The Japan Cycling Federation on Thursday named six athletes who will represent the host nation in track cycling at the postponed Tokyo Games, including keirin gold medal hopefuls Yuta Wakimoto and Yudai Nitta.
Wakimoto booked his spot for the second straight games and will be gunning for his maiden Olympic medal in keirin — the race format born in Japan — on home soil next summer. Nitta will be competing in his first Olympics since the 2012 London Games.
“There was a time when I was depressed about the possibility of the Olympics being canceled, but I feel positive since the postponement was decided,” Wakimoto said.
“I performed poorly at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics, so I want to win a gold medal in Tokyo.”
Yumi Kajihara, a favorite to win the women’s omnium, was selected for the first time.
Olympic track cycling qualifying concluded with the world championships held through March 1 in Germany, where Japan secured seven slots across the men’s and women’s events.
Wakimoto finished runner-up in the men’s keirin final at this year’s worlds, while Kajihara claimed Japan’s first gold in the women’s omnium. Nitta took silver at last year’s worlds in Poland.
“We haven’t had good results in keirin (until the recent worlds), despite it originating in Japan,” said Koichi Nakano, the head of the development for the country’s track cyclists.
“Japanese cyclists are training with all their might on Japanese bicycles toward our goal of winning a gold medal in Japan.”
Keirin was added to the Olympic program at the 2000 Sydney Games. Kiyofumi Nagai won Japan’s only Olympic medal in the event, a bronze, at the 2008 Beijing Games.
Among others who qualified, Eiya Hashimoto was selected for the men’s omnium. Yuka Kobayashi was selected for the women’s keirin, and will be the first Japanese rider in the event since it was officially added at the 2012 Games.
Kisato Nakamura will pair with Kajihara for the inaugural women’s madison competition. Hashimoto, Kobayashi and Nakamura will be participating in their first games.
The three keirin cyclists have also qualified for the sprint.