Report08 May 2022

Norman and Benjamin triumph on Tokyo return


Michael Norman wins the 400m at the Seiko Golden Grand Prix in Tokyo (© JAAF)

USA’s Michael Norman and Rai Benjamin marked nine months since their Olympic medal wins by securing further success in Tokyo, winning the 400m and 400m hurdles respectively at the Seiko Golden Grand Prix – a World Athletics Continental Tour Gold meeting – on Sunday (8).

The training partners were both making their season debuts in those disciplines, as they continue to work towards the World Athletics Championships Oregon22 on home soil in July.

Norman, who won Olympic 4x400m gold alongside Benjamin in Tokyo last August, was a comfortable winner of the 400m flat. Clocking 44.62, he recorded his fastest 400m season opener since 2019 and finished clear ahead of Japan’s Fuga Satom, who was second in a PB of 45.40.

Norman had run 19.83 to finish second in the 200m at last month’s Continental Tour Gold meeting at Mt SAC, but this was his first 400m since the Games.

“It’s not what I wanted," he said later, reflecting on his time. "I need to go back and look at the execution of the race and really think about where I need to improve.”

Unlike during last year’s Games, this time the Olympic Stadium was able to welcome fans and Norman added: “It’s always good to have fans back in the stands. They always bring energy and I’m excited to be able to compete again. I’m looking forward to the next race.”

Benjamin also eased to a clear victory, winning his first 400m hurdles race since the Tokyo Games in 48.60. The Olympic silver medallist, who ran 46.17 for the second fastest ever time behind world record-breaker Karsten Warholm at the Games, cruised over the line to triumph ahead of last year’s winner Kazuki Kurokawa. The Japanese champion ran 49.08 for the runner-up spot.

World 100m hurdles record-holder Kendra Harrison was another US Olympic medallist in action in Tokyo and she finished 0.29 clear of the rest of the field, winning in 12.76 (-0.1m/s). Japan’s Mako Fukube was second in 13.05 and USA’s world indoor bronze medallist Gabbi Cunningham third in 13.07 – the same time as fourth-placed Asuka Terada of Japan.

“I hit hurdle one, so that was not the plan, but I’m just glad I came out here and got the win,” said Harrison.

Looking ahead to the World Championships in Oregon, she added: “The goal is to go for gold. I got silver at the last World Championships, so I’m really trying to get that top position and represent my country – get that American win on American soil.”

There was a home victory for Rachid Muratake in the 110m hurdles, the 20-year-old improving on his fourth-place finish at last year’s meeting to win in 13.34 (0.1m/s) as Chen Kuei-Ru and Nicholas Hough both clocked 13.49 behind him.

Lynna Irby, who formed part of the US squads for the women’s 4x400m and mixed relay in Tokyo, won the women’s 200m in 23.09 (-0.1m/s) ahead of Australia’s Jacinta Beecher with 23.24.

After winning his heat in 10.13 (-0.3m/s), USA’s world indoor silver medallist Christian Coleman won the 100m final in 10.09 (0.1m/s), with Japan’s world 4x100m medallist Yuki Koike second in 10.22.

Yamakawa lands leap of his life

Another winner on home soil was Natsuki Yamakawa, who jumped further than ever before to triumph in the long jump.

Soaring 8.14m in the fifth round, the 26-year-old added eight centimetres to his previous best to beat his compatriot Hiromichi Yoshida, who came close to the eight-metre mark with 7.99m.

A top two for Japan was also achieved in the men’s high jump, with Ryoichi Akamatsu clearing 2.27m on his final attempt to win ahead of Tomohiro Shinno, who secured the runner-up spot on countback as one of three athletes to achieve a best of 2.24m.

Japanese record-holder Haruka Kitaguchi won the women’s javelin contest thanks to her first-round throw of 63.93m. Latvia’s Lina Muze was second with 61.68m and Australia’s world champion Kelsey-Lee Barber – back in the stadium where she secured Olympic silver – was third with a 61.00m throw.

The men’s javelin was won by Japan’s Roderick Genki Dean, who threw a best of 82.18m in the fourth round, while his compatriot Sumire Hata was just two centimetres off her PB with 6.63m (0.5m/s) to win the women’s long jump. Britain’s Jahisha Thomas was second with a 6.56m leap.

Griffith rebounds with win

Australia’s Georgia Griffith was left disappointed when injury denied her the competition she hoped for at last year’s Olympic Games. But back on the same Tokyo track, she rebounded with a win, leading an exciting women’s 1500m in 4:06.04 – her fastest time since 2019.

Four women were in contention off the final bend, with Griffith joined by Japan’s Nozomi Tanaka, Kenya’s Hellen Ekarare Lobun and USA’s Eleanor Fulton. Running wide, Griffith breezed passed them before moving away down the home straight, chased by Fulton who gained the runner-up spot in 4:06.35. Lobun was third in 4:07.19 and Tanaka fourth in 4:07.53.

Over in the men’s 3000m steeplechase, Japan’s Ryuji Miura and Kenya’s Philemon Ruto repeated their top two finishes from this meeting last year. In that 2021 race, the then 19-year-old Miura improved the senior national record to 8:17.46 and went even quicker at the Olympics on home soil, running 8:09.92 to qualify for the final, where he then placed seventh. Returning to the Olympic Stadium, he ran 8:22.25 to again triumph ahead of Ruto with 8:27.27. Japan’s Kosei Yamaguchi secured third place in 8:29.24.

In the men's 800m, USA’s Isaiah Jewett led the race until the final straight but then he ran out of steam, New Zealand’s Brad Mathas moving past to take the win in 1:46.58.

Jess Whittington for World Athletics