Competing in the stadium which will host Olympic athletics action this summer, Kazuki Kurokawa and Ryuji Miura were among the athletes to rise to the occasion at the Ready Steady Tokyo meeting, part of the World Athletics Continental Tour Gold series, on Sunday (9).
The event welcomed some international names as well as many Japanese stars for the official Olympic Games test event at Tokyo’s National Stadium, with Qatar’s world champion Mutaz Barshim tying Japan’s Naoto Tobe for high jump victory.
But on the track, it was Kurokawa and Miura who had the races of their lives in the 400m hurdles and 3000m steeplechase respectively.
For Kurokawa, that resulted in a PB of 48.68 to lead the top three all under the Olympic qualifying mark of 48.90. The 19-year-old, who is coached by 1997 world indoor 400m bronze medallist Shunji Karube, led from start to finish and although tiring in the closing stages he held on to improve on his previous best of 49.19 set last year.
Behind him, Hiromu Yamauchi improved his PB by more than a second to finish as runner-up in 48.84, while 2015 world U18 bronze medallist Masaki Toyoda also dipped under 49 seconds for the first time with 48.87 in third.
For Miura, there was a national record-breaking performance. Running 8:17.46, he took more than a second off the Japanese 3000m steeplechase record of 8:18.93 which had been set by Yoshitaka Iwamizu at the 2003 World Championships in Paris for a dominant win ahead of Kenya’s Philemon Kiplagat Ruto (8:21.10).
That time is an Olympic qualifying mark for the 19-year-old Miura, who ran 1:01:41 for the half marathon in October, and it improves on his previous best of 8:19.37 achieved last year.
Sprint hurdles success for Terada and Kanai
Fresh from his Japanese 110m hurdles record of 13.16 set at the end of April, a time which moved him to second on the Asian all-time list, Taio Kanai claimed another win but was pushed all the way.
Dipping for the line, this time he clocked 13.38 (-0.8m/s) to hold off national indoor record-holder Shunsuke Izumiya (13.43) and former national record-holder Shunya Takayama (13.45).
There was another sub-13-second performance for Asuka Terada in the 100m hurdles as she followed her 12.96 Japanese record set last month in Hiroshima with a time of 12.99 (-0.8m/s) to win ahead of her compatriot Masumi Aoki with 13.06.
Back in the stadium where she set her Japanese 1500m record of 4:05.27 last year, world U20 3000m champion Nozomi Tanaka clocked 4:09.10 for a clear victory, picking up the pace in the second half of the race and running a 63.84 last lap. Ran Urabe came through for second in 4:12.38.
There was also a fast finish in the women’s 5000m as teenager Teresia Muthoni Gateri followed up her PB of 15:06.76 set in Hiroshima last month with 15:10.91 to win ahead of her fellow Kenyan teenager Judy Jepngetich with 15:11.52. Japanese 10,000m and half marathon record-holder Hitomi Niiya finshed fifth in 15:18.21.
Returning to steeplechase action for the first time in almost three years, Kenya’s 2014 Commonwealth bronze medallist Joan Chepkemoi claimed women's 3000m steeplechase victory in 9:39.29 ahead of Yuno Yamanaka with a 9:46.72 PB.
No-one could respond to Takashi Ichida’s last lap burst in the men’s 5000m as he moved to the front with 300m remaining and couldn’t be caught, crossing the finish line in a PB of 13:27.73 for a clear win.
Just six days after his fourth-place finish in the Japanese 10,000m Championships in Shizuoka, where he went close to his PB with 27:54.45, Ichida improved on his previous 5000m best of 13:33.99 to beat Kenya’s 2017 world U18 steeplechase silver medallist Cleophas Kandie Meyan (13:29.33), who also ran the 10,000m in Shizuoka and clocked 27:43.07 there.
Akira Aizawa, who won the national 10,000m event in December in 27:18.75, finished third in a PB of 13:29.47.
The men’s 200m saw Olympic 4x100m silver medallist Shota Iizuka continue his unbeaten season so far, winning his 14th race (including heats) in a season’s best of 20.48 (1.4m/s). Akira Matsumoto was second in a PB of 20.57.
A week after helping Japan to second in the 4x400m at the World Athletics Relays in Silesia, Kentaro Sato ran a well-judged race to win the 400m in 45.61, just 0.03 off his 2015 PB. After a strong start, Sato eased back but found another gear to power down the home straight ahead of his World Relays teammate Rikuya Ito (46.15).
There was a strong start by Japan’s two-time world 4x100m bronze medallist Shuhei Tada in the 100m final but he glanced to the side in the closing stages to see the USA’s 2017 world champion Justin Gatlin move past him and win in 10.24 (0.0m/s) to Tada’s 10.26. Japan's Olympic and world 4x100m medallist Yoshihide Kiryu had been unable to challenge them after a false start in the heats led to disqualification.
Barshim and Tobe in high jump head-to-head
A battle between Barshim and Japan’s top three athletes had been expected in the men’s high jump, but a jump off between Qatar’s two-time Olympic medallist and the Japanese indoor record-holder Tobe took things up another notch.
With both athletes clearing heights from 2.15m to 2.30m on their first attempts and then failing their three goes at 2.33m, they then took it in turns to attempt 2.33m, 2.31m and 2.29m to decide the winner.
Since retaining his world title on home soil in 2019, Barshim had competed just once, also in Doha, where he managed 2.25m in March this year. In Tokyo both athletes were clearly feeling the strain after a long competition and therefore decided to share victory ahead of Takashi Eto, who also cleared 2.30m but had required two attempts at that height as well as three at 2.27m.
The men’s long jump saw Japan’s world U20 champion Yuki Hashioka open with 8.07m (1.8m/s) and while he was unable to emulate that in the following rounds, with a series of four fouls and then 7.98m on his last attempt, it was more than enough for him to win the competition. Tenju Togawa was second with a leap of 7.82m (1.4m/s), while the women’s event was won by Sumire Hata with a 6.48m (0.6m/s) jump.
Japan’s Takuto Kominami followed his recent PB of 82.52m in Hiroshima with a best throw of 80.98m to win the men’s javelin, while the women’s contest saw his compatriot Momone Ueda throw 58.93m.
Japan’s Asian Games winner Seito Yamamoto won the men's pole vault with a clearance of 5.55m.
Jess Whittington for World Athletics