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Japan’s track and field athletes have enjoyed some notable achievements in recent years, including medal-winning feats by the men’s 4×100-meter relay team and Yuta Shitara’s recent national marathon record-breaking performance.

But with the 2020 Tokyo Olympics in just over two years, the sport’s leaders here do not want to waste time and hope to have further success with firm development plans for its athletes.

“Having observed the Pyeongchang Olympics and how our Japanese athletes had success in it, it made us reacknowledge that we’ve got to have proper development strategies,” Japan Association of Athletics Federations development director Kazunori Asaba said at a news conference at Tokyo’s National Training Center on Friday. “And they need support from both inside and outside.”

There won’t be a global tournament like the Olympics or world championships this year, but the JAAF intends to pour full energy into the Aug. 18-Sept. 2 Asian Games in Indonesia as this year’s flagship event for its athletes.

Last year, the men’s 4×100-meter relay team, which earned the silver medal at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics, captured another medal (bronze) at August’s IAAF World Championships in London. Also, Yoshihide Kiryu broke the nation’s 10-second barrier in the men’s 100, clocking 9.98 in September. Those feats have clearly captured the attention of fans and the general public.

“The overall individual level in the 100 and 200 has risen,” said Hiroyasu Tsuchie, who’s serving as Japan’s Olympic development director for sprinting. “We’ve won the silver at the Olympics and bronze at worlds last year. We only have gold to win left.”

Tsuchie, a former Olympic sprinter who has coached Kiryu, said that the JAAF would hold more training camps for the relay teams and have them compete at international meets more often this year.

“We intend to have trials and errors to develop our teams, while we also want to find new talent for the future,” Tsuchie said.

The marathon-crazed country also pays attention to long-distance running and the JAAF intends to do its best to live up to the pressure two summers from now on the world’s largest sporting stage.

Tadasu Kawano, the Olympic development director for long-distance disciplines, stated that the 2018 season would be “the most important year” toward the Tokyo Olympics.

Last year, the JAAF introduced the Marathon Grand Championship series format with the intention of developing its runners and providing more fairness in the selection process for the Olympics. The runners with the best marks and places in the selected races will compete at the series finale in 2019 to determine the representatives for the 2020 Games.

The series seems to have worked so far. The most noteworthy evidence was seen at the Tokyo Marathon in February, when Shitara broke the 16-year national record with a time of 2 hours, 6 minutes, 11 seconds. Twelve men and six women have qualified for the series’s final competition so far.

“We have reached our original goal to raise the level for our long-distance running,” Kawano said. “But we still have a long way (to go) to compete on par with the world’s elites.

“We are going to have to keep working hard, and if we keep raising our level in 2018, we could see their backs.”

Kawano added that the JAAF would concentrate this year on training marathoners who have already qualified for the MGC final race, while it would also work out measures to cope with the heat, which the participants will have to deal with at the Tokyo Olympics.

“We would like to collect some data so we will be able to take advantage of them going forward,” Kawano said.

Meanwhile, Asaba said that the JAAF would cautiously have to come up with strategies to adjust to a new global ranking system.

This year, the International Association of Athletics Federations will introduce the new ranking system, which will serve as the qualification criteria for IAAF-organized global tourneys like the world championships and Olympics. The rankings will be determined based on points that the athletes earn.

Previously, athletes could compete at global events once they have qualifications marks provided by the IAAF. But with the establishment of a new system, athletes will have to accumulate points by competing.

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