For Japan's track and field athletes, Sunday’s Seiko Golden Grand Prix will be an important chance to check out the track, grass and pits at Tokyo’s National Stadium ahead of next summer's Olympics.
The 10th anniversary event, which was originally scheduled for May 10 but postponed by the COVID-19 pandemic, will take place at a brand new facility that will be used as the main venue for the Summer Games.
But the meet, which is part of the World Athletics Continental Tour, will be held behind closed doors.
The Seiko Golden Grand Prix usually features elite global athletes such as Justin Gatlin and Bohdan Bondarenko, but only top local participants will compete in the 2020 edition.
The men’s 100-meter dash will be the main attraction. Former national record holder Yoshihide Kiryu, Yuki Koike, Ryota Yamagata, Shuhei Tada and Aska Cambridge will square off in the discipline.
“We don’t know how many more races we will be able to compete in this year,” said Kiryu, who became the first Japanese to run under 10 seconds (9.98) in 2017. “So I’d like to make sure I’ll take every single race seriously and because we’re in a situation like this (with the coronavirus), I want to give a performance that will send energy to the fans.”
The Golden Grand Prix will feature elite Japanese athletes from other disciplines as well.
The group includes national record holders including Shunya Takayama in the men’s 110-meter hurdles, Sho Kawamoto in the men’s 800, Naoto Tobe in the high jump, Shotaro Shiroyama in the long jump and pole vaulter Daichi Sawano. Among the women are Asuka Terada in the 100-meter hurdles and Haruka Kitaguchi in the javelin throw.
Participants aiming to represent Japan at the Summer Games will also look to collect as much information about the stadium as they can.
“This will be my first time running here,” Tada said. “Hopefully I can compete while getting a feeling for the track and how much rebound I’ll get from it.”
Veteran Yamagata, who captured the bronze medal in the 100 at the 2018 Asian Games, said it’s important for him to explore other areas, not just the track, because those could factor into better performances for him at the Olympics, which the 28-year-old has already participated in twice.
“I’ll be running at the National Stadium for the first time,” Yamagata said. “So I would like to check and imagine things like the atmosphere at the subground and how I’d make the transition from my warmups (to the race), with next year’s Olympics in mind.”
Kitaguchi, one of the rapidly emerging youngsters in Japanese athletics, has not competed in any events this year. But the 22-year-old Hokkaido native is excited to make her 2020 debut at the National Stadium.
“Ahead of next year’s Olympics, I want to compete feeling the atmosphere of the stadium,” the 2015 World Youth Championships gold medalist said. “I’d like to check how hard the pit is and see how the wind blows when I throw my javelin.”
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