More Sports / Track & Field

Olympic silver medal-winning relay team picks up Athlete of the Year award

by Kaz Nagatsuka

Staff Writer

The team of Aska Cambridge, Yoshihide Kiryu, Ryota Yamagata and Shota Iizuka, which stunned the world by capturing the silver medal in the men’s 4×100-meter relay at this summer’s Rio de Janeiro Olympics, received the Athlete of the Year award at the annual Athletic Award ceremony hosted by the Japan Association of Athletics Federations on Monday.

The recipients of the awards, who were announced earlier this month, gathered at a Tokyo hotel to receive their respective honors.

The selection of the relay team was beyond argument. It finished only behind the Usain Bolt-led Jamaican team in a new Asian-record time of 37.60 seconds in the gold-medal race in Brazil in August.

The four athletes received their trophies from the members of the Japanese 4×100 relay team that captured the bronze medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympics — Naoki Tsukahara, Shingo Suetsugu, Shinji Takahira and Nobuharu Asahara.

“Since I started running track, I’d always wanted to make history,” said Yamagata, who ran the first leg of the relay final in Rio. “And today we received (the trophies) from our predecessors who made history in 2008, so I’m extremely thrilled.”

Hirooki Arai, who won the bronze medal in the men’s 50-km race walk in Rio, and Daisuke Matsunaga and Daichi Sawano, who finished seventh in the men’s 20-km race walk and men’s pole vault at the Summer Games, respectively, got the outstanding award accolades.

Cambridge, who was born to a Jamaican father and a Japanese mother, also received the breakthrough of the year award along with Miyuki Uehara, who advanced to the women’s 5,000-meter final in Rio, and high school pole vaulter Masaki Ejima, who finished sixth at the world under-20 championships in Bydgoszcz, Poland, in July.

“This is my first time at this award ceremony, and I’m excited to have received two awards,” said the 23-year-old Cambridge, who clocked the nation’s all-time ninth-fastest mark of 10.10 seconds in the 100 and advanced to the semifinals in the discipline at the Olympics this year.

Cambridge announced last week that he has left Dome Corporation to become a professional runner. He said that he wanted to put himself in a tougher environment to become a more competitive athlete.

“I’m going to have to be hungrier about getting better results from this point on,” said Cambridge, adding that his goal for next year is to run under 10 seconds.

Meanwhile, Athens Olympics women’s marathon gold medalist Mizuki Noguchi, who retired this year, and Paralympian Atsushi Yamamoto, who won a pair of medals in Rio, were the special award recipients.

Noguchi, 38, set a national record of 2 hours, 19 minutes, 12 seconds in 2005, which still stands to this day.

Yamamoto won the silver in the men’s long jump and bronze in the 4×100 relay in Brazil.