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Gatlin urges Kiryu to believe in his ability

by Kaz Nagatsuka

Staff Writer

Olympic gold medalist Justin Gatlin has told Japanese sprinters that posting a sub-10-second mark is a feat, but ultimately not difficult to achieve.

If you have the right mind-set, he believes, it will come.

Speaking at a Saturday news conference for Sunday’s Golden Grand Prix Tokyo meet at National Stadium, the third event of the IAAF World Challenge 2014 season, Gatlin, a veteran American athlete whose personal best is 9.79 seconds in the 100 meters, insisted that, as much as polishing your techniques is important, having the right mentality will bring you better marks.

And the words of Gatlin, 32, were directed particularly at 18-year-old Yoshihide Kiryu, who has come close to achieving the feat with a 10.01-second mark as his personal best.

“I think for him (Kiryu) to break the 10-second barrier, it’s difficult, but easy,” said Gatlin, who earned a gold medal in the men’s 100 meters at the 2004 Athens Olympics. “You have to stay focused. What brought you to run 10.01 is what’s going to push you over the edge to run sub-10.

“If you are content with running 10.01, and the success of the 10.01, will not get you to run sub-10.”

And Gatlin thinks that Kiryu, who clocked 10.01 for Japan’s second-best mark ever last year (the national record is 10.00), is qualified to join the sub-10 club.

“I think that in his future, for him to go sub-10, it’s very close,” Gatlin said. “And you will make history not only for himself, but also for his country. And it’ll open the doors for many of the sprinters (in Japan). (In order to achieve that), work hard, be a student (of the race). And believe in yourself, believe that it’s there.”

Meanwhile, France’s Christophe Lemaitre, the first man purely of European descent to notch a sub-10 second mark, said that crossing the 10-second barrier should not be a goal to dwell on too much.

“We didn’t focus too much on it,” Lemaitre said of his own first sub-10 moment in 2010, when he ran 9.98. “You just have to focus your own race and on your techniques. If you train hard, you run faster and maybe you can run under 10 seconds.”

Lemaitre’s personal best is 9.92.

A freshman at Toyo University since last month, Kiryu already understands that sticking around the 10-second mark will not make him a better sprinter right away.

Kiryu also knows that he has to enjoy the process of his own growth, and not be overwhelmed by the pressure of achieving something big.

“I have to enjoy the sport myself, otherwise there’s no point for me to continue in athletics,” said Kiryu, who wants to run at least under 10.20 this time. “And if I get to have a sub-10 second mark as a result, then I would like to enjoy that with everybody else.”

But Kiryu also wants to be a global-standard competitor. While he has been a top runner at domestic meets since last year, the native of Shiga Prefecture has not been able to fully show his ability in international competitions, exiting with lackluster records.

The reason is clear. His body gets tense when he sees other faster runners run ahead of him in global races, which doesn’t happen inside Japan.

It’s easy to advise him to concentrate on his own race, not staring at the others. But that’s not Kiryu’s way. Instead he wants to be aware of tougher competitors, because he thinks that those top athletes will be his rivals in the future.

“If I keep backing down from them, I don’t think I will be able to compete with them,” said Kiryu, who has set his sights on making the final at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. “So this time, I can run with these great athletes. It’s impossible not to be aware of them. I want to test myself how much I can do, running with them.”

The men’s 100 in Sunday’s meet will also feature Michael Rodgers of the U.S., whose personal best is 9.85, and Derrick Atkins of the Bahamas, who has run as fast as 9.91.

In other competitions, men’s 400-meter world record holder Kirani James, of Grenada, will run with Shota Iizuka, the gold medalist at the 2012 World Junior Championships, in the 200.

The men’s high jump may provide the spectators with a high-level battle between the defending world champion, Bohdan Bondarenko of Ukraine, and London Olympic gold medalist Ivan Ukhov of Russia. Ukhov just renewed his personal best to 2.41 meters at a Diamond League meet in Doha on Friday.

Bondarenko’s personal best is also 2.41, which is just 4 cm shy of the world record held by Cuba’s Javier Sotomayor.

“I think that there’s a big possibility for people to see a new world record this year, although I’m not sure who’ll do it,” Bondarenko said with a smile.

For the women, Brianna Rollins of the U.S., who seized the 100 hurdle gold at the world championships in Moscow last year, is present, while gold medalists at the 2012 Olympics and last year’s world championships, Tatiana Lysenko of Russia and world-record holder Betty Heidler of Germany, will square off in the hammer throw.