Photo/IllutrationYumiko Hara, left, competes in the women’s marathon at the Helsinki 2005 World Championships in Athletics. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

ASHIKAGA, Tochigi Prefecture--Former world-class marathon runner Yumiko Hara received a suspended sentence for shoplifting in a trial here on Nov. 8, where she revealed she has suffered from an eating disorder for 17 years.

Hara, 35, who is receiving treatment for the disorder that triggered her shoplifting habit, was convicted of stealing items totaling under 3,000 yen ($26.40).

“If I could go back in time (to when I shoplifted), I would strongly warn myself not to do such a thing,” said a tearful Hara as she was sentenced.

Hara won the Nagoya Women’s Marathon in 2005. She came in sixth in the women’s marathon at the Helsinki 2005 World Championships in Athletics, the best in the race for a Japanese athlete.

The Ashikaga branch of the Utsunomiya District Court found her guilty of stealing eight items totaling 2,673 yen, including cosmetics and a soft drink, at a convenience store in Ashikaga on July 30. The court handed down a sentence of one year in prison, suspended for three years.

Hara has a history of committing petty crimes on five occasions, including shoplifting in 2014 and 2015, for which she was fined.

Hara said in court that a cause behind the acts was the eating disorder she started suffering while she was active as an athlete.

She developed the disorder around 2000 due in part to the pressure to strictly control her weight to compete.

Hara, who is unemployed in Ashikaga, continued to battle her eating problem even after she retired as a runner. Whenever she felt anxious, she would repeat the process of overeating and throwing up.

Hara explained that she began shoplifting food because she could not afford to spend extra money on something that she would eventually throw up.

She sought help for her disorder at a local hospital, but she subsequently withdrew from treatment after relatives told her that it would look embarrassing.

In the latest shoplifting offense, Hara took non-food items for the first time. She had been aware of a security camera at the store, but she said she could not suppress her urge to steal.

“I wanted to get caught so that I can finally be free (from stealing),” Hara recalled thinking at the time.

Prosecutors sought a one-year sentence, while Hara’s lawyers argued the case for a suspended sentence.

She resumed treatment for the disorder at a psychiatric hospital after being released on bail.

In her final testimony in court, Hara said, “I want to continue with the treatment and live my life, while not forgetting the incidents I was involved in.”

Presiding judge Kaizan Nakamura said Hara’s shoplifting was habitual judging by many signs, but he decided that her habit “was not motivated by selfish desire.”

Hara stood completely still looking straight ahead as the judge delivered the verdict, apparently taking in every word.