Asian sprinters take regional rivalry in their stride

BEIJING • As they jostle in the jet stream of Usain Bolt and Justin Gatlin, Asian sprinters will be battling for regional bragging rights at the Athletics World Championships in Beijing.

Just reaching the final of the 100m or 200m would be an astonishing achievement for an Asian athlete, given the gulf in quality.

While Jamaican giant Bolt, who holds the 100m world record of 9.58sec, is likely to be a speck in the distance, the tussle between China's Su Bingtian and Asian Games champion Femi Ogunode should provide an absorbing continental sub-plot.

Ogunode, Qatar's Nigerian-born import, completed the sprint double at last year's Asian Games, winning the 100m in 9.93 and the 200m in 20.14 after returning from a two-year doping ban.

But locals will be cheering for Su, who this year became the first Asian-born athlete to break the 10-second barrier when he clocked 9.99 in a Diamond League meet in Eugene behind race winner Tyson Gay.

Hailing from Guangdong, Su once carried bags for China's top track stars before making his breakthrough by winning the national title in 2011.

His rivalry with Japan's Yoshihide Kiryu has so far failed to live up to its billing, however, mainly because of niggling injuries to the Japanese teen sensation. Kiryu, 19, ran a wind-assisted 9.87 in Texas earlier this year but has been forced to pull out of the Beijing championships with a muscle tear.

But Japan have already unearthed a new gem in Tokyo schoolboy Abdul Hakim Sani Brown, who stormed to gold in the 100m and 200m at last month's World Youth Championships in Cali, Colombia.

Born in the southern Japanese city of Fukuoka to a Japanese mother and a Ghanaian father, the 16-year-old will become the youngest athlete to represent Japan at any world championship meet.

He already has one claim to fame: His 200m time of 20.34 in Colombia broke the previous meet record, held by Bolt.

Although the Jamaican's 200m world record of 19.19 is some way off, Sani Brown can only benefit from rubbing shoulders with track's speed kings.

Former Olympic medallist Ato Boldon recently compared Sani Brown's performances in Colombia to Bolt at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. And as he prepares to share the same rarified air as Bolt and Gatlin, the youngster told local media: "I want to carry on doing my thing and take on the world's best."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 21, 2015, with the headline 'Asian sprinters take regional rivalry in their stride'. Print Edition | Subscribe