Boosted by a nearly ideal tailwind of 1.8 meters per second, Yoshihide Kiryu sprinted across the finish line and glanced at the time clock, anticipating that he might have just achieved something big.
It indicated 9.99.
But he waited, because that was only the flash time and the official time might not be what was initially displayed.
He was right. It was different.
It was officially 9.98.
That was the historic moment when the 21-year-old Kiryu became the first Japanese to run the 100 meters in under 10 seconds, in the men’s final of the national intercollegiate meet in Fukui on Sept. 9.
Kiryu’s long wait was over.
Speaking in an interview with The Japan Times at Toyo University’s main campus in Tokyo on Monday, Kiryu said that a 10.00 mark would have been his personal best and would have tied Koji Ito’s national record, but he would not have gotten psyched up by it.
“But it actually turned out to be 9.98. It was even quicker (than the flash mark),” Kiryu, a senior at the university, said with a smile. “So I was really happy about it.”
There are other young Japanese sprinters hoping to get to sub-10 territory, such as Ryota Yamagata, Aska Cambridge and Hakim Abdul Sani Brown. But nobody else has carried the monkey on their back as long as Kiryu has.
Kiryu stunned Japanese sprint fans when he clocked 10.19 in November 2012 as a second-year high school student, before improving to 10.01 — then the nation’s second-best time ever — the following year as a senior for Kyoto’s Rakunan High School.
His 10.01 mark would have equaled the then-world junior record but it did not count because the anemometer used at the Mikio Oda Memorial International meet did not meet International Association of Athletics Federations requirements.
Since then, Kiryu has become an household name and has been saddled with the pressure to break the 10-second barrier every time he hit the track.
When he clocked 10.01 four years ago, Kiryu did not necessarily think he was on the verge of breaking the record.
“I had the 10.01 mark in high school, but my second best at the time was (10.)17,” the Hikone, Shiga Prefecture native said. “So I felt like I just happened to have (the 10.01 mark).”
Kiryu once again clocked 10.01 last year, and had come up with four sub-10.10 marks this year alone before he notched the 9.98.
Kiryu insists that he is now a totally different sprinter from what he was in high school.
“I’ve now had the sub-10 mark, and had had sub-10.10 marks a few times this year,” he said. “To regular people, (my personal best) might look to have improved by only 0.03 seconds, from 10.01 to 9.98. But the details (of my performances) were completely different. This year, I feel like everything that I have built up has paid off.”
Interestingly, Kiryu believes the race in which he broke the 10-second mark was not the best of his career.
Kiryu added that he felt better running in other meets earlier this year. He ran 10.04 in a meet in Canberra in March and then notched another 10.04 at Oda Memorial at the end of April. In the latter race, he managed it with a 0.3-meter-per-second headwind.
It is one of the most difficult and unpredictable parts of track and field — sprinting in particular — because the athletes’ performance and times can easily be affected by weather conditions.
Kiryu was certainly keen to become a sub-10-second runner coming into the season, but he kept coming up just short. And then, he made it happen at a tournament where he was essentially just focusing on winning, because it would be his final individual race as a collegian.
“In the tournament at the very end of the season, I competed to show the pride of what I’ve done over the four years wearing the (Toyo) uniform,” said Kiryu, who had not been able to practice as much as he would have liked after August’s world championships.
Now, just because he’s broken the 10-second barrier, he is not going to breathe a deep sigh of relief. He believes he has achieved only a fragment of his goals.
Kiryu in fact values becoming a finalist at the Olympics and world championships more than running under 10 seconds, which has been achieved by 125 athletes, including Kiryu, around the world.
Kiryu emphasized that being in a gold medal race at a global tournament is what he is ultimately aiming for.
“I’m not competing looking to run under 10 seconds,” said Kiryu, who had a wind-assisted 9.87 mark in Texas in 2015. “When I watched global championships growing up, ever since when I was an elementary school student, I didn’t watch the heats and semifinals all that much, to be honest. Who I wanted to see was (Usain) Bolt. To watch him, you don’t have to see his heats and semifinals because he would be at the start line for the final competitions for sure.
“So if you want everyone to see you, you’ve got to be in a final. Otherwise, you can’t leave an impression.”
Kiryu of course considers the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo as a big, near-future opportunity to realize that goal.
But he also sees beyond that and hopes to continue his track career as long as he can.
“Considering my age, I would like to shoot for the next Olympics after Tokyo and the one after that as well,” Kiryu said. “I’m certainly looking at Tokyo, (but) becoming a finalist at a global tournament is the goal in my track career. So I have no intention to quit track even when the Tokyo Olympics are over.”
Kiryu was part of the 4×100 relay teams that captured the silver medal at last year’s Rio de Janeiro Olympics and the bronze medal at this summer’s world championships in London, running the third leg.
On the other hand, he has not performed near his top capability in individual disciplines at competitions like the Olympics and world championships. He missed out on this year’s worlds in Britain because he finished fourth at the national championships in June. And some critics have accused him of not being able to perform when he needs to most.
But Kiryu tries to stay positive, believing that he has the power to bounce back. And he also thinks the frustration of losing on the big stage can fuel him to develop further.
“So even when I lose, and no matter how I am labeled by the public, it is ultimately me who has to come up with results,” said Kiryu, who was also part of a bronze-medal winning relay team at the 2015 World Relays. “And once you step on the track, there’s nobody to help you out. So while there are some different opinions about me, what I have to do is keep having faith in myself and if I keep my head up, I think good things will happen.”
Boxer and Toyo University alum Ryota Murata, who won the WBA middleweight world title in Tokyo on Sunday, said after the fight that rougher times and bigger responsibility awaits you after you win a title. Likewise, the burden on Kiryu’s shoulders could become heavier because Japanese track fans now want to see him run under 10 seconds every time.
Kiryu said that as the top Japanese sprinters, including himself, have raised their standards in recent years, fans in turn expect more from them.
“Now that I’ve entered sub-10,” Kiryu began, “people are probably not going to be satisfied with a sub-10.10 anymore and they are going to be like, ‘Who’s next to do it?’ or ‘We want to see that again.’ “
But Kiryu is still a very young man and he is looking forward to growing and helping make track and field a more popular sport in Japan.
“Despite the sub-10 mark, I have a lot more time in my track career,” he said. “I’m curious to see how much better I can get from here myself.”
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