In the elite world stage, the sprinting events are dominated by Americans, Jamaicans and the occasional European and African athlete. Historically, Asians have lagged behind in these explosive, fast-paced disciplines. The most recent individual Men’s sprinting medal came at the 2003 Paris World Championships, when the fleet-footed Shingo Suetsugo (末續 慎吾) finished 3rd in the 200m dash. 3 years earlier at the Sydney Olympics, Susantika Jayasinghe சுசந்திக ஜெயசிங்க்ஹி got 3rd place in the same event (elevated to silver after Marion Jones was stripped of her gold). Jayasinghe also finished within the top 3 in the 200m Dash in the 2007 Osaka World Championships.
No Asian man has gone below the magical 10-second barrier in the century dash. The Japanese troika of Koji Ito 伊東 浩司 (10.00s), Nobuharo Asahara (朝原 宣治) (10.02s) and Suetsugo (10.03s ) were the closest. The current Asian record holder, the Jamaican-born Qatari, Samuel Francis (9.99s) is an exception because, well, he’s a naturalized Qatari!
In the low hurdles, Dai Tamesue (為末大) won bronze medals in the 2001 and 2005 World Championships. Then, of course, there’s Liu Xiang (刘翔). Liu had won everything in the 110m High Hurdles – Olympics, World Championships and World Indoor Championships.
Suetsugo at the 2003 World Championships:
For an Asian, qualifying to the finals of an Olympic or World Championship sprinting event is an achievement in itself, in light of the puny number of medals won by sprinters from the world’s most populous continent.
With these facts in mind, it’s remarkable how the Japanese Men’s 4x100m relay team (Naoki Tsukahara (塚原 直貴), Suetsugo, Shinji Takahira 高平 慎士 and Asahara) finished 3rd (38.15s) at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Japan has always been a consistent qualifier to the 400m relay finals (4th – 2004, 6th – 2000, 6th – 1992, 5th – 1932); it was about time the Japanese won something big on the Olympic athletics stage. Despite the absence of the American and British quartets, a podium finish at the Olympics is a stellar feat in itself.
I just love how the Japanese celebrated (reminds me of my team’s 3rd place finish back in UAAP 69! We were ecstatic!) It’s reminiscent of the raw emotion found in those sports-oriented Japanese anime (like Hajime no Ippo and Slam Dunk. I love sports anime!). Men were openly crying, unafraid to show their true emotions. This would have to be my favorite moment in the Beijing Olympics, topping even Usain Bolt’s devastating three-event romp.
Japan’s Bronze Medal
In a sense, small victories like these give us Asians hope. If the Japanese can do it, surely (with enough reforms and political will), Filipinos can distinguish themselves at the elite level.