He, as a spectator, saw Japan beat his team in the heats. “...the execution they have is always extremely good.”
Canadian sprint sensation, Andre De Grasse, admits he knew little of this burgeoning team. He was figuratively blown away by their performance, but not totally, however, for he and his mates captured bronze.
Many who are unfamiliar with relays think it a simple matter of finding four speedsters, to then slap them on the track, to then spring them loose. But experts say that isn’t the road to victory; it’s the road to ruin. The best teams are truly a team, they get along, they sacrifice for the other - with the monumental moment of their dynamics being the passing of the baton.
Japan’s team uses the “upsweep technique” to hand the stick - to stick. The relay coach, Shunji Karube, deserves credit for reforming their 2008 baton work, where they took bronze in Beijing’s Olympics, to come up with a new underhand baton pass, where runners transfer and take the baton with the elbow higher than waist level. (Somehow this lessens the lengths runners must go.)
More importantly, however, is Japan’s team - being a team - with fantastic fundamentals to boot. Consider that, while none of the four individually, has run under 10 seconds for the 100-metres, their cohesion has them, now, second best olympically. (And only - astoundingly - a foursome as deep as Jamaica’s, with the incomparable Bolt running anchor, could win gold with JUST ONE TRAINING SESSION in 2016 with Usain. Incredible. And risky...)
Reputedly Japan is blown away, realizing this relay team is the first to take silver in track since Kinue Hitomi did it in the 800 metres, in 1928, in Amsterdam.
So Japan’s relay-rush rise to the top has been in the works for a while. For starters, they trained together for six months leading up to the 2016 Olympics. In Beijing, they became the first Japanese men’s team to medal in an Olympic sprinting event. They don’t cross lanes - a trespass that American and Canadian relay teams know only too well, and this year, oh dear, in Rio, the Americans were disqualified after initially being awarded third place because 2nd man, Justin Gatlin, touched the baton prior to entering the takeover zone. In fact the States since 1995 has - eight or nine times - either been disqualified, or been diminished, by either its specific baton passes or its general relay recklessness.
Meanwhile, as anchor Aska Cambridge points out, Japan figured it could win a medal. His, and his teammates’ confidence, was not misplaced - heck, coming up the ramp to the track they demonstratively displayed a pretend pose of flashing swords: only a relaxed, confident, ready bunch could do this. Furthermore, watching the race in slow-mo, shows each baton pass pretty-near flawless in execution - amazing - given the magnitude of these games. No wonder their smiles on subsequent Japanese TV interviews are 4 x 100 metres wide and 4 x 100 metres high!
Hey, these four guys set a new Asian record of 37.60 seconds. Japan is proud...but Jamaica can lay a small claim in bragging rights. The aforementioned Aska Cambridge has a Jamaican dad and a Japanese mom. Aska has lived in Japan since he was two. Aptly, Aska means “flying bird” in Japanese.
Aptly and happily, too, is the realization that there is no ideal body type for sprinting. The body shapes of the Jamaicans compared to the Japanese are vastly different in the arms and upper torso. The sprinters from the former show heavily muscled limbs and parts - the latter are much more streamlined and smooth. You know what this means? If you’re fast you’re fast. And that’s that.
Perhaps the squad will train again in Yamanashi Prefecture, and will look up, inspired, to Mt. Fuji. Perhaps, too, they’ll blossom, again, like the cherry blossoms that abound all around Yamanashi - and ultimately, perhaps too, their future races will smell as sweet, and be as beautiful, as the lavender flowers there. Geez, even in practices, they apparently had no baton misses!
Oh, speaking of beauty, did you see the relay team’s hot, tight and pinky-orange “a healthy soul in a healthy body” outfits?
And more on beauty: who among Aska Cambridge, Yoshihide Kiryu, Shota Iizuka, or Ryota Yamagata will be labeled as cute as Japan’s gymnastic marvel, Kohei Uchimura?
Listen, not everything is peaches and cream in the Land of the Rising Sun. Apart from this country digging the Onbashira Festival (lunatics on a log) Japan has got big problems. Their population is declining, and those around, are aging. The workforce is being replaced by spent-force pensioners and babies are scarce. Given current demographic trends, there’ll be about one million less Japanese watching the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games than viewed the Rio Olympics, in which that nation garnered 41 medals, a record for it.
But for those living, they’ll forget the “Lost 20 Years” economic doldrums (for two weeks anyway) and they’ll forgive population shrinkage (for ever apparently) to fervently watch this amazing 4 x 100 metre relay team – a seasoned, yet, with a young average age of, in four-years time, only 27 - do its fleet thing. The group wants to stick together, get better. Truly a win-win situation for the country and these men.
Now, with Usain Bolt out of the picture, do they win gold?