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Kiryu happy to forgo giant strides for steady progress

by Kaz Nagatsuka

Staff Writer

Having shed the flashy, eye-catching pink shorts of his high school and grown his hair longer, Japanese sprinter Yoshihide Kiryu has begun a new chapter in his track career, aiming to step up to the next level in a new environment.

Kiryu, who shot to prominence when he notched Japan’s second-best time ever — 10.01 seconds — in the 100 meters as a student of Kyoto’s Rakunan High School last year, moved from Kansai to Kanto this month to enroll at Toyo University.

“I don’t think I’ll get used to it,” Kiryu, a Shiga Prefecture native, said of his new base, jokingly, at the university’s campus in Kawagoe, Saitama Prefecture. “There are an amazing amount of people in the trains on my way to (another) campus (in Tokyo).”

But whether the 18-year-old likes his new surroundings or not, the high expectations placed on him will not alter. The hope is that Kiryu can become the first Japanese to ever run the 100 meters in under 10 seconds.

Kiryu said that the key to achieving this is the early part of the race. He insists that if he can start well and gain momentum, he will have a good shot at breaking the barrier that has denied other Japanese sprinters (Koji Ito holds the Japanese record of 10.00 seconds).

Kiryu thinks that a sub-10-second mark will come if he can put everything together. But records aside, he just wants to beat his personal best first.

“When it comes, it comes,” Kiryu said of the sub-10-second challenge. “I’m trying not to obsess over it. If I’m in good condition, it could happen any time.”

This year, as a collegiate student-athlete, what Kiryu is looking for is more consistency. In other words, he wants to be the strongest in Japan, not just the fastest.

“It’s not OK for me just to put up one big record,” he said. “I would like to be able to perform more consistently.”

One good thing is that Kiryu has plenty of hours, days and years ahead of him to work. He is still in a trial-and-error stage, so to speak. In fact, he said that last year he attempted to swing his arms more, emulating American sprinters, but it didn’t work out for him.

But the young man still has enough time to sort out what’s good and what’s bad for him.

The Toyo University track club will develop him with a long-term view, not trying to over-coach him early.

Hiroyasu Tsuchie, who is the vice-director for the men’s national sprint team and became the sprint coach for Toyo this year, said that he has urged Kiryu to see the bigger picture.

“We would ultimately like to have (Kiryu) at the start line for the (men’s) final competing for a medal at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. We talked about that,” Tsuchie said. “And he will have to get used to competing at a higher stage. That’s the No. 1 goal for us.”

Takayoshi Yoshioka is the only Japanese male to have competed in the 100-meter final at an Olympics (1932 Los Angeles Games).

Last year, Kiryu was invited to compete at the Birmingham Diamond League meet in June and then represented Japan at August’s world championships in Moscow, but he delivered lackluster performances with times that were well below his personal best.

But Kiryu qualified through a heat for the first time in an international senior meet last month, advancing to the 60-meter semifinals at the world indoor championships in Sopot, Poland.

“As much as it’s important to have good times, it’s important for him to gain experience,” Tsuchie said.

Kiryu is on the same page as Tsuchie and isn’t looking to make rapid leaps, but to have steady, gradual progress.

This year, he has set his sights on gold medals at the world junior championships in Eugene, Oregon, and Asian Games in Incheon, South Korea, while he is also expected to compete in the inaugural world relays in the Bahamas.

“I’m looking forward to those competitions,” said Kiryu, who won at a meet in Izumo, Shimane Prefecture, with a time of 10.26 in his first 100 race of the season on Sunday. “If I can win there (in the Asiad and world junior), then I can convince myself that I can be competitive.”

Kiryu will return to Hiroshima on April 29 for the annual Mikio Oda Memorial meet, where he timed 10.01 a year ago, for his next race.