The Japanese athletes showed their collective spirit at a send-off event held by the Japan Association of Athletics Federations on Thursday, heading into the IAAF World Athletics Championships, which will be held Aug. 22-30 at Beijing’s National Stadium.
Team Japan, which consists of 28 male and four female athletes, looks to make six top-eight finishes, including a couple of medals, on the global track stage. At the 2013 World Championships in Moscow, eight Japanese earned top-eight finishes, including a bronze medal by women’s marathon runner Kayoko Fukushi.
Mitsugu Ogata, the delegation’s team leader, inspired the athletes, saying that they have so much potential and their key for success would depend on how close they’d perform to their maximum ability in China.
“Believe in yourself,” Ogata told the athletes. “Your legs might be shaken with jitters, but feel the joy of being able to compete your international rivals.”
At the event, for which the majority of the track delegation attended, sprinter Kenji Fujimitsu was designated as the men’s captain and javelin thrower and national record-holder Yuki Ebihara was selected as the women’s captain for the second consecutive IAAF World Championships.
“This is my third world championships,” said 29-year-old Fujimitsu, who clocked 20.13 seconds in the 200 meters for Japan’s second-best record of all time in July in Switzerland. “Before, I’ve been following the backs of our senior athletes. But now it’s me who has to lead the team.”
Fujimitsu added that Japan’s track has been on a roll, as Yusuke Suzuki broke the world record in the men’s 20-km race walk in March, Japan’s 4×100 relay team won a bronze medal at the IAAF World Relays in the Bahamas in May and 16-year-old phenom Abdul Hakim Sani Brown triumphed in the 100 and 200 at the World Youth Championships last month.
“Hopefully, we can continue that in Beijing,” Fujimitsu said.
Fujimitsu, who was on the team that earned the medal at the World Relays and grabbed a 200-meter title at the national championships in June, is fired up as an individual runner as well.
“I should have positive outcomes if I do what I’m supposed to do,” he smiled. “My biggest objective is to compete in the final (of the men’s 200).”
Meanwhile, Sani Brown perhaps shines the brightest spotlight on Japan’s track scene at the present. With the time he had at the World Youth Championships (20.34 seconds), he qualified for the worlds and was added on the team on Monday, becoming the youngest athlete to ever make the country’s top-flight team.
“This is my first senior tournament overseas, and there’ll be so many great athletes in it,” Sani Brown said. “I can’t stop my heart beating.”