RIO DE JANEIRO - Three-time triple Olympic gold medal-winner Usain Bolt insists he was not surprised by Japan’s performance in claiming silver in the 4×100-meter relay at the Rio Games on Friday.
Japan stunned the world and almost ruined Bolt’s bid for a clean sweep of sprinting golds for a third straight Olympics when the team of Ryota Yamagata, Shota Iizuka, Yoshihide Kiryu and Aska Cambridge pushed Jamaica all the way to the line to finish ahead of Canada for the silver medal.
But Bolt insists that he saw the threat coming after watching Japan beat Jamaica in Thursday’s heats in a new Asian-record time of 37.68, and the 29-year-old paid tribute after the Japanese lowered their mark to 37.60 in Friday’s final.
“From yesterday I saw them in the heats and I could tell that they were going to be good,” said Bolt, who held off Cambridge in the anchor leg to pick up the ninth gold medal of his Olympic career.
“I’ve known them for years, I’ve seen them compete for years and I know that the execution they have is always extremely good. You can tell that they practice a lot so I must give it up to them for the work they put in. Now they can compete with the top countries and come away with the silver medal.”
Canada and the United States were expected to offer the strongest challenge to Jamaica’s supremacy before the race began, but both teams trailed Japan to the line before an American disqualification handed the bronze medal to Canada.
“I didn’t even know who they were but they did a great job,” said Canadian anchor Andre de Grasse, who won bronze in the 100 meters and silver in the 200.
“I was definitely surprised. Those guys came out to run. I take my hat off to them. They’re peaking at the right time because now they have Tokyo coming up in 2020. So they’re definitely going to be a threat and they’re going to have the home-crowd support for them. We’ll definitely have to watch out for them.”
Japan claimed its second-ever 4×100-meter Olympic medal after winning bronze at the Beijing Games in 2008, and the team immediately turned its attentions to success at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
“We’ve been practicing with the baton since March,” said Iizuka. “We’ve been practicing solid for about six months, so that’s why we did such a good job today.
“I think our result today will bring us to the attention of all the other teams in the world. It’s a great confidence-booster looking ahead to the Tokyo Olympics, and I want to work hard and make sure I’m in that team.”
Japan will have youth on its side at the Tokyo Games, with Iizuka the oldest member of the current team at 25 and Kiryu the youngest at 20. World youth double sprint champion Abdul-Hakim Sani Brown, who missed the Rio Games with an injury, is 17.
“They looked great in the prelims, so they were definitely someone that you had to look out for,” American Justin Gatlin, who took silver in the 100 meters, told The Japan Times.
“They have a good synergy going round the track, they have young guys. Three out of the four guys I competed against in Tokyo this year and I knew they were going to be ready and be strong. I knew they’re the kind of team that works on their relay passing all year round, and they have a bond together. So when you have a team like that, they’re going to be a threat.”
Bolt insists he will not be around to face Japan in 2020, having closed the curtain on his Olympic career in Rio. But the Jamaican legend believes the home team can spring another surprise on home soil.
“This team had been practicing since March, and that’s a lot of practice,” said Bolt. “China and Japan always have great baton changes even though they don’t have anyone in the finals.
“But they always do extremely well because they’re very disciplined and they trust their teammates to come out and support them to do well.”