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Kiryu reflects on special year

Teen sprinter raising global profile after breakout 2013

by Kaz Nagatsuka

Staff Writer

It feels like track phenom Yoshihide Kiryu has been in the spotlight longer than he has been. But his breakout year was 2013, which is, of course, this year.

Yes, it was only seven months ago that many first heard this teenager’s name. Kiryu, 17, ran 10.01 seconds in the men’s 100 meters semifinals at the Mikio Oda Memorial Meet on April 29. That time was Japan’s second-fastest ever and the world junior record (the latter status was later removed by the IAAF because the Japan Association of Athletics Federations didn’t use the proper anemometer).

From then on, everybody noticed Kiryu, and not just inside Japan but outside too. The world’s top sprinters, including Usain Bolt and Tyson Gay, acknowledged him, and a lot of international track fans began talking about the student of Kyoto’s Rakunan High School. The BBC website ran a feature on him during the summer.

Kiryu then got exposure in foreign competitions. He was invited to run in a Diamond League meet in Birmingham, England, in late June and represented Team Japan at the IAAF World Athletics Championships in Moscow in August.

Aside from that, he competed in race after race because he had to run both in high school competitions and adult competitions. During his most hectic period, he would race every single weekend. And at each one, TV cameras and reporters pursued him.

Unfortunately, for Kiryu, he has so far come up short in his bid to become Japan’s first man to run under 10 seconds. Still, 2013 has been an incredible year for him.

“I had the 10.01 mark, which was good, but the bad thing was, I couldn’t run faster than that,” Kiryu said on Monday. “But overall, I’d say it was a very good year as I ended up grabbing titles in many of the races I ran.”

Next year, meanwhile, will be a whole new experience for him.

Kiryu, a Shiga Prefecture native, has been accepted to attend Toyo University, starting next April. Of course, he’ll join its track club. He said he has already checked out the club’s facilities and was amazed at how much better they were compared with those he currently uses at Rakunan.

Toyo seems to have been actively recruiting notable athletes lately, including world-class swimmers Kosuke Hagino and Akihiro Yamaguchi, both of whom enrolled at the school this past April.

“Since they go to the same school, if there’s a chance, I’d like to talk with them about things like how to compete internationally,” Kiryu said.

Kiryu proved this year that he’s got a long way to go before he is able to compete equally with the world’s top athletes, and has definitely got to develop and mature more.

Although Kiryu admitted that he was obsessed with breaking the 10-second barrier after he had achieved the 10.01 mark, he’s not focusing on it too much any more.

Make no mistake, he wants to do it eventually. Kiryu, who turns 18 on Dec. 15, has just realized that he’s got plenty of time to make it happen and has no reason to rush.

“I’m only 17, so I figured that I can still do that next year or the year after,” said Kiryu, adding that he wants to keep improving his muscles and maintain his top speed for longer when he runs.

At Toyo, Kiryu will have encouragement and support. Hiroyasu Tsuchie, who currently serves as the JAAF’s vice director for the men’s sprint team, will become a sprint coach for the track club next year.

In terms of making Kiryu a sub-10-second athlete, Tsuchie, a former Olympian, is on the same page as his future pupil. He thinks that what Kiryu has to do is work on fundamentals first to build his physical base.

“I personally think that a record comes incidentally,” Tsuchie said. “It comes as (Kiryu) goes through rounds (of races and practices) while aiming at the world.”

Ryota Yamagata, a rival and friend of Kiryu, suggested to his younger pal that he should keep performing without inhibitions, just as in high school, because that’s one of his positive traits.

“As you get older, you’ll have more responsibility and things like that,” said Yamagata, a Keio University junior. “But I don’t want him to lose his innocence.”

With the 2013 track season over and his university place set, Kiryu said with a smile that he is so relieved at the moment.

And with regard to starting a collegiate life and moving to the Kanto region from Kansai next spring, he only has positive expectations.

“I don’t know how it will feel to be away from home,” Kiryu said. “But I’m looking forward to everything, including attending classes, not just athletics.”