Skip to main content

Japan Scores First Track Medal in 80 Years With Men's 4 x 100 Bronze (updated)

by Brett Larner

After finishing 4th in the 2004 Athens Olympics and 5th at the 2007 Osaka World Track and Field Championships, the Japanese men's 4 x 100 m relay team scored Japan's first Olympic medal in a track event since the 1928 Amsterdam Olympics, running a season best 38.15 to take bronze behind gold medalist Jamaica's world record 37.10 and silver medalist Trinidad and Tobago's 38.06.

Of the four members of the team, only first-leg runner Naoki Tsukahara, the 2008 100 m national champion, had run well in individual competition in Beijing, making the semi-final of the men's 100 m. Tsukahara was again solid, delivering a strong start against Jamaica's Nesta Carta. A flawless handoff to 200 m national record holder and three-time Olympian Shingo Suetsugu on the second leg maintained Japan's position. Suetsugu performed another impeccable handoff to 2008 200 m national champion Shinji Takahira; while inevitably losing ground to Jamaica's Usain Bolt Takahira widened Japan's lead over Trinidad and Tobago.

The excellence of Japan's baton work was nowhere more clear than in Takahira's handoff to Japan's 36 year-old anchor Nobuharu Asahara. Compared with the simultaneous handoff of Trinidad and Tobago it was clear that Japan had accurately assessed its main competitive advantage to lie in perfecting its handoffs rather than in trying to rival the speed of Caribbean athletes.

While Jamaica's Asafa Powell sped away to a new world record, Asahara, competing in his fourth Olympics, tried to hang on to 2nd against two much younger, fast-closing runners, Trinidad and Tobago's Richard Thompson and Brazil's Jose Carlos Moreira. Thompson just managed to slip past, but Asahara successfully fended off Moreira to take the bronze medal.

In the 1928 Amsterdam Olympics Japan's Kinue Hitomi won silver in the women's 800 m. Although Japan has collected numerous medals in the marathon, no Japanese runner, male or female, has won an Olympic medal on the track in the 80 years since Hitomi's historic performance. The 4 x 100 relay bronze was thus Japan's first-ever men's track medal, an emotional achievement and, in all likelihood, a fitting end to the veteran Asahara's career. When an interviewer asked Asahara afterwards if this performance would give him more motivation in his future races Asahara laughed uproariously, the only answer necessary considering that Asahara had planned to retire after last year's World Championships. The other three athletes likewise gave overjoyed interviews after the race, even the usually coolly professional Suetsugu shedding tears.

Update: In interviews on Aug. 23, Naoki Tsukahara was touchingly earnest when he talked about how he and Asahara had stayed up in their room until sunrise this morning talking about their run. In the award ceremony Tsukahara held up his medal and stared at it for a long time as if he honestly couldn't believe it was real. Suetsugu admitted in the Aug. 23 press conference that he has been in a slump for a long time but said, "Maybe it wasn't a slump after all. I feel like I'm out of it now."

おつかれさまでした。

Update 2: The Japan Times' article on the relay team has some nice quotes here.

(c) 2008 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Comments

Roberto said…
"... it was clear that Japan had accurately assessed its main competitive advantage to lie in perfecting its handoffs rather than in trying to rival the speed of Caribbean athletes."

Oh, yeah.

Practice ≥ speed + arrogance.
V. said…
Thank you for the detailed coverage of the men's 4 x 100 relay team, especially their post-race comments. Congratulations to them! What a feat for Asahara-san in his 4th Olympics. I've been watching the relay team's progress since Athens and it's amazing to see them reach the medal stand.

Most-Read This Week

Kawauchi Takes Six Minutes Off Kitakyushu Marathon Course Record to Lead Weekend Results

After a seven-week break from the marathon, Yuki Kawauchi (Saitama Pref. Gov't) scored his third-straight marathon win, second-straight course record and came just shy of a third-straight negative split as he ran a completely solo 2:11:46 to take almost six minutes off the Kitakyushu Marathon course record. Following up on negative split wins at December's Hofu Yomiuri Marathon and January's Marshfield New Year's Day Marathon, the latter a course record by half an hour, Kawauchi was on his own in the first 100 m in Kitakyushu and never looked back.

In the hilly first 10 km his pace fluctuated from high-2:12 to high-2:10, but once Kawauchi got into the flatter section of the course he settled out on track for a high-2:11 to low-2:12 time. After a 1:05:51 split at halfway he slowed slightly on the outbound trip to the turnaround near 31 km, but picking it up again after 35 km he marked a 6:34 from 40 km to the finish to stop the clock at 2:11:46,  a 1:05:55 second half …

Kenyans Kabuu, Jemeli and Cheyech Lead Nagoya Women's Marathon Field

The Nagoya Women's Marathon is the largest women-only marathon in the world, one with a long history as an elite race and adapting to the times with a mass-participation field of 20,000. The last few years it has seen a series of dynamic, high-level performances by top Japanese women, from Sairi Maeda's 2:22:48 in 2015 to the 2:23:19 to 2:23:20 sprint finish battle between Tomomi Tanaka and Rei Ohara in 2016 to Yuka Ando's stellar 2:21:36 debut and teammate Mao Kiyota's 2:23:47 breakthrough last year.

Maeda, Ohara and Kiyota all return this year to face the Kenyan trio of Lucy Kabuu, Valary Jemeli and Flomena Cheyech Daniel. Kabuu went to high school in Japan before moving on to the big leagues, but she hasn't finished a marathon since her 2:20:21 in Dubai 2015. Cheyech also used to be based in Japan as is a familiar face here, winning the last two Saitama International Marathons. Jemeli is making her Japanese debut, and with a 2:21:57 win in Prague and a 2:20:53 …

Kipsang Talking Loud and Aga Mumbling Bold - Tokyo Marathon Preview

After stepping up to the big leagues last year with course records in the 2:03 and 2:19 range, the Tokyo Marathon hopes to go one better this year. Men's course record setter Wilson Kipsang (Kenya) is back, stepping up from a 2:03:50 prediction for Tokyo in January to a 2:02:50 world record prediction at Friday's pre-race press conference. In the unmentioned absence of women's course record breaker Sarah Chepchirchir the top-ranked woman is Ruti Aga (Ethiopia), coming in hot off a 1:06:39 win last month in Houston and turning heads at the press conference with a boldly mumbled 2:18:00 prediction.

Management for both Kipsang and Aga were skeptical to JRN of their athletes' predictions, people from each camp saying times two minutes slower would be more likely, one minute slower in a best-case scenario. But whatever the prediction, Kipsang was clear to fellow past champs Feyisa Lilesa (Ethiopia) and Dickson Chumba (Kenya) about one thing: he wants a more conservative fi…