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Breaking the 10-Second Barrier: Sprinter Kiryū Yoshihide Aims to Make History in the Men’s 100 Meters

Tamesue Dai [Profile]


In March 2015, Japanese sprint hopeful Kiryū Yoshihide of Tōyō University clocked an extraordinary—albeit wind-aided—9.87 seconds in the men’s 100 meters. Hopes are high for Kiryū to achieve Japan’s first official sub-10-second record in the near future. In this article Tamesue Dai, two-time IAAF World Championships bronze medalist in the 400-meter hurdles, offers expert insights into Kiryū’s sprinting and career.

Exceptional Acceleration Performance

Kiryū Yoshihide has potential that is unmatched among Japanese male sprinters today. In April 2013, as a 17-year-old high school student, he ran the 100 meters in 10.01 seconds—the all-time second best time in Japan—at the Mikio Oda Memorial International Amateur Athletic Game. In March 2015 Kiryū, by then enrolled in Tōyō University, ran a wind-aided 9.87 seconds to victory at a Texas meet, defeating London Olympics fifth-place finisher Ryan Bailey of the United States.

Kiryū’s 100-meter sprint largely diverges from that of his Japanese predecessors in the way he accelerates from around the 30-meter point—corresponding, in terms of car driving, to the part between shifting from second to third gear and going up to top gear. Virtually no one can keep up with him when he is at his best; Kiryū may well be capable of running neck and neck with athletes from track and field powerhouses like Jamaica. And he is only 19 years old. We can look forward to seeing him compete alongside the world’s top sprinters at the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games and beyond.

Kiryū Yoshihide’s Notable Times in the 100 m

Personal bests 10.01 seconds 2013 Mikio Oda Memorial International Amateur Athletic Game (age 17)
  10.05 seconds 2014 Winner, Kantō Intercollegiate Athletics Championships
  10.22 seconds 2014 Winner, Japan Athletics National Championships
Unofficial record 9.87 seconds 2015 Winner, Clyde Littlefield Texas Relays (age 19)
Japan record 10.00 seconds 1998 Itō Kōji
Asia record 9.91 seconds 2015 Femi Seun Ogunode (Qatar)
World record 9.58 seconds 2009 Usain Bolt (Jamaica)

Upper Body Strength Produces High Stride Rate

Unlike sprinters of African descent, most Japanese sprinters do not lift their legs very high when running. Arising from differences in pelvic tilt and musculature, this running form causes the upper body to sway.

Kiryū, meanwhile, has good arm swings and controls his upper body skillfully to move his legs at a fast stride rate. His notably broad torso suggests good core strength, and he appears to possess highly developed iliopsoas, the muscles responsible for propelling the legs forward.

These are the secrets to Kiryū’s remarkable speed. In terms of technique, though, the young athlete is far from sophisticated: there is a lot of superfluous movement going on, such as his hands flailing and his body becoming unsteady in the final stretch. He is obviously not harnessing his physical ability to its full potential.

It is commonly said that sprinters begin approaching the 10-second mark only after they have achieved more technical refinement. Observing Kiryū’s sprinting technique, I would expect him to run at about 10.20 seconds, yet he manages to clock close to 10.00 seconds. Thus far, he is relying mostly on his innate ability—another sign that he still has plenty of room for growth.

Breaking 10 Seconds a Matter of Time, Barring Injury

Many athletes experience a temporary drop in performance when they enter college and face a new training environment. Kiryū has made a smooth transition in that regard, and his skills have improved since his high-school days, when he marked a 10.01.

Achieving a sub-10-second record is no easy feat, even a wind-aided one: if a sprinter picks up too much speed with the help of a tail wind, he will have difficulty carrying his legs forward. Kiryū’s wind-aided 9.87 is the result of his having been able to keep up with the speed. As far as improving his record goes, all he needs to do is work on his technique. It may be only a matter of time until Kiryū officially breaks the 10-second barrier.

Kiryū had his 2015 sights set on the IAAF World Championships to be held in Beijing, but he injured his right hamstring during practice on May 30. Having been prescribed six weeks of rest before resuming training, he skipped the Japan Athletics National Championships, which took place in Niigata Prefecture from June 26. His participation in the World Championships is now looking iffy as well.

Overall, Kiryū has so far proven to be a fairly injury-prone athlete: In 2014, he withdrew from the Asian Games due to pain in the hip joint and a torn left hamstring. He also withdrew from the finals of the 2015 Kantō Intercollegiate Athletics Championships on account of tightness in his left hamstring.

There are two conceivable reasons for Kiryū’s susceptibility to injury. One is that his nerves are wired for speed but his muscles are not keeping up with the strain. If not that, then an imbalance of some sort in his sprinting form may be stressing specific parts of his body, contributing to injury.

The former can be remedied by further training, whereas the latter would require careful analysis and fine adjustments. If, for instance, the athlete has a certain tendency in the way he runs that may lead to injury, it needs to be identified and corrected. This is a highly complex process when it comes to athletes competing at the top level, as minute movements in unexpected parts of the body could be causing stress and pain in the muscles of another region. It is vital that the athlete and coach work through the problem together.

  • [2015.07.08]

Born in Hiroshima Prefecture in 1978. Graduated from Hōsei University. After competing as a sprinter in junior and senior high school, focused exclusively on the 400-meter hurdles beginning in university. Won the bronze medal at the 2001 and 2005 IAAF World Championships, becoming the first Japanese medalist in a track event. Holds the Japanese record for the event, with a time of 47.89 seconds. Retired from competition in 2012. Currently active as a sports commentator, as well as engaging widely in social education activities. Also serves as a representative director of the Athlete Society, an incorporated association that helps athletes with their second careers, and as goodwill sports ambassador for the Bhutan Olympic Committee, among other positions.

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