At the 10th Asian Junior Athletic Championships in Bangkok last week (October 28 - 31), Shinji Takahira won three gold medals and led Japan to a new Asian junior mark of 39.30 in the 4x100m relay and all he said when asked about his performance was “so so”. This in part reflects the fact that Japan’s new sprinting sensation doesn’t speak much English. But it also shows the high standards the 18-year-old Takahira who comes from Hokkaido, had set for himself in Bangkok.
After all, as he sees it, while he won the 200m with ease in 21.03, ahead of China's Liu Haitao (21.14) and Huang Wei (21.16), he didn't better his personal best of 20.97 secs. And in the 4x400m relay, while he and his team mates (Hiroyuki Noda, Yuki Yamaguchi and Yushi Nakata) won easily, they didn’t break the continental mark they wanted.
Yet, however modestly Takahira, a high school student, may want to view his performances, there is little doubt among observers here that - for Asia - he is one of this season’s revelations. The 4x100m relay time of 39.30 he achieved with Masaya Aikawa, Hiroyuki Noda and Yasutaka Matsunaga created quite a stir.
For a start, it was better than the championship mark of 39.66 set by Thailand in 1994. More significantly, it was faster than the Asian junior record of 39.47 set by China in 2000.
According to Mr Akira Kazama, liaison officer of the Japanese team, part of the impetus for the record came, ironically, from the fact that the Japanese senior team - led by two of the region’s best sprinters Nobuharu Asahara and Shingo Suetsugu – didn’t bring home the gold medal for Japan in the 4x100m relay at the recent Asian Games in Busan.
“The boys were really charged up to do well here. They wanted to make a point.” In Busan, the highly-fancied Japanese team lost to the Thais who, despite not having individual stars at the Asian level, impressed with their seamless baton passing.”
For Takahira and his team mates, beating the squad from Thailand here – on their home soil – after the shock of Busan was sweet, especially since they established records along the way.
What made the performance of Takahira and his friends all the more outstanding was the fact that they were running as a quartet for the very first time. The Japanese had made some changes to their original line-up for the relay based on current form. This meant one of their highly-talented sprinters (Takahiro Sugasawa) who was already chosen for the 100m event wasn’t even included for the relay. Also, the relay team for Bangkok wasn’t the same one that did well at the World Junior Championships in Kingston!
“It’s to their credit that the boys co-ordinated well” said Mr Kazama, “despite the new combination. Only Takahira was part of the relay team in Kingston. It helps that these guys do know each other though they come from different parts in Japan. For instance, they came together for our selection training camp in March.”
Chua Chong Jin for the IAAF