Four years after cracking under pressure in Sydney, Japanese hammer thrower Koji Murofushi has grown in confidence and experience and is heading for Athens as an undisputed medal contender.

News photoKoji Murofushi, who has won silver and bronze medals at the past two World Championships, will be a strong medal
contender in the hammer throw.

Murofushi takes his unbeaten record for this year to the Aug. 22 Olympic hammer throw competition, where the two-time World Championship medalist squares off against Ivan Tikhon of Belarus and Hungarian Adrian Annus for the spot on the top of the podium.

“Everything has been going well in my preparations for the Olympics,” said Murofushi, who has won all four meets he has competed in this year, including his victory over Annus in the IAAF Grand Prix in Osaka in May.

He went on to win his 10th straight national title, set the world’s best for this year of 82.65 meters in Oregon and added a victory in Prague in the span of three weeks in June.

Czech organizers invited Murofushi to the Prague meet a year after the 29-year-old set an impressive national mark of 84.76 meters, the third best in the world’s all-time list in hammer throw.

He decided to make his final international appearance before the Olympics at the Prague meet in an effort to fine-tune his trademark delivery featuring high-speed quadruple turns.

“I’ve been trying to concentrate on building up my skills further,” Murofushi said of his conditioning regimen for the Olympics. “Many people expect alot from me and I’ll do my best to live up to those expectations.”

His father and coach Shigenobu knows when his son must move into high gear, to deliver his best performance at the right time in the right place, in his pursuit for the first gold medal in a major international meet.

“Last year, he set the national record a little earlier than he should have. It looks like that record helped stir up the spirits of his rivals and made them perform well at the World Championships,” Shigenobu said.

After finishing a disappointing ninth at the Sydney Olympics, Murofushi took silver in 2001 and bronze two years later at the biennial World Championships. And the stage has been set for him to go on top of the world at a ripe age as an athlete.

Reigning world champion Tikhon and world silver medalist Annus have once again emerged as the men to beat for Murofushi.

In late June, Tikhon bettered Murofushi’s season best with a throw of 83.36 meters, before Annus eclipsed it with 83.65 meters in mid-July as they set their sights firmly on an Olympic gold.

Former world junior champion Olli-Pekka Karjalainen of Finland is a rising star who could upstage the world’s top three.

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