The Japan men’s 4×100-meter relay team stunned the world when it captured the silver medal at last summer’s Rio Olympics.
But the team’s latest success provides momentum toward the 2020 Tokyo Games.
The Japan track and field team for the recent world championships in London returned home and the medalists held a news conference upon arrival at Haneda airport on Tuesday afternoon.
In Britain, Japan collected one silver and a pair of bronze medals.
The men’s 4×100 relay team accomplished a significant feat as the group of Shuhei Tada, Shota Iizuka, Yoshihide Kiryu and Kenji Fujimitsu earned a third-place finish behind Britain and the United States with a time of 38.04 seconds. It was Japan’s first-ever world championship medal in the event.
Though Japan had some luck as Jamaican superstar Usain Bolt was injured while running as the anchor, it medaled in the relay for the second straight global championship.
Japan was able to accomplish the feat without 18-year-old sprint phenom Abdul Hakim Sani Brown, who suffered a mild injury during the 200-meter final, and Aska Cambridge, who was replaced by veteran Kenji Fujimitsu before the final race.
“I’m frankly pleased,” Iizuka said. “This time, we were able to do what we did, having made member substitutions, but achieved this with all six men (including the reserves). We won another medal last year (at Rio) and I’m glad that we were able to raise the profile of our Japanese athletics to the world.”
Fujimitsu, who was originally going to be a reserve member but was appointed the anchor in the final instead of out-of-form Cambridge, said that he had been in situations like that, so he wasn’t particularly shaken up by the last-minute call.
“I was a reserve member as well last year (at Rio) and wasn’t sure if I’d have a chance to run this time, but I wound up running,” Fujimitsu, 31, said. “So last year, I was a reserve and did run this time. I have two different experiences, and I do feel that we achieve things with all six guys on the team.”
Twenty-one-year-old Shuhei Tada, who has been one of the Japan’s rising stars, said: “Hakim and Cambridge couldn’t run, and I competed on behalf of them as well. And I certainly appreciated all the support we received from our fans.”
Japan’s other two medals came from the men’s 50-km race walk. Hirooki Arai, the bronze medalist in the discipline at last summer’s Rio Olympics, earned a silver medal this time and 24-year-old Kai Kobayashi crossed the finish line two seconds behind Arai to take the bronze.
“At last year’s Olympics, I competed with a challenger’s mindset,” Arai said. “But this time I competed as a legit competitive race walker, and I’m glad that I was able to come with up the good result overcoming the pressure I carried on my back.”
The next world championships will be held in Doha in 2019.
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