Daegu gives Japan’s track, field athletes chance to shine before London Games

Kaz Nagatsuka

Team Japan wants to use Daegu as a steppingstone for London.

With the 2011 IAAF World Athletics Championships set to begin on Aug. 27 in the South Korean city, the Japanese representatives assembled at a Tokyo hotel for a team-forming ceremony on Friday afternoon.

“I would like you to make this opportunity a firm step toward London for next year,” Seiko Hashimoto, a Japan Olympic Committee board member told the athletes from the podium. “I know all of you are used to other people’s high expectations, but I hope that you have high expectations for yourselves.”

Yohei Kono, senator and chairman of the Japan Association of Athletics Federations, and Hiroshi Yokogawa, JAAF vice chairman, were also in attendance and gave speeches.

Japan has won a total of 20 medals in the biennial world championships, which was first held in 1983 in Helsinki. Marathoners Toru Taniguchi and Sachiko Yamashita, who won gold and silver, respectively, in the 1991 World Championships in Tokyo were the first two. Hammer star Koji Murofushi, men’s 400-meter hurdler Dai Tamesue, marathon runner Reiko Tosa and Masako Chiba (10,000 meters and marathon) have all won two apiece.

Team Japan manager Susumu Takano said that the team’s top goal in Daegu is to “set up staging for London” with a year left until the upcoming Summer Games. But he added that it would not be as easy to make it happen as to talk about it.

“We have got to think of (this world championships) and next year’s London Olympics as a set, but it won’t be easy,” Takano said.

“Other countries are making progress as well. We understand that earning medals is very hard, yet we hope our athletes at least renew their personal bests to gain some confidence.”

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While most of the representatives seemingly growing their strain and jitters, veteran javelin thrower Yukifumi Murakami appeared laid back and hopeful to perform on the world stage.

Murakami, who stunned Japanese audience by winning the bronze medal in the javelin two years ago in Berlin, said after the ceremony that he doesn’t feel pressure but a pleasant feeling.

“I’m very much looking forward to the championships, that’s the feeling that’s occupying my mind,” said a smiling Murakami, who was named the captain of the men’s squad. Meanwhile, Satomi Kubokura, a 400-meter hurdler, was named the women’s captain. Fifty athletes are listed on Team Japan’s squad for worlds.

Murakami has a reason to be in that kind of state of mind. He said his throws have been getting better day in and day out as the world championships draws near.

And for him, the past two years since he won the medal in Berlin has been a satisfactory time and gone so quickly.

“It was fast,” the 31-year-old said. “Because it was very fulfilling. I’ve been really able to enjoy the sport in the past two years.”

Murakami discreetly said that he would first focus on advancing out of the qualification round and then go for a better result than what he achieved in Berlin.

But not for a silver-colored one. He wants one that shines gold.

“You know, once you take the field and compete, you want to be on top,” Murakami said. “I want to have my goal big. I want to look at the top of the summit.”