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Japan relay squad striving for consistent success

by Kaz Nagatsuka

Staff Writer

Competing as a team is something Japan is good at in sports. So why not do so in track and field?

With the IAAF World Relays set to be inaugurated in Nassau, Bahamas, next May, the Japan Association of Athletics Federations has decided to run its national relay teams constantly, not just when there are Olympics and world championships.

The JAAF announced its 38-man relay squad at the National Training Center on Monday afternoon. It included youngsters Ryota Yamagata and Yoshihide Kiryu .

The squad is divided into 4×100 meters and 4×400 meters for men and women for the time being. According to the IAAF, the World Relays will feature 4×200 meters, 4×800 meters and 4×1,500 meters, too. The JAAF will consider dispatching teams for those events at a later date.

Though the details for the World Relays have yet to be announced by the sport’s world governing body, the top eight finishers for the 4×100 and 4×400 relays in the tourney will be granted automatic berths for the IAAF World Championships in Beijing in 2015.

“This competition will directly lead to berths for the world championships and Olympics,” said Yasuhiro Harada, the JAAF’s strengthening committee director. “So it has a significant meaning to form this national team for our developmental plans.”

The national teams set their goals for the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

For the men’s 4×100 relay team, which is by far more competitive than the other three teams, the goal is clearly to win a medal.

The team earned a bronze medal at the Beijing Olympics five years ago. But it was helped by some luck, as the United States was disqualified in the semifinals.

Koji Ito, the head of the national sprint team, said he wants to make the 4×100 team into a group that can always compete for a medal, while recognizing that it would not be easily done.

“If you watched the last world championships (in Moscow), you’ve perhaps noticed,” said Ito, who still owns the national record of 10.00 seconds in the 100. “Running within 38 seconds is becoming a must to win a medal.

“Japan hasn’t done that yet, so we need to run within 38 seconds constantly.”

The national record is 38.03 seconds, which was notched at the 2007 world championships in Osaka. Jamaica has the world record of 36.84.

Track and field is essentially an individual sport, but forming the national relay team appears to have given the athletes deeper emotion in representing the country.

“As a part of the Japan team, I would like to help by having a great time and contribute to the country,” said Kiryu, who became a high school sensation by running 10.01 seconds in April (the time was not approved by the IAAF because the JAAF didn’t use the right anemometer for the tournament).

Kiryu’s rival and top sprinter Yamagata said, “It’s an honor to be selected on this national team and I’ll do my best to bring the team to the world championships in 2015.”

Japan finished fifth at the London Games and sixth at the world championships this summer in the men’s 4×100 relay events.

The men’s squads for the 4×100 and 4×400 have already qualified for the first World Relays. It is unclear if the women’s squads will be able to participate because of their world ranks and times.

The national relay team will conduct a monthly training camp, mainly at the NTC, starting this month. Ito said that the men’s 4×100 team is planning to have a training camp in Australia in February and in the U.S. in March. He added that it might compete in the Texas Relays, an annual competition held in Austin, in March.

The IAAF revealed the inauguration of the World Relays during last year’s London Olympics. The second edition will be held in Nassau as well.