by Brett Larner
Empty-handed so far despite strong showings by the rest of the Japanese Olympic team, the eighth day of athletics at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics finally brought Japan two medals, one controversial, one beautiful.
In the men's 50 km race walk, Koichiro Morioka was out of the front-end action early, while Takayuki Tanii and Hirooki Arai were part of a nine-man chase group behind breakaway leader Yohann Diniz of France. Tanii fell off the pace, but Arai stayed up front as the pack dwindled, then overtook Diniz. In 3rd behind Beijing World Championships gold medalist Matej Toth (Slovakia) and London Olympics gold medalist Jared Tallent (Australia) in the final stages of the race, Arai was caught by Canada's Evan Dunfee. With 1 km to go, Arai made a move to retake Dunfee. As he passed he bumped Dunfee hard; Dunfee seemed to lose his balance, then a few seconds later appeared to cramp up. Arai pulled away for bronze by 14 seconds, Dunfree coming through in a national record 3:41:38 for 4th. But it wasn't over yet.
Canada was quick to file a protest over Arai's contact. Arai was disqualified and Dunfee elevated to bronze. Japan appealed the decision, and it was duly overturned to put Arai back onto the podium. Dunfee had the option to appeal to the CAS, but instead he issued a very respectable statement in which he said he felt that the decision was correct, that contact happens, and that he could never be proud of getting a medal that way. "I will never allow myself to be defined by the accolades I receive, rather the integrity I carry through life," he wrote in a statement that is recommend reading for anyone who hasn't yet. In an Olympics in which appeals and protests have played a major role in overturning the outcome of races it was refreshing to see someone put their personal honor and integrity before a medal-at-all-costs attitude. And a Canadian to boot. The JAAF has targeted one medal in Rio, but a bronze in what is probably athletics' most fringe event won under a small cloud wasn't really something that could have satisfied expectations. A few hours later came redemption.
After a brilliant heat that saw then come to the final ranked 2nd just 0.03 behind the U.S.A., Japan's men's 4x100 m ran to almost near perfection in the final, leading at the final exchange and outrunning both the U.S.A. and Canada to take silver behind Jamaica in an Asian record 37.60. Ryota Yamagata started them off strong, slightly sloppy on the exchange to Shota Iizuka but nothing fatal. Iizuka and Yoshihide Kiryu doing their work, the team's well-practiced underhand exchanges a technical advantage that gave them the edge they needed. Anchor Asuka Cambridge getting a glance from Jamaican great Usain Bolt as they ran side-by-side in Bolt's final Olympic race. Cambridge holding off next-generation stars Andre de Grasse (Canada) and Trayvon Bromell (U.S.A.) to cross the line 2nd, straight up legit silver unaffected by the U.S.' subsequent disqualification. Silver, behind the greatest of all time, in one of the Olympics' marquee events. The third-fastest country ever. No sub-10 runners, no sub-20 runners, no runners with doping suspensions on their record. A true team, youth on their side, staring into a Boltless future with a home-soil Olympics on the horizon. Cambridge post-race: "In four years we'll try to bring home a better medal!"
Missing multi-year national champion Yuzo Kanemaru, the men's 4x400 m relay team, already lucky to have made the Olympics, didn't have the same luck, finishing 7th in its qualifying heat. Women's 20 km race walker Kumiko Okada likewise couldn't match Arai's medal, finishing 16th in 1:32:42. The day's other Japanese athlete in action, Miyuki Uehara, finished 15th in the women's 5000 m in 15:34.97. Having turned heads by frontrunning her heat to become only the second Japanese woman to ever make an Olympic 5000 m final, Uehara tried the same approach but found the bar set several meters higher. Dropping back as soon as 10000 m gold medalist Almaz Ayana (Ethiopia) made a move, Uehara struggled to maintain pace. Her final time was 11 seconds slower than in her qualifying heat, but ranked last among the 17 starters on PB her 15th-place finish was a small triumph for someone totally unexpected to make the final. With only the men's marathon yet to come for Japan she remains its top long distance performer of the Rio de Janeiro Olympics.
Rio de Janeiro Olympics
Aug. 19, 2016
click here for complete results
Women's 5000 m Final
1. Vivian Jepkemoi Cheruiyot (Kenya) - 14:26.17 - OR
2. Hellen Onsando Obiri (Kenya) - 14:29.77
3. Almaz Ayana (Ethiopia) - 14:33.59
4. Mercy Cherono (Kenya) - 14:42.89
5. Senbere Teferi (Ethiopia) - 14:43.75
15. Miyuki Uehara (Japan) - 15:34.97
Men's 4x100 m Final
1. Jamaica - 37.27
2. Japan - 37.60 - AR
3. Canada - 37.64 - NR
Women's 20 km Race Walk Final
1. Hong Liu (China) - 1:28:35
2. Maria Guadalupe Gonzalez (Mexico) - 1:28:37
3. Xiuzhi Lu (China) - 1:28:42
16. Kumiko Okada (Japan) - 1:32:42
Men's 50 km Race Walk Final
1. Matej Toth (Slovakia) - 3:40:58
2. Jared Tallent (Australia) - 3:41:16
3. Hirooki Arai (Japan) - 3:41:24
4. Evan Dunfee (Canada) - 3:41:38 - NR
14. Takayuki Tanii (Japan) - 3:51:00
27. Koichiro Morioka (Japan) - 3:58:59
Men's 4x400 m Relay Heat 1
1. Jamaica - 2:58.29 - Q
2. U.S.A. - 2:58.38 - Q
3. Botswana - 2:59.35 - Q, NR
7. Japan - 3:02.95
© 2016 Brett Larner
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