KAWASAKI – Justin Gatlin, one of the top sprinters in the world, insists the future for Japanese sprinters looks promising.
One day before the Golden Grand Prix Kawasaki, the second meet on the IAAF World Challenge circuit, the smiling American said the development of elite Japanese sprinters like Aska Cambridge and Hakim Abdul Sani Brown has been noticeable in recent years.
Cambridge and Sani Brown will compete with the five-time Olympic medalist and also China’s Su Bingtian, who ran the 100-meter sprint in 9.99 seconds in 2015 to become the first Mongoloid to break the 10-second barrier, in Sunday’s meet, which will serve as one of domestic trials for August’s world championships in London.
Outside of those two Japanese, Yoshihide Kiryu and Ryota Yamagata (who was originally going to compete at the meet but withdraw due to an injury) have also become household names said to have the potential to run under 10 seconds in the 100.
Gatlin, 35, said he has been “impressed with the Asian athletes coming along” and enjoys the battles between Japan and China,” two of the top sprinting nations in the region.
“To be fast for their countries, it’s very entertaining to watch,” Gatlin said at a news conference at Todoroki Stadium, the venue for Sunday’s meet. “Because as they battle with each other, they become faster and faster in the world.
Sani Brown, at age 18 the youngest of the four mentioned above and who graduated from a Tokyo high school in March, will begin attending the University of Florida starting this fall.
Asked how beneficial it is to develop as a better track and field athlete by training at a major university in the United States, Gatlin said that it’s significant for the young sprinter.
“It’s at a higher, more intense level of competition,” said Gatlin, who went to the University of Tennessee. “Nowadays, you have a lot of collegiate athletes who set the world leads earlier in the season. So you have people like Christian Coleman (also of Tennessee), who has already run sub-10 and sub-20 in the 1 (100) and 2 (200). So someone like Sani Brown will (face) great competition and be able to exactly know where he stands.
“So competing at the collegiate level sharpens your athleticism, and to be able to compete against the collegians every time, you don’t really get scared, get jitters. You know how it feels to be able to compete at a higher level.”
Gatlin added that competing among the high-level competition in U.S. collegiate athletics, Sani Brown would “feel normal” and be able to “compete on your own level.”
“So I congratulate him for making the team for the University of Florida. In Tennessee, we’re rivals, but I think he’ll do a great job at the University of Florida and (head coach) Mike Holloway is a great coach.”
Gatlin said that he has been watching both Cambridge and Sani Brown and thinks they have the talent to become better athletes going forward.
Gatlin remembered that he and then-high schooler Sani Brown competed in a heat and semifinals of the 200 at the 2015 world championships in Beijing.
“I came off the curve, he was right there with me,” Gatlin said of the semifinal race. “He’s a great remarkable talent.”
The New York native also referred to Cambridge, 23, as an impressive runner.
“Last year (at the Rio Olympics), Cambridge was upset about the semifinals (that he failed to qualify for the final) in the 100,” Gatlin said. “And he pulled together for his team and became an Olympic silver medalist with the 4×100 relay team in a great fashion.
“So that shows a lot of heart. A lot of dedication for him. They are all on the right path to be able to be great competitors, not only for their country but around the world.
“(They should) just stick to it and focus. Don’t overthink too much about what you have got to do because they already have the talent to be top athletes in the world.”
Many of the top Japanese athletes will compete at the meet alongside elite stars such as Tianna Bartoletta, who captured gold medals in the women’s long jump and 4×100 relay at Rio, and javelin thrower Thomas Rohler, who also won gold in last year’s Summer Games.