Yoshihide Kiryu talks to the press (© Getty Images)
To say that Japan’s leading athletes will be inspired by competing at Tokyo’s National Stadium on Sunday (9) is something of an understatement.
Talking to the press ahead of the Ready Steady Tokyo meeting – part of the World Athletics Continental Tour Gold series – four Japanese record-holders explained how they’d love nothing more than to break a record at the venue for this year’s Olympic Games.
“I remember running here last year when I set a national record,” said world U20 champion Nozomi Tanaka, who clocked 4:05.27 in Tokyo last year at the Seiko Golden Grand Prix. She has raced over a range of distances already this year, setting PBs at 800m (2:03.19) and 10,000m (31:59.89), but she’ll contest the 1500m again on Sunday.
“I’m going to give it my all,” she said. “I always aim to break my personal best, so another national record would be great.”
Sprinter Yoshihide Kiryu, who featured on Japan’s 4x100m team at the World Athletics Championships Doha 2019 when they set an Asian record of 37.43 to take bronze, says the absence of fans this weekend won’t impact his performance.
“Doing what I came to do is the best way to show our fans the power of sport,” said Kiryu, who’ll face fellow Japanese sub-10-second sprinter Yuki Koike, world U20 champion Lalu Muhammad Zohri and 2017 world champion Justin Gatlin.
Distance runner Hitomi Niiya has set national records for the half marathon (1:06:38) and 10,000m (30:20.44) in the past 18 months. She came within 2.61 seconds of the Japanese 5000m record of 14:53.22 last September and is targeting another crack at the mark this weekend.
“To help my future 10,000m races, I’d like to break the national record,” said the 33-year-old.
When asked about the staging of sporting events during the Covid-19 pandemic, Niiya says she tries to keep an open mind.
“We’re at a time where sport itself is being questioned,” she said. “Of course, there are positive views and there are negative views, I understand this. I try to listen to and understand both sides.”
Like Kiryu, sprint hurdler Asuka Terada feels she’ll still have plenty of motivation to perform well, even in an empty stadium.
“As an athlete, running the race I came to do is the best way to energise our fans and to inspire the young generation,” she said.
At the end of last month, Terada reduced her Japanese 100m hurdles record to 12.96 in her first outdoor race of the year. She is now setting her sights on running 12.84, which would be an Olympic qualifying standard – and, more importantly, would make her daughter exceptionally proud.
“It was great that she (Kao, her daughter) could come to the track in Hiroshima,” says Terada. “This time she will be watching at home, so I want to make my daughter jealous (by performing well).”
Michael Okubo and Jon Mulkeen for World Athletics