Race walk gold medalist Yusuke Suzuki was named the Athlete of the Year at the annual Athletics Award of the Japan Association of Athletics Federations on Monday in Tokyo.
At September’s World Athletic Championships in Doha, the 31-year-old never trailed from the start and crossed the finish line with a time of 4 hours, 4 minutes and 20 seconds, becoming the first Japanese competitor to win a race walk gold medal at either the Olympics or the world championships.
Suzuki, the world record holder in the 20-km distance, was excited to recieve an accolade he has always wanted after overcoming several years of injuries.
“I was in darkness for two-and-a-half years, while I was hurt from 2015-18. I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to do and even thought I should quit,” said Suzuki, who finished 36th in the 20 km at the 2012 London Olympics. He added, however, that his comeback was possible after coaches and fans kept their faith in him.
“So I would like to deeply express my appreciation to those who brought me back to this stage,” said the Ishikawa Prefecture native, who clinched a berth to next summer’s Tokyo Olympics with the feat in Doha.
The members of the men’s 4×100 relay team, men’s high jumper Naoto Tobe and men’s 20-km race walker Toshikazu Yamanishi were also recognized as outstanding athletes. The three had been nominated for the Athlete of the Year along with Suzuki.
The team of Shuhei Tada, Kirara Shiraishi, Yoshihide Kiryu and Abdul Hakim Sani Brown finished third in the worlds for a second straight time, setting an Asian record of 37.43 behind the United States and Great Britain.
Yuki Koike, who ran in the heat for Japan, received the award as well.
Although his omission as an individual athlete for Athlete of the Year raised eyebrows, Sani Brown was one of the main attractions for Japanese track this season.
In June, the 20-year-old notched a 100-meter Japanese record of 9.97 seconds at the NCAA Division I Championships in Texas. In the same event, he also improved his personal best in the 200 to 20.08, which is the second-fastest Japanese figure of all time.
Later in the same month, Sani Brown swept the 100 and 200 at the national championships in Fukuoka. At worlds, he advanced to the semifinal in the 100 while running the final leg to help the 4×100 team earn bronze.
“I give myself 70 to 80 points out of 100 because I broke my own personal bests both in the 100 and 200,” said Sani Brown, who left the University of Florida in November to go professional. “But there were still tons of things I feel I could’ve done better. If I did that, I would’ve given myself a 100.”
Tobe, a 194-cm athlete, won the season title of the IAAF indoor tour and marked a 2.35-meter jump, breaking the 13-year-old national record.
Twenty-three-year-old Yamanishi racked up a gold medal in the men’s 20-km race walk in 1:26:34 at the worlds in Qatar, punching his own ticket to the Tokyo Games.
Shotaro Shiroyama broke the 27-year-old national record in the men’s long jump with an 8.4-meter leap, and three other athletes received accolades as the year’s best rookies.
Notable long-distance coach Yoshio Koide, who died in April, was given a special award. Koide is well known for serving as a coach for Sydney Olympics women’s marathon gold medalist Naoko Takahashi.