Ryota Yamagata lives his life by a simple philosophy. He believes that whatever happens, happens for a reason.
The 100-meter dash sprinter went through difficult times in 2019. He wasn’t in his best form and also suffered a series of injuries that forced him to miss much of the season, including the world championships in Doha.
Yamagata, however, is determined to turn even a year like that into a positive.
“Last year was a difficult season for me,” Yamagata told reporters in a video conference call Tuesday. “But it wound up being a year where I was given the time to focus on why I didn’t perform well or had to suffer from those injuries.
So I was able to identify issues I had to overcome and come up with a new image of how I should run. Overall, it was a year where I grew and learned something meaningful.”
During the 2019 season, Yamagata hurt his back and was diagnosed with a collapsed lung. He revealed during the media availability that he also tore a ligament in his right ankle while at the IMG Academy in Florida for a training camp last fall.
He’d also visited IMG prior to the 2019 season, hoping to add muscle through weight training. When he returned to Florida in November, he’d changed his approach to focus on the more technical aspects of his performance.
The 28-year-old, who stayed at IMG until March, is currently working on keeping his body at a slight forward tilt for longer after the start in order to increase his speed in the middle and latter part of the 100-meter sprint.
For Yamagata, the postponement of the Tokyo Olympics is a positive, since it gives him more time to polish his technique.
“Things didn’t go my way last year, and it takes time for you to rework your skills and rebuild your body,” Yamagata said. “So it’s a plus for me in that I can take time to completely recover from my injuries and rebuild my body.”
The competition between Japanese sprinters has become intense in the past few years as more quality athletes have been added to the mix, such as Yoshihide Kiryu, Abdul Hakim Sani Brown, who holds the national record in the 100 at 9.97 seconds, Yuki Koike, Shuhei Tada and Kirara Shiraishi.
One advantage Yamagata, whose personal best in the 100 is 10.00, has over those runners, who are all younger than him, is the experience of having competed at multiple Olympics. Yamagata made the national team for the 2012 London Olympics and 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games, advancing to the 100 semifinals in both.
At the same time, however, the Hiroshima native insisted each Olympics is different and he has to earn a spot on Team Japan before speaking about his third trip.
“Looking back at the last two games, each one was different,” said Yamagata, who was part of the silver medal-winning 4×100 relay team at Rio. “The competition to make it to the Olympics is different from four years ago. The bar in Japanese sprinting has been raised over the last four years. So it will be an Olympics where I will have to meet a whole new challenge.”
To compete in the discipline at the Tokyo Olympics, one has to either come up with a time that is faster than the qualifying standard, which is 10.05 seconds, during the qualification period, or be in a good enough position in the world rankings.
The qualification period has been suspended through Nov. 30 in response to the coronavirus pandemic. It will end June 29, 2021, for most disciplines. For Japan, Kiryu, Sani Brown and Koike have already met the qualification time.
Yamagata isn’t too worried about punching his Olympic ticket just yet. He’s confident he’ll qualify if he regains his normal form. Plus, he’s no longer interested in just chasing results.
“I used to focus on winning and coming up with faster times,” said Yamagata the bronze medalist in the 100 at the 2018 Asian Games in Jakarta. “But now, it feels like I’ve deepened my understanding of the 100 and think it’s more important to gain satisfaction by doing so. I feel I’m more stable mentally with that approach recently.”
Yamagata, who has not competed in any race since May 2019, plans to run at the Seiko Golden Grand Prix on Aug. 23 at the National Stadium, which will be the main venue for the Tokyo Games, if he is invited. The event will be held without spectators.
He also intends to participate in the national championships in early October in Niigata. Although the event will not serve as a trial for the Olympics, Yamagata said that he would still participate because it’s a high-level competition.
“It would be a great opportunity for me to see things like my new techniques and adjustments I’ve made, my physical growth and my direction,” said Yamagata, who has run under 10.10 seconds 12 times, which is only behind Kiryu’s 18. “And if I can perform in a way that I can convince myself, I think the qualifying standard of 10.05 will naturally follow. So that’s what I’m looking at.”