In the midst of a 2020 season turned chaotic due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the athletes who participated in Sunday’s Seiko Golden Grand Prix meet cherished the opportunity to hit the track and field at Tokyo’s main Olympic venue.
As in other such events, the men’s 100-meter dash was the day’s main attraction at Tokyo’s National Stadium, which officially opened last December. Although the meet was held without spectators, the discipline probably garnered most of the attention from fans who watched on television and via live streaming. All athlete interviews were done remotely as well as another measure to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
In the end, Yoshihide Kiryu, the first Japanese sprinter to break the 10-second barrier, captured the gold medal with a time of 10.14 seconds, against a headwind of 0.2 m/s, edging Aska Cambridge (10.16) and national team rivals Shuhei Tada (10.37) and Yuki Koike (10.53) in the 100.
“It makes me feel excited to imagine that I’m running here before a crowd,” Kiryu, the former national record holder, said with a smile after the race, perhaps already seeing himself dashing around the track at next summer’s Tokyo Games. “I managed to win this time. It’s not a major achievement (to have won today), but it’ll be a good memory for me.”
The athlete who provided the biggest thrill was Genki Dean, who won the men’s javelin throw in dramatic fashion. After he allowed rival and friend Ryohei Arai to take a lead, the 28-year-old made a big throw to overtake Arai, reaching 84.05 meters in his sixth and final attempt.
In the excitement, Dean ripped his shirt off and yelled toward the stands, where only coaches and staff were sitting.
“Forgive me,” Dean said with a laugh when asked if he’d lost control of himself in the win. “Maybe I’ll get scolded (by my coach) because I tore my uniform up.”
But nobody could blame him as Sunday marked Dean’s emergence from a long slump. His mark at National Stadium was the second best of his career.
The very best?
That came in 2012, when he threw his javelin 84.28 meters. During the same year, he earned gold at nationals and qualified for the London Olympics.
“I feel like I’ve finally been back at my workplace,” Dean said with a relieved look.
Dean has struggled with a series of injuries that have prevented him from competing at full strength. But he said that he has recently been able to train without major injuries, which helped his re-ascension.
“When you’re hurt, it (unconsciously) pulls the brake in your mind,” said Dean, who was born to a Japanese mother and British father. “I’d been like that for years. But I practiced well during the winter and thought that I would be able to throw further if I made my approach runs better.”
The postponement of the Tokyo Olympics may have worked in favor of the Kobe native, who could have a better shot at representing Japan at the Olympics again.
“I’m good at peaking for the Olympics,” Dean said. “I was good for London and threw 79 meters in the year for Rio (although I missed out). I can manage to peak for the four-year (Olympic) cycle.”
Arai certainly regretted finishing runner-up, but was happy that his rival returned to the summit.
“I’m disappointed, but my joy (for Dean) exceeds that,” said Arai, who was Japan’s only male javelin thrower to compete at the Rio Olympics. “(Dean’s win) will inspire me to do better. To be honest, there were times javelin wasn’t fun for me. But the level’s been higher (among Japanese throwers recently) and I feel I’ve got to keep up with them. I can finally enjoy this.”
The Golden Grand Prix was the first senior track event since the completion of the new National Stadium, and most athletes praised the facilities. Sprinters in particular said they were able to rebound well off what they described as a fast track.
“I thought it was really comfortable for us to run here,” said Asuka Terada, who holds the national record in the women’s 100-meter hurdles and won that discipline with a time 13.03 seconds on Sunday. “I don’t think I’m technically ready to fully take advantage of (the surface) yet, but overall, I felt great getting rebound from it.”
Veteran men’s 200 sprinter Shota Iizuka shared the same sentiment about the fast track, which he described as “hard.”
“It was even easier for me to run than at indoor stadiums,” said Iizuka, who won his race in 20.74.
Arai praised the new stadium from the perspective of his own discipline, in particular the space around the competition area and the long approach to the pit. He added that javelin throwers would not be affected by the wind too much because of the design of the venue, but also said that might not necessarily be a good thing for the competition.
“I got the impression that you won’t get obstructed by the wind at all,” Arai said. “You could probably say it’s easier to compete here. But it could actually be a disadvantage because you often get helped by the wind in the javelin throw. So it could be your disadvantage and it could be your advantage. In other words, you can trust your own ability here.”