I took a 90-minute train ride from Kobe to his atelier and workshop in Kakogawa and met the man who many athletes consider to be the difference between winning and losing.
Dubbed “The god of shoes” by Olympic marathon gold medallist Mizuki Noguchi, Mimura’s client list reads like a who’s who of sporting greats – former F1 driver Jean Alesi, Athens Olympic gold medallist Stefano Baldini and former top British runner Mara Yamauchi among them. But a few years back, Mimura quit Asics to set up his own company, Mimulabo. His aim: to produce even better shoes.
“I take 13 measurements of the foot, each foot has to be measured separately,” explains the sensei of shoemaking. “I only trust hand-measuring. Currently, each shoe takes about three weeks to make, mainly due to determining which materials to use.” Preparation is also key. “For a world championships or Olympics I check the course once or twice. I went to Beijing three times.”
Mimura’s shoes have become the hold grail of road running shoes with athletes across the world seeking out an audience with the most famous of shoemakers. “I only have a staff of eight,” Mimura says, “so I’m afraid I must first look after the top athletes.” However, he has now entered into an agreement with Adidas to assist in the design and production of top-level shoes, so it’s a little easier to get your hands on some Mimura magic.