Sumo wrestling may nominally be Japan’s national sport but they absolutely love the marathon. (I’m actually currently reading Adharanand Finn’s The Way of the Runner, which takes a look at the running-obsessed country. It’s a fascinating read and you should check it out as well.)
According to Inside The Games, runners hoping to qualify for Japan’s 2020 Olympic marathon team will have to participate in a two-year series. The series will look at runners with the best times and places before they participate in the Grand Champion Race, which will be on the same course as the Olympic marathon. It’s an interesting approach to selecting the national team. But if any nation can remain captivated by it, it’s Japan.
The marathon is clearly established in its popularity. But one of the more fascinating areas of growth for Japan of late, has been in its sprinting. And on the same day that news of their new marathon selection process for Tokyo 2020 was released, we get a look at the Japanese 4×100 team entered for this weekend’s IAAF World Relays.
I remember the hype behind Yoshihide Kiryu back in 2013 when he ran 10.01. He’s run a wind-aided 9.87 but never broken 10-seconds without a little gust. It was a sign that someone could soon break Koji Ito’s 10.00 national record. Kiryu came close last year with his 10.01 again. He’s just 21 years old so there’s still a chance.
And then last summer, the Japanese 4×100 team took silver behind Usain Bolt’s Jamaican squad in his last Olympic race. The greatest sprinter of all-time running his final race at the Olympics seemed like enough to overshadow the Japanese breakthrough.
But I the next day in Rio, I read this short and cool piece by Jesse Washington of the Undefeated on Asuka Camrbidge, whose father was Jamaican and his mother was Japanese. He noted that the Japanese team had been practicing handoffs since March. As we’ve come to learn with the United States’ history of mishaps, those are really important.
So this weekend, Japan fields a relay pool made up of some combination of Takumi Masuda (PB – 10.33), Soshi Mizukubo (10.49), Kenta Oshima (PB – 10.29), Yuya Saito (PB – 10.80) and Jun Yamashita (PB – 10.44). Masuda is the oldest of the bunch and he was born on February 11th, 1997. This seems like a purely experimental relay team by Japan since none of the members of the Rio 4×100 team are on it.
It’s clear that there’s a new talent pool in the works. They may not look so great this weekend but it’ll be like when a Major League baseball team gives a prospect a September call-up. It’s a big stage with medals on the line and a little test run with three years to go until they can capitalize on a Bolt-less Jamaican squad, and improve upon their silver from Rio.