Qatari high jumper Mutaz Barshim (© Hasse Sjogren)
World high jump champion Mutaz Barshim will make his first appearance outside of his home country for two years at the Ready Steady Tokyo meeting, part of the World Athletics Continental Tour Gold series, in the Japanese capital on Sunday (9).
And what better way for the Qatari high jumper to assess his form ahead of the Tokyo Olympics than by competing at the official test event for the Games. And the presence of Japan’s top three high jumpers will ensure the competition is a genuine test for Barshim.
Since retaining his world title in sensational style in Doha at the end of 2019, Barshim has competed just once, leaping 2.25m in Doha in March this year. This weekend’s competition will be his first in Japan for almost a decade; the last time he competed there was at the 2011 Asian Championships in Kobe, which he won with 2.35m.
He may need to jump somewhere in that region again on Sunday if he is to win as he’ll be up against Japanese indoor record-holder Naoto Tobe, 2020 national champion Tomohiro Shinno who jumped 2.31m last year, and 2015 Asian champion Takashi Eto, who won in Fukuroi earlier this month with 2.30m, beating Tobe and Eto.
It’s not just the high jump that will feature the very best Japanese athletes. Both sprint hurdles races will be high-quality affairs with a high likelihood of records being broken.
Taioh Kanai is fresh from smashing the Japanese 110m hurdles record with 13.16 in Hiroshima at the end of April, moving him to second place on the Asian all-time list. But former national record-holder Shunya Takayama and national indoor record-holder Shunsuke Izumiya are also in the line-up for Sunday, as is Asian Games silver medallist Chen Kuei-Ju of Chinese Taipei.
Asuka Terada, who reduced her national 100m hurdles record to 12.96 in Hiroshima, will also be in action. She’ll take on Japanese compatriot Masumi Aoki, who last year ran a marginally wind-aided 12.87, the fastest performance ever achieved by a Japanese woman in any conditions.
When Lalu Muhammad Zohri last raced in Japan, he was rewarded with a 100m national record of 10.03. The world U20 champion from Indonesia has competed sparingly since then, but he hopes to be in contention this weekend when he lines up alongside Japanese sub-10-second sprinters Yuki Koike and Yoshihide Kiryu. Olympic 4x100m silver medallist Aska Cambridge and 2017 world champion Justin Gatlin are also in the field.
Shotaro Shiroyama, who in 2019 set a Japanese long jump record of 8.40m, will take on world U20 champion Yuki Hashioka, Australia’s 2012 world indoor silver medallist Henry Frayne, Japanese champion Hibiki Tsuha, Asian Games bronze medallist Sapwaturahman of Indonesia, and Daiki Oda. The latter scored a narrow victory over Hashioka in Hiroshima last month, but Hashioka had a foul that looked to be well beyond eight metres. If he gets his run-up right this weekend, he could improve on his PB of 8.32m.
The men’s javelin also has a strong domestic line-up. Takuto Kominami, who recently set a PB of 82.52m to win in Hiroshima, will take on Olympic finalist Ryohei Arai and Genki Dean, who last year got within 23 centimetres of his PB when winning with 84.05m at the Seiko Golden Grand Prix in the same Tokyo Olympic Stadium. Chinese Taipei’s 2015 Asian champion Huang Shih-Feng, an 86.64m thrower at his best, is also in the field.
Yuka Sato, who threw a season’s best of 61.01m last month, is the top athlete entered for the women’s javelin.
Hitomi Niiya, who has set Japanese records for 10,000m and the half marathon in recent years, will be stepping down in distance to the 5000m where she’ll take on rising star Ririka Hironaka and Kenyan teenager Teresiah Muthoni, who won in Hiroshima last month in a PB of 15:06.76.
The men’s 5000m looks to be similarly competitive. Kenya’s Cleophas Kandie, the 2017 world U18 steeplechase silver medallist, will be buoyed by his 27:43.07 run over 10,000m at the start of this week. Kenya's 2016 world half marathon silver medallist Bedan Karoki and 2020 Japanese champion Yuta Bando should also be in the mix, likewise Takashi Ichida, who has set PBs of 27:54.45 for 10,000m and 1:00:19 for the half marathon so far this year. Promising teenagers Yamato Yoshii and Kosuke Ishida will also be looking to produce a fast time.
World U20 3000m champion Nozomi Tanaka returns to the venue where she set a Japanese 1500m record last year. The 21-year-old will once again contest the metric mile where she’ll face Kenyan duo Hellen Lobun and Cynthia Mbaire.
Philemon Ruto, who won in Hiroshima last month, leads the men's steeplechase field. Japanese U20 runner Ryuji Miura, who came within half a second of breaking the national senior record last year, will be hopeful of coming away with a PB – and possibly a national record.
In the women’s event, meanwhile, 2014 Commonwealth bronze medallist Joan Chepkemoi will contest her first steeplechase race in almost three years. The Kenyan has a best of 9:20.22, but if she's a bit race-rusty over the barriers, Japan’s Reimi Yoshimura could provide a challenge to Chepkemoi.
Three of Japan’s 4x400m team members from the recent World Athletics Relays Silesia 21 – Rikuya Ito, Kaito Kawabata and Kentaro Sato – will contest the individual 400m here, where they’ll face Britain’s Rabah Yousif.
And in the 400m hurdles, Asian silver medallist Chen Chieh of Chinese Taipei takes on Japanese champion Takatoshi Abe and Brazil’s Mahau Suguimati.
Jon Mulkeen for World Athletics