More Sports / Track & Field

Elite athletes profess benefits of multisport participation on eve of Golden Grand Prix meet

by Kaz Nagatsuka

Staff Writer

Justin Gatlin and other top international athletes insist that playing different sports helps develop track and field athletes’ potential.

Not that they directed their words to Japanese athletes, but maybe their suggestions should seriously be considered in order to elevate the nation’s track and field level going forward.

Gatlin, the silver medalist in the men’s 100-meter dash at last year’s IAAF World Championships in Beijing, said that he played baseball and football, among other sports, growing up, joking that the former was “too slow” and the latter was “too violent.”

On baseball, Gatlin added that he’s now learned more about it and has respect for it.

“Sometime I wish I was a baseball player,” Gatlin, 34, said with a laugh at a news conference for Sunday’s Golden Grand Prix meet at Todoroki Stadium, the third event of the 2016 IAAF World Challenge circuit.

He said, now in a serious tone, that he’d absorbed competitiveness and disciplines by participating in different sports and this definitely helped him become the world-class sprinter that he is today.

Speaking to reporters, Tianna Bartoletta, an elite long jumper and sprinter, emphasized this impact even more than Gatlin did. She said she took part in volleyball, basketball and track when she was younger.

“The reason I became strictly a track and field athlete was because that’s what I got my scholarship for from (the University of Tennessee),” said Bartoletta, who is scheduled to compete in the women’s long jump and 100 meters on Sunday. “But I encourage every child to play as many sports as possible because it enhances your competitiveness and it teaches you different skills, all of which I used in track and field. There’s a team aspect in volleyball and basketball that I had to learn to be on the relay team in London (Olympics in 2012; won the gold medal in the 4×100 relay).”

Bartoletta, 30, was even on the U.S. bobsled national team during the 2012 season.

Canadian Shawnacy Barber, who captured the gold in the men’s pole vault at worlds last year, said he enjoyed doing other sports, suggesting that being a multisport athlete could someone longevity in a sport that he or she ultimately chooses.

“I think It helps quite a bit with burnout, because it’s such a prominent issue,” Barber, 21, said.

Barber added that playing the same sport for so many years limits your chances to go out and try other things, and “eventually you use the same muscles over and over again.”

“So I still try to get out and try other sports, and work on some other muscles,” Barber said.

Meanwhile, the biggest attraction for Japanese track fans in Sunday’s meet will be the men’s 100, in which Gatlin, a former Olympics gold medalist whose personal best is 9.74 seconds, will face challenges from young Japanese prospects in Yoshihide Kiryu, Ryota Yamagata and Abdul Hakim Sani Brown, the reigning double world youth champion.

At the 2014 edition of the meet, Gatlin and Kiryu competed against each other and the American cruised to victory in 10.02 seconds, while Kiryu, then 18, finished fifth in 10.46.

“I was no match for Gatlin two years ago. I had never gotten behind someone that much in domestic races,” said Kiryu, who marked a wind-assisted 9.87 in Texas last year. “But hopefully, I don’t want to have a regrettable race like I did two years ago.”

For the race, China’s Zhang Peimeng, whose personal best is 10.00, will run as well.

Among other notable participants, American Jeremy Wariner, the men’s 400 gold medalist in the 2004 Athens Olympics, China’s Zhang Guowei, the men’s high jump runner-up at worlds last year, and top sprinter/long jumper and Nigerian Blessing Okagbare (she’ll run in the 100) will also compete.

The organizers announced that Japan’s sprint queen Chisato Fukushima withdrew from the meet due to a light injury in her left hamstring.

The Golden Grand Prix meet will also feature competition for Paralympic sport athletes: the men’s 100 meter (T44) and women’s long jump (T44). The long jumpers will actually compete with the regular participants.

“Last year, I watched the event from the stands and was so moved to see that the Paralympic athletes competed along with those who would aim to go to the Olympics,” said Saki Takakuwa, who earned the bronze medal in last year’s IPC World Championships in Doha. “And I definitely wanted to be in this, too and I’m glad it’s come to realization.”