With Usain Bolt retired, the title of the fastest man in the world is up for grabs at the Tokyo Olympics.
The summer Games’ flagship athletics event – the men’s 100 meters is as open as it has been for years. For the first time since 2004, Bolt will not be in the starting blocks.
Bolt went undefeated in the 100 and 200 meters in three consecutive Olympics before retiring in 2017. The Jamaican’s retirement opens the door for a group of sprinters including several Japanese runners who will aim to make their mark in the flagship event .
Yoshihide Kiryu became the first Japanese to cross the 10-second barrier in the men’s 100 meters when he ran 9.98 in an inter-varsity competition in September 2017.
Since Kiryu broke the 10-second mark, three other Japanese sprinters have: Abdul Hakim Sani Brown (9.97), Yuki Koike (9.98) and Ryota Yamagata, who set the national record of 9, 95 June 6.
Shuhei Tada, who won the men’s 100 meters at the national championships last month with a time of 10.15, clinched an Olympic berth with Yamagata. Koike was nominated for the remaining Japan berth by the Japan Association of Athletics Federations on Friday, July 2.
After setting the new national record, Yamagata said he was focused on the Olympics.
“I wanted to break 10 seconds for a long time,” Yamagata said. “I see the Olympics as real competition.
Japanese sprinters have shown steady progress in recent years. All the hard work and training culminated in the 4 × 100 team’s superb silver medal at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.
By the time of their victory, Kiryu and Yamagata had not yet run under 10 seconds. The other members of this team were Aska Cambridge and Shota Iizuka.
It was a huge boost for the confidence of the Japanese sprinters. Their precision in transfers has given them an advantage over teams that have faster athletes.
At the Tokyo Games there will be several top contenders out of 100 for the gold medal.
Trayvon Bromell of the United States is expected to be considered the favorite after the 26-year-old clocked the fastest time of the year in 9.77 on June 5 at the NACAC New Life Invitational in Miramar, Fla.
But Bromell has had two Achilles operations from Rio. Injuries hampered him in training and competing all the way to Tokyo. In three years he has only run three competitive races.
American Christian Coleman will miss the Games after being banned for missing several drug tests.
The United States has not won a gold in the men’s 100 meters since Justin Gatlin won in Athens in 2004.
Gatlin, who is now 39, will not be in Tokyo. He competed in a test event at New National Stadium in Tokyo in May where he won the men’s 100m in 10.24. His personal best is 9.74 which he ran in 2015.
But in last month’s US Trials final in Oregon, he fell short and was eighth, a shocking end for what was likely his last shot at the Olympics.
Gatlin, the silver medalist in Rio, twisted his hamstrings in the semifinals. He was determined to make the final, but finished more than a second behind Bromell.
De Grasse and Lyles should claim the medals
Other contenders include Canadian Andre De Grasse and American Noah Lyles.
De Grasse, who won bronze in the 100 in Rio, silver in the 200 and bronze in the 4 × 100 relay, has been in good shape lately and has said he can accomplish great things by himself. he remains in good health.
De Grasse, 26, missed most of the 2017 and 2018 seasons with a hamstring injury, but returned to win bronze in the 100 and silver in the 200 at the 2019 world championships in Doha.
“I feel like I will be better prepared this time around,” said De Grasse. “I feel better, I am stronger. I have improved a lot knowing how to take care of my body.
De Grasse won the 200 at a Diamond League competition in Oslo earlier this month with a time of 20.09. His compatriot Aaron Brown was second in 20.38.
De Grasse, whose personal best is 9.90, will look to become the first Canadian to win gold in the 100 since Donovan Bailey in 1996.
Lyles, the reigning 200-meter champion, failed to qualify for the 100 when he finished seventh with a time of 10.05 at the US Olympic Trials. But the 23-year-old won the 200 with a world record of 19.74 to book a ticket to Tokyo and could be the favorite in that race.
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Author: Jim Armstrong
The author is a longtime journalist who has covered sport in Japan for over 25 years. You can find his articles here, on JAPAN Forward.