Can Ryota Yamagata and Yoshihide Kiryu sprint to glory?

Sports - August 9th, 2013
Ryota Yamagata and Yoshihide Kiryu

Two of the most exciting sprinters in the world right now, Ryota Yamagata and Yoshihide Kiryu (above, left to right) have shown with their performances in the 100m this season that they have all the ingredients to go right to the top in a sport Jamaican and American athletes dominate.

by Matthew Hernon

While the Japanese pair may not be ready to challenge Usain Bolt on the podium just yet, there is a growing belief that one or possibly both of them could go under 10 seconds at this summer’s World Championships in Moscow, set to begin on August 10, and put in motion an even higher profile career that could peak at a potential Tokyo Olympic Games in 2020.

It would be particularly special if Kiryu, still in High School (he runs for Rakunan High School), could achieve that feat. He became the fastest 17-year-old on the planet early this year, running an astonishing 10.01 at the Oda Memorial meet: a time that made a certain Jamaican take note.

“They always say a great athlete comes along every decade … It’s great to see athletes stepping up from all over the world; it shows that anything is possible.”

“When I heard (about the time) I was slightly surprised,” said a smiling Bolt at the Cayman Invitational press conference. “They always say a great athlete comes along every decade … It’s great to see athletes stepping up from all over the world; it shows that anything is possible.”

All eyes were on Kiryu as he lined up for the Japan Championships in June, but it was Keio University student Yamagata who won the race, with a time of 10.11 seconds, 0.14 seconds ahead of Kiryu.

The 21-year-old reached the semi-finals of the 100m at the London Olympics; the question now is whether he can go that one stage further in the Worlds. Koji Ito, who currently holds the Japan national record with a time of 10.00 seconds, believes that Yamagata has what it takes to compete with the big boys in Moscow:

“I expect him to progress past the early rounds,” he told Weekender. “His goal is to reach the latter stages and that is certainly possible. I think he has the power to go under 10 seconds.”

According to Ito, Kiryu is also capable of breaking his record and the fact that he is participating in a major event at such a young age will no do doubt help his development.

“It has already been a hard year for Kiryu with so many races, but I think the World Championships will be a fantastic experience for him,” said Ito. “In the past we have had some domestic runners with great potential, but they struggled when asked to perform on an international stage. Now with so many World Junior meets youngsters like Kiryu have a better chance of making the step up.”

Neither Kiryu nor Yamagata expect a medal at this year’s World Championships in Moscow, but as they get older, they will get stronger. Both should be close to their peak around the time of the Games in 2020 – what price an 100m Olympic Gold on home soil?

Above: Ryota Yamagata and Yoshihide Kiryu at the 97th Japan Athletics Championships and 14th World Championships in Athletics (2013/Moscow) National Athletes Selection Competition, Men’s 100m Final, Ajinomoto Stadium, Tokyo. Image: PHOTO KISHIMOTO