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Abdul Hakim Sani Brown, Yuki Koike advance to 100-meter final at nationals

by Kaz Nagatsuka

Staff Writer

New national record holder Abdul Hakim Sani Brown, former record holder Yoshihide Kiryu and other top sprinters safely qualified for the men’s 100-meter final at the Japan National Championships on Thursday.

But Sani Brown was the center of attention for the 5,600 spectators at Fukuoka Hakatanomori Stadium, and he surely lived up to their expectations. The 20-year-old finished first in the second semifinal group while matching the meet record of 10.05 seconds.

Newcomer Yuki Koike, the reigning Asian Games 200-meter gold medalist, also delivered a strong performance, running the 100 in 10.09 in the first semifinal race. He finished ahead of Kiryu. Kiryu, whose personal best is 9.98, completed the race in 10.22.

Sani Brown, who broke Kiryu’s national record with a 9.97-second mark at the NCAA Division I Outdoor Track & Field Championships in Texas on June 7, tangibly fell behind other sprinters at the start (he had the slowest reaction time of 0.180 seconds among the 16 semifinalists). Yet he overcame that gap by the midway point and accelerated to build a lead over eventual second-place finisher Aska Cambridge and other participants for the remainder of the race.

“The pistol blew too fast at the heat,” Sani Brown said with a bitter smile, explaining why he was slow to take off at the start. “So I tried to make sure I’d react (to the pistol in the semifinals) and was going to do what I was supposed to do. I did perform fine from the midpoint until the finish. Towards the end, it was like I didn’t have to do anything but my legs were still moving forward.”

Sani Brown, a University of Florida sophomore, triumphed in the discipline at nationals two years ago when he was 18 with a 10.05 mark. But he said that he sprinted more comfortably this time.

“Both technically-wise and mentally-wise, I think it was different,” he said, comparing Thursday’s semifinal and the 2017 competition.

Koike, meanwhile, seemed to be in good shape as well. He appears poised to be the leading candidate to have a chance of beating Sani Brown in Friday’s final, which is set for 8:30 p.m.

“I think I was able to use my body not using extra power fairly well,” said Koike, who had a personal best of 10.04 at last month’s Golden Grand Prix meet in Osaka.

Nobuharu Asahara and Ryota Yamagata, who had withdrawn from nationals due to a collapsed lung, share the meet record at 100 meters.

Elsewhere, Naoto Tobe, the national record holder in the men’s high jump, captured his third national championship title with a 2.27-meter mark.

Four athletes attempted the 2.27 mark, but Tobe was the only one to successfully clear that hurdle. Three-time defending champion Takashi Eto finished second at 2.24.

Tobe, who won the IAAF World Indoor Tour title in his discipline earlier this year, targeted the 2.33 mark, which is the Olympic entry standard mark for the 2020 Summer Games, but came up short.

But the 27-year-old added that he was “relieved” to secure a spot on the national team for the IAAF World Athletics Championships this fall in Doha.

“I’m looking at the gold medal in Tokyo, and in order to achieve it, the world championships is a very important first step,” Tobe said. “I’m aiming at winning a medal at worlds. If I have a late 2.30 mark, I’ll have a chance to win a medal there.”