by Yoshihide Kiryu

When Tokyo was awarded the Olympics in 2013, I was still in school. I was 17 at the time, and had already run 10.17 for 100 metres.

A home Olympics? The thought of that was immediately inspiring, and in the years since the dream has slowly moved closer.

Hosting the Games sparked huge enthusiasm in Japan, and there was more of an emphasis on supporting athletes. The momentum has been building ever since and, this summer, it’s our chance to showcase all that work.

Of course, after 2020, nothing is certain. At the moment in Tokyo we have about 1,000 new Covid-19 cases a day, which may not seem a lot from a European perspective, especially given the population, but it’s high compared to what we’ve seen before.

At least the trend, in recent weeks, is moving in the right direction.

At this time of year, I normally have a training camp in Australia and do some competitions there in March, but this year it’s looking unlikely. But all athletes, whether in athletics or other sports, are striving to prepare as well as we can.

Yoshihide Kiryu ()

Last year was challenging, but you try to improvise.

When the track and gym were closed last March and April, I bought weights so I could train at home or I’d go to a hill in the streets nearby. I had more time on my hands, so I tried to review my technique, use my time in a different way and try to make the best out of a bad situation.

At this time of year, I train five days a week and each session takes 3-4 hours. Within that, I do weights four days and I see my trainer once a week to get my body taken care of.

Every year, I keep doing what I can to get better.

I’ve been an athlete since the age of 13. In elementary school, I played soccer but in middle school I followed in my brother’s footsteps and took up athletics. After I ran 10.19 at the age of 16, I started to aim really high.

It took five more years after that to break 10 seconds with a legal wind, but when I saw that clock that day – 9.98 – I was so happy. Being a nine-second 100m sprinter is one of the prerequisites to be a contender on the world stage and, of course, the US, Great Britain and Jamaica all have nine-second athletes in their ranks.

That run was me finally putting my foot in the door. Now I was able to challenge on the same stage as them, to be a legitimate contender for the 100m.

Yoshihide Kiryu ()

Traditionally, Japan has always been more focused on long-distance running but after my success and that of our other sprinters, the situation is slowly changing. We got more coverage in recent years, the number of fans at track and field meetings has increased, but I’m not satisfied yet.

I want to strive for more: to be more successful, to get more fans and more TV coverage. To do that, I need to be in the final at the Olympic Games and be a regular participant in the Diamond League.

In 2016, I competed at my first Olympics and I didn’t advance from the first round, but that experience helped me, it motivated me, and showed what I need to do to develop as an athlete.

Of course, we didn’t walk away from Rio empty-handed. In the 4x100m we won silver behind Jamaica, a huge feat for Japan. We have also won relay bronze at the last two World Championships, and when people ask how our relays have done so well, it’s a simple answer: we have really high-quality sprinters.

Yoshihide Kiryu ()

We have three guys under 10 seconds and four or five others under 10.10. That depth has really improved in recent years and while we don’t have a Usain Bolt, what we do have is a very solid group of guys who can really perform when it matters.

Everyone likes to ask about our baton passing, but there’s no secret to it. Since we medalled at the 2008 Olympics, we’ve collected data with the national team on the baton pass and we’ve studied and analysed those data. The athletes who came before me really accumulated some great knowledge on the artwork of good baton passing, and that’s contributed to our success.

Since the pandemic, we have not met as a team but in normal times we’d have training camps once or twice a year, and maybe a camp for a weekend or two to work on our passing. I’m looking forward to linking up with them again later this year.

In 2020, it was all individual races, and one of the highlights for me was getting to run in the new Olympic Stadium at the Seiko Golden Grand in Tokyo last August.

Yoshihide Kiryu ()

With the new design, and its architecture, it’s a beautiful place to compete.

We didn’t have spectators at that event so we couldn’t feel their energy, but hopefully at the Games it will be safe to have tens of thousands of fans packed in this stadium, and we can have an atmosphere like the London Olympics.

I have three big goals for 2021: to repeat my 100m victory at the national championships, to make the Olympic 100m final and, of course, to help Japan to a medal in the 4x100m relay.

No matter what happens in the coming months, we just have to keep positive. We just have to be ready.