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Japan sets team for World Relays

by Kaz Nagatsuka

Staff Writer

National record holder Yoshihide Kiryu and Asian Games silver medalist Ryota Yamagata will headline Japan’s 44-athlete national team for the upcoming IAAF World Relays, the Japan Association of Athletics Federation announced on Friday.

It will be the first time that Japan hosts the global relay-only event. The previous three meets were held in Nassau. The athletes will compete at International Stadium Yokohama from May 11-12 in the fourth edition.

Kiryu and Yamagata will team up with Shuhei Tada, Yuki Koike, Kirara Shiraishi, Daisuke Miyamoto on the men’s 4×100 team, which set a lofty goal of winning the gold medal at next year’s Tokyo Olympics.

“We have some runners that competed at the Asian Games and whoever will end up running, I’m sure we’ll relay our baton, so I don’t have any worries,” said Kiryu, the only Japanese to run under 10 seconds in the 100 (9.98 seconds), at a Tokyo news conference. “I don’t know which leg I will be running, but I’ll do my best to have my peak at the event.”

At the Asian Games in Jakarta last summer, Japan captured its first gold in 20 years with Kiryu, Yamagata, Tada and Aska Cambridge.

The World Relays includes some disciplines that are used only in the event, such as the 4×200, mixed 2x2x400, and the newly added mixed shuttle hurdles (the male athletes run 110 hurdles and the female compete over 100 hurdle plus 10 meters and they run in turn).

Cambridge, who ran the final leg on Japan’s silver medal-winning men’s 4×100 team at the 2016 Rio Olympics, is registered for the 2×400 squad along with other veterans, including Shota Iizuka and Kenji Fujimitsu.

For Japan’s 4×400 squad, which earned gold at the Asian Championships in Doha on Thursday, two-time national championship 400 winner Julian Walsh will compete.

Reigning 100 champion and veteran Nodoka Seko in entered in both the women’s 4×100 and 4×200 teams, which consist mainly of younger athletes.

Kiryu, Yamagata and their 4×100 squad will easily be the biggest attraction at the World Relays. Kiryu has been involved in three medal-winning teams at global tourneys — 2015 World Relays, 2016 Rio and 2017 world championships in London. The 23-year-old, who graduated from Toyo University this spring, racked up a gold medal in the 100 race at the Asian Championships on Tuesday.

“It’s kind of been not too surprising for Japan (the men’s 4×100 team) to win a medal (at the world stage),” Kiryu said. “We would like to live up to the people’s expectations.”

The final eight teams at worlds in Doha will earn automatic berths for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Kazuhiko Yamazaki, a former 400-meter runner who serves as the director of the JAAF’s development committee for track and field disciplines, said that he hopes Japan’s 4×100 team will win with a stellar time in Yokohama with its ultimate objective for the Summer Games in sight.

“Considering we’re working to shoot for the gold medal in Tokyo, we want to have a time that ranks within the top three in the world (this year),” Yamazaki said. “Which means a sub-38-second mark. We want to get a spot at the Tokyo Olympics as early as possible.”

Other countries have also announced their squads for the World Relays, including the United States and Jamaica.

The U.S. corps will include Tori Bowie, who won gold in the women’s 100 at the 2017 world championships. Jamaica will have Johan Blake, Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce and Elaine Thompson, according to news reports.