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Sani Brown, Koike, Kiryu qualify for 200-meter final; athletes nab national titles in other events

by Kaz Nagatsuka

Staff Writer

Asian Games men’s 200-meter gold medalist Yuki Koike, 100-meter national record holder Abdul Hakim Sani Brown and Yoshihide Kiryu calmly qualified for the gold-medal race on Saturday evening at the 103rd Japan National Championships.

Competing in the sprinkling rain, Koike led the entire pack with a time of 20.62 seconds, while Sani Brown followed Koike in 20.84.

Both Koike and Sani Brown finished first in their heats. Koike, who ran in the first heat, sprinted in almost no wind. But Sani Brown, who ran in the third and final group, had to deal with a stronger headwind (1.8 meters per second).

Just like on Friday, the athletes had to cope with high humidity and rainfall that occasionally got heavier at Fukuoka Hakatanomori Stadium.

Koike insisted that it felt like he was shoving the air and that his body wasn’t moving as well as he would like it to.

Nevertheless, the 24-year-old looks forward to Sunday’s final, competing against Sani Brown and other elite Japanese sprinters.

“I was third in the 100 (on Friday) and second in this discipline (at nationals) last year,” the Hokkaido native said. “So I’d like to get in the race with good preparation, do the best I can in the race and see what result I’ll come up with. That’s my mindset.”

Sani Brown, who completed the 100 and 200 double at the 2017 nationals, looked as though he saved his energy for Sunday’s main event. He started building to take a lead around the bend and slowed down in the last 20 meters or so like he was jogging.

“I ran out of the corner and tried to swing my arms at the final stretch. I just felt good,” said the University of Florida student-athlete, who was crowned as 100 champion on Friday with a meet-record time of 10.02. “I’ll go at full throttle from the beginning and try to put together the final 50 tomorrow.

“Hopefully, I’ll do what I can do best.”

The 20-year-old’s personal-best time (20.18) in the 200 is the nation’s second-fastest mark of all time. Shingo Suetsugu set the record (20.03) in 2003.

Meanwhile, Kiryu couldn’t afford to slow down like Sani Brown did as he finished second slightly behind youngster Kirara Shiraishi with a time of 20.92. Shiraishi completed the race in 20.91.

“I had no problem as far as I’d qualify, and I didn’t care if I’d run in the middle or outside or inside,” Kiryu, who finished runner-up in Friday’s 100, said, referring to his own course. Kiryu will sprint in the far outside on Sunday, in Lane 9.

Veteran Shota Iizuka, who has won the 200 at nationals three times and ran in the same heat with Kiryu, did not finish the race due to a right leg injury.

The 200 gold-medal race will serve as the final competition in the four-day event. It is scheduled to start at 5:45 p.m.

In other notable feats of the day, Takatoshi Abe collected his first national title since 2017, winning the 400 hurdles in 48.80.

As much as the 27-year-old was satisfied with the way he competed, he set his sights on the global level, even hoping to win a medal at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

“I’m looking at the world championships and Olympics rather than the national championships,” said Abe, who advanced to the semifinals at the 2017 IAAF World Athletics Championships in London. “Otherwise, nothing’s going to change. That’s how I’m thinking.”

In the men’s pole vault, 20-year-old Masaki Ejima outperformed his coach and idol Daichi Sawano with a 5.61-meter mark.

Sawano, a longtime elite athlete and national record holder, finished second at 5.51. He has mentored Ejima as a coach at Nihon Univrsity, his alma mater.

“He’s my teacher, coach. . . . It’s not easy to describe what he means to me, but he’s someone that I eventually want to be like,” Ejima said of Sawano. “I’m excited that we’ve finished 1-2. He’s a legend, a true legend.”

Seito Yamamoto, who entered the event as the two-time reigning champion, finished was third at 5.51.

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