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Kawano 6th, 4x100 m Men DNF - Tokyo Olympics Athletics Day Eight Japanese Results

In what was considered Japan's best chance of medaling in Tokyo Olympics athletics, the Japanese men came up with a 6th-place finish by national record holder Masatora Kawano in the final Olympic men's 50 km race walk. 2018 Asian champion Hayato Katsuki had an early setback, losing a shoe in the first couple of km and never making his way back into contact. Kawano and national champion Satoshi Maruo stayed near the front of the main pack until a move from Canadian Evan Dunfee began to break it up. 

Maruo soon fell off, but Kawano looked to be one of the medal contenders as the pack turned into five behind breakaway leader Dawid Tomala of Poland. Without warning, around 42 km Kawano suddenly pulled off the course and went to his hands and knees to vomit. He could have been out of it at that point, but Kawano quickly bounced back up and set off to regain contact. He did, but the effort cost him in the final push.

Tomala took gold in 3:50:08, with Germany's Jonathan Hilbert silver in 3:50:44. Dunfee, 4th in Rio after colliding with eventual bronze medalist Hirooki Arai near the end of the race, caught Spain's Marc Tur just before the end to take bronze by 9 seconds in 3:50:59. Kawano hung on for 6th in 3:51:56, scoring another top 8 spot for the Japanese team. Katsuki overtook Maruo in the last km, coming home 30th in 4:06:32 and Maruo 32nd of 47 finishers in 4:06:42.

In the women's 20 km race walk Kumiko Okada and Nanako Fujii held on to the back of the main pack through most of the first half of the race. Okada dropped off first, with Fujii repeatedly closing the gap before falling off for good. Fujii ended up 13th in 1:31:55, with Okada 15th in 1:31:57. Third team member Kaori Kawazoe was a distant 40th in 1:39:31. 

Italian Antonella Palmisano won gold in 1:29:12 over Colombian Sandra Arenas, with defending gold medalist Hong Liu picking up bronze after two other athletes received late penalties, including world record holder Jiayu Yang. It was the third Olympic medal of Liu's career, which has also included three World Championships gold medals and two World Championships silvers.

In the evening session, missing top man Julian Walsh the men's 4x400 m still tied its season best  of 3:00.76, finishing 5th in the second heat and not moving on to the final. In the women's javelin throw final, Haruka Kitaguchi threw 55.42 m, finishing 12th of 12 in the final. In the women's 1500 m, Nozomi Tanaka was 8th in 3:59.95. 

The evening's most anticipated event for Japanese fans was the men's 4x100 m relay final, where enormous pressure was on the team of Shuhei Tada, Ryota Yamagata, Yoshihide Kiryu and Yuki Koike to deliver a medal on home soil. After a disappointing run in the heats Tada was back to his usual fast-start form. But NR holder Yamagata on second mistimed his start and was out of the exchange zone before Tada could get the baton to him. It was a rare baton miss by the usually-perfect Japanese squad, and it couldn't have happened at a more devastating time. 

One of the only silver linings was the China men's team, 4th in a national record-tying 37.79 behind Italy, Great Britain and Canada, seeking out the Japanese men post-race before they hit the media to shake each Japanese runner's hand and words of consolation. It was an outstanding moment of sportsmanship that reiterated that whatever the ongoing difficulties between two countries, sport can be transcendent of them.

© 2021 Mika Tokairin, all rights reserved

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