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Yamagata settles for bronze in 100

by Kaz Nagatsuka

Staff Writer

Su Bingtian cemented his status as Asia’s fastest sprinter with a convincing victory in the men’s 100-meter final at the Asian Games on Sunday night.

Third-place finisher Ryota Yamagata was certainly not happy to come up short in his pursuit of the gold medal, which he had stated was his objective before the event.

“It was disappointing to see (Su) standing at the highest place (on the podium) and hear his national anthem,” Yamagata said after he settled for a bronze medal at Gelora Bung Karno Stadium.

But he didn’t look as devastated as his words indicated. After all, Yamagata still managed to execute a performance close to his best, tying his personal best of 10.00 seconds which he ran last September.

Yamagata is not the fastest man in Japan. Yoshihide Kiryu holds the national record as the only Japanese sprinter to have ever run under 10 seconds, finishing in 9.98 in the fall of 2017. He, along with the likes of Aska Cambridge, Abdul Hakim Sani Brown and Shuhei Tada have brought additional depth to Japanese sprinting in recent years.

But Yamagata’s Asian Games performance proved his status as the most consistent and reliable Japanese sprinter at the international level.

The 26-year-old has often been hampered by injuries which have forced him to miss some international competitions. But when he’s healthy, Yamagata carries perhaps the highest expectations among Japanese sprinters, especially on the big stage.

At the 2012 London and 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games, Yamagata set new records for Japanese runners at the Olympics. At June’s national championships in Yamaguchi Prefecture, which served as the trial meet for the Asian Games, the Hiroshima native beat Cambridge, Kiryu and Tada with a 10.05 finish.

The 10.00 mark Yamagata achieved in Indonesia on Sunday tied him with Koji Ito, who also ran 10.00 at the 1998 Asian Games in Bangkok for the fastest time recorded by a Japanese sprinter overseas.

Cambridge, another Japanese representative for the 100, failed to qualify for the final. In the women’s 100, Japanese record holder Chisato Fukushima, who began training with Yamagata earlier this year after joining him at Seiko, failed to get past the preliminaries.

Gold medalist Su, whose time of 9.92 was an Asian Games record, has seemingly become more confident against his Asian rivals, including Yamagata. The 28-year-old, who equaled the Asian record with an astonishing 9.91 run in June, said through an interpreter that if he makes a good start, “Ryota has no chance” to outperform him.

While Yamagata acknowledged the difference in ability represented by the 0.08 second gap, he also said he did not perceive the distance between the runners to be as wide as he once thought.

“It was close,” Yamagata said of the gap with Su. “He made a good start and it could’ve been a one-sided race by him. But after the midway point, the gap didn’t widen as much as I thought it could have. I was able to keep up with him, so it gave me some confidence.

“I take it as a positive I didn’t consider the 9.92 mark to be too far ahead (of where I am now).”

Yamagata could be the runner who comes through for Japan again at next year’s world championships in Doha and the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Despite a finish that fell short of expectations, he will have another chance to stand at the top of the podium later in these games, when he runs the first leg of the men’s 4×100 relay ahead of teammates Tada, Kiryu, and Cambridge.