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Yamagata outsprints Kiryu in 100-meter final at nationals

by Kaz Nagatsuka

Staff Writer

As the sprinters took their marks at the starting line, the big Ajinomoto Stadium was almost completely silent.

It was probably the sign of the audience’s high expectations for a pair of young, rising track stars in Ryota Yamagata and Yoshihide Kiryu. The spectators wanted to let them focus on the track as much as possible.

Unfortunately, the fans ended up not seeing the first Japanese to run the 100 meters in less than 10 seconds.

Yamagata crossed the finish line with a time of 10.11 seconds, while Kiryu was second in 10.25, in the men’s 100 final of the 97th Japan Championships at Tokyo’s Ajinomoto Stadium on Saturday.

With the results, Yamagata and Kiryu, both of whom already had cleared qualifying standards for the IAAF World Championships in Moscow, clinched spots for the August tournament.

“I’d never won at the national championships, so I’m so excited,” said Yamagata, a student-athlete at Keio University, who advanced to an Olympic 100 semifinal heat at the 2012 London Games.

Yamagata, 20, took advantage of his speedy start (he had the quickest reaction time of 0.119 seconds) and never saw anybody’s back until the end.

Kiryu, meanwhile, got off to a bad start as he had the third-slowest kick from the starting blocks among the eight finalists (0.140 seconds) and couldn’t compensate for this deficit against Yamagata the rest of the way.

“I’m disappointed to have lost for sure,” said Kiryu, a student of Kyoto’s Rakunan High School. “But in my first national championships, I think I had a good race and it became a good experience for me.”

In April’s Oda Memorial tournament, the 17-year-old Kiryu achieved stardom, winning the 100 in 10.03 and defeating Yamagata by 0.01 seconds. But it was apparently Yamagata’s turn to show his back to his rival.

“When I noticed him (in the next lane) running ahead of me,” said Kiryu, “I tried to catch him but he wouldn’t let me.”

Kiryu had tied for the world junior record of 10.01, Japan’s second-ever fastest time, in an Oda Memorial heat.

Kiryu has been busy participating in high school tournaments. And after competing in nine races in the 100, 200 and 4×400 relay last weekend, he admitted that he felt his body was heavy from fatigue.

Kei Takase was third in 10.28 and former national champion Naoki Tsukahara finished fourth in 10.31.

In other notable events, former world championship bronze medalist Yukifumi Murakami had a 81.04-meter mark in his fifth attempt to win in the men’s javelin throw. Genki Dean was the runnerup with a 78.73 mark.

Murakami struggled to get his rhythm early on, but his veteran experience enabled him to manage an 80-meter throw late.

“As I threw my fourth attempt, I knew I’d be able to go over 80 meters,” said Murakami, who had won at the annual tournament for 13 straight years before Dean stopped the streak last year.

In the women’s 100, Chisato Fukushima triumphed for the fourth consecutive year with a time of 11.41. But the Hokkaido native didn’t have a big smile as she failed to finish with at least a world championships B qualifying standard (11.36).

“It’s an honor (to win), but time-wise I’m far from satisfied,” Fukushima said. “I don’t feel like I (gave) everything I had…”

In the men’s 400, Yuzo Kanamaru extended his winning streak at nationals to nine. He crossed the line in 45.56 seconds.