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Nobuharu Asahara Bows Out to Full House at Super Meet in Kawasaki

by Brett Larner
event videos listed at bottom

The 36 year old anchor of Japan's Beijing Olympics bronze medal-winning men's 4 x 100 m relay team, Nobuharu Asahara (Team Osaka Gas), was the main attraction at the 2008 Seiko Super Track and Field Meet in Kawasaki, a near sellout crowd filling Kawasaki's Todoroki Stadium to witness Asahara's final run before his retirement. Despite the cancellation of several stars including men's 110 m hurdles world record holder Dayron Robles, Japanese fans were treated to a bonus in the unpublicized surprise guest appearance by Jamaican sprint star Usain Bolt, who came out to greet fans during the opening ceremonies.

Usain Bolt and the Japanese Olympic men's 4 x 100 m team.

In the field events, women's long jump national record holder Kumiko Ikeda (Team Suzuki) fouled on her first three jumps before finally getting on the scoreboard. She ultimately finished 2nd behind Russian Tatiana Lebedeva, a two-time Olympic medalist and defending world champion . In the men's hammer throw, Athens Olympics gold medalist and pending Beijing Olympics bronze medalist Koji Murofushi (Team Mizuno) was one of only two competitors to break 80 m, throwing 81.02 m on his final attempt and moving past Krisztian Pars of Hungary to take the win. Tomasz Majewski of Poland, the Beijing Olympics men's shot put gold medalist easily won over a field including Athens gold medalist Yuriy Bilonog of Ukraine. Japanese national record holders Naoyuki Daigo (Team Fujitsu) and Daichi Sawano (Team Nishi Sports) each finished 2nd in the high jump and pole vault, respectively, behind world champion high jumper Donald Thomas of Bahamas and American vaulter Derek Miles.

On the track, Japan's 100 m national record holder and first individual woman sprinter to make the Olympics in 56 years, Chisato Fukushima (Hokkaido Hi-Tec AC) easily took the field in the absence of serious competition. Americans swept the women's 100 m hurdles, led by Damu Cherry's 13.07. South Korean national record holder Jung-Joon Lee took advantage of the withdrawal of injured world record holder Dayron Robles of Cuba to take a surprise victory in the men's 110 m hurdles. With Japan's two strongest 200 m runners opting for the 100 m, Briton Marlon Devonish had a narrow victory over Japan's third man, Hitoshi Saito (Tsukuba Univ.) in the men's 200 m. Women's 400 m national record holder Asami Tanno (Team Natureal) was another last-minute withdrawal, her spokesperson saying that she was not feeling well, a condition possibly related to her appearance less than a week earlier at a meet in Bhopal, India. American Miriam Barnes took the 400 m over Tanno's 4 x 400 m Olympic teammate Satomi Kubokura (Niigata Albirex RC) and Estonian national record holder Maris Magi. Kenji Narisako (Team Mizuno) gave American two-time Olympic medalist Bershawn Jackson a scare in the men's 400 m hurdles but had to settle for 2nd. The women's 1500 m saw one of the more interesting matchups in the meet, with 2007 national champion Mika Yoshikawa (Team Panasonic) pitted against 35 year-old steeplechase champion and Olympian Minori Hayakari (Kyoto Koka AC). Hayakari came out ahead, but both rivals were defeated by Yuko Shimizu (Team Sekisui Kagaku), who ran a PB of over two seconds to win.


Just before the evening's main event, Usain Bolt returned to the track to pay tribute to Nobuharu Asahara. The four members of Japan's bronze medal team lined up in the center four lanes in preparation for Asahara's final 100 m race, joined by student runners Shintaro Kimura (Waseda Univ.) and Hitoshi Saito (Tsukuba Univ.) and international competitors Harry Aikines-Aryeetey of the U.K. and Michael Rodgers of the U.S.A. The full stadium dropped to silence in anticipation of the race. After a false start by Aikines-Aryeetey the eight runners got away cleanly, with Aikines-Aryeetey taking first and Rodgers 2nd. Asahara just beat out Naoki Tsukahara (Team Fujitsu) for 3rd, finishing his last race as the top Japanese. Asahara and Tsukahara's Beijing teammates Shingo Suetsugu (Team Mizuno) and Shinji Takahira (Team Fujitsu), better known as 200 m runners, were 5th and 7th. Tsukahara received medical treatment on the track for an apparent cramp in his right calf, but soon joined his fellow Olympians for a lap carrying a banner thanking Asahara for all he has done in his career.

A short time later the Super Meet in Kawasaki held a ceremony on the track honoring Asahara's retirement. After a video montage of highlights from Asahara's 20 year career, a succession of Japanese track luminaries presented Asahara with flowers and their thanks. Hayakari, in Asahara's absence now possibly the oldest athlete still competing in Japanese track, was crying so hard that she could hand Asahara her flowers and then leave. Suetsugu, an always cool and professional leader of Japanese track, was uncharacteristically emotional and likewise cried so hard that he could not deliver his speech. Takahira and Fukushima gave brief messages of thanks, but Tsukahara surprised all with an eloquent farewell almost free of tears. Finally, Usain Bolt came to the stage once more to deliver his own farewell to Asahara. Bolt acknowledged Asahara's importance in Japanese sprinting as an inspiration to younger athletes, saying that he too looked up to the far senior Asahara and wishing him the best for the future. The ceremony came to an end with Asahara running one last, solo 100 m to a standing ovation recognizing the end of an era in Japanese athletics.

Top Finishers - click event for video

Men's 100 m
1. Harry Aikines-Aryeetey, U.K.: 10.19
2. Michael Rodgers, U.S.A.: 10.26
3. Nobuharu Asahara, Japan: 10.37

Men's 110 m Hurdles
1. Jung-Joon Lee, South Korea: 13.71
2. Aubrey Herring, U.S.A.: 13.77
3. Yuji Ohashi, Japan: 13.83

Men's 200 m
1. Marlon Devonish, U.K.: 20.78
2. Hitoshi Saito, Japan: 20.83
3. Brendan Christian, Antigua: 20.94

Men's 400 m Hurdles
1. Bershawn Jackson, U.S.A.: 49.33
2. Kenji Narisako, Japan: 49.68
3. Takayuki Koike, Japan: 50.02

Women's 100 m
1. Chisato Fukushima, Japan: 11.70
2. Candice Davis, U.S.A.: 11.89
3. Momoko Takahashi, Japan: 11.90

Women's 100 m Hurdles
1. Damu Cherry, U.S.A.: 13.07
2. Candice Davis, U.S.A.: 13.13
3. Hyleas Fountain, U.S.A.: 13.22

Women's 400 m
1. Miriam Barnes, U.S.A.: 53.18
2. Satomi Kubokura, Japan: 53.91
3. Maris Magi, Estonia: 53.99

Women's 1500 m
1. Yuko Shimizu, Japan: 4:15.51
2. Minori Hayakari, Japan: 4:16.10
3. Mika Yoshikawa, Japan: 4:17.48

Men's Hammer Throw
1. Koji Murofushi, Japan: 81.02 m
2. Krisztian Pars, Hungary: 80.67 m
3. Primoz Kozmus, Slovenia: 78.59 m

Men's High Jump
1. Donald Thomas, Bahamas: 2.24 m
2. Naoyuki Daigo, Japan: 2.21 m
3. Hiromi Takahari, Japan: 2.18 m

Men's Pole Vault
1. Derek Miles, U.S.A.: 5.60 m
2. Daichi Sawano, Japan: 5.60 m
3. Leonid Andreev, Uzbekistan: 5.40 m

Men's Shot Put
1. Tomasz Majewski, Poland: 19.63 m
2. Yuriy Bilonog, Ukraine: 17.66 m
3. Tadashi Ohashi, Japan: 17.31 m

Women's Long Jump
1. Tatiana Lebedeva, Russia: 6.81 m
2. Kumiko Ikeda, Japan: 6.45 m
3. Hyleas Fountain, U.S.A.: 6.23 m

Complete results are available on the meet website.

(c) 2008 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

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