Teamwork powers Japan to shock silver

The Japanese 4x100m sprint quartet of (from left) Aska Cambridge, Yoshihide Kiryu, Shota Iizuka and Ryota Yamagata celebrating their surprise silver performance in Rio.
The Japanese 4x100m sprint quartet of (from left) Aska Cambridge, Yoshihide Kiryu, Shota Iizuka and Ryota Yamagata celebrating their surprise silver performance in Rio.ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

RIO DE JANEIRO • The dark horses from Japan may have failed to spoil Usain Bolt's send-off party, but lightning-fast teamwork helped them pull off a massive shock by upstaging North American sprinting giants to win silver in the 4x100m relay on Friday.

On their own, the sprinters did not stand a chance against the likes of Bolt, American Justin Gatlin or Canada's Andre de Grasse.

None of the four Japanese men - Ryota Yamagata, Shota Iizuka, Yoshihide Kiryu and Aska Cambridge - has run 100m in under 10 seconds, nor had a sniff at an individual Olympic final.

But what they lack in raw speed, they made up for in seamless baton changes on Friday as they broke the Asian record with a time of 37.60sec. It was not only the best Japan have done in the event - they won bronze in Beijing in 2008 - but they also did the unthinkable and beat the US into bronze.

The Americans were later disqualified for stepping into Bolt's lane and Canada (37.64), led by de Grasse, were promoted into third place. China (37.90) also excelled with a fourth-place finish.

"This is really fantastic. I'm really proud to have been part of a team in Japan," said Cambridge, who has a Jamaican father and a Japanese mother, but laughs off suggestions that he should be called "Japan's Bolt" due to his heritage.

Though few fans outside Japan will recognise the faces of the silver medallists, Bolt was not surprised to see Japanese runners hot on his heels.

"Hats off to them," he said. "The baton changes are always good and that's what always helps them, and I think they executed it well today, so I'm not shocked."

After winning gold, the Jamaicans admitted they had relatively few training sessions for the relay this year and only once with Bolt.

The Japanese team, by comparison, had been working on their baton handovers since March.

"We've been practising all the time for about six months," said Iizuka, who ran the second leg. "That's why we've done a pretty good job."

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on August 21, 2016, with the headline 'Teamwork powers Japan to shock silver'. Print Edition | Subscribe