Olympics-Cycling-No regrets for Wakimoto as keirin dream falls short
Newsfrom JapanTokyo 2020
By Shiho Tanaka
IZU, Japan (Reuters) -Japan's top keirin racer Yuta Wakimoto announced his likely retirement on Sunday after his five-year mission to win gold at the Tokyo Olympics ended in heartbreak.
The 32-year-old had put his lucrative professional keirin career on hold to try to give his nation the medal it craves in a sport deeply rooted in Japanese culture.
Sadly he was eliminated at the semi-final stage after a touch of wheels wrecked his rhythm in the closing lap of six -- the first three behind the electric pace bike.
After being roared on by a passionate crowd in the Izu Velodrome he said he would leave with his head held high, especially after showing his strength in the ride-off for seventh -- a race he won to more cheers.
"I was in the best condition, physically and mentally but it was the semi-finals that showed you never know what is going to happen in the Olympics," Wakimoto told reporters.
"So I thought that the next race would be the final for me and did my best.
"I have no regrets," he added. "I intend to retire (from keirin) but I want to support the improvement of the level of cycling competition.
"I'm satisfied by the results. It's incomparable to Rio. It is the result of putting out all the power I can," he said. "I think I have finally reached the goal of my competitive life."
Since keirin was introduced to the Olympic programme in 2000 Japan has managed one medal -- Kiyofumi Nagai's bronze in 2008.
French coach Benoit Vetu was tasked with delivering a keirin medal when he was hired by the Japanese Cycling Federation five years ago.
"Coach Vetu changed my life. He had a tremendous impact on the Japanese bicycle race world," Wakimoto told reporters.
"The results would have changed if I had met him earlier in my career. I don't want the young cyclists to feel like me."
Vetu said he hoped the Olympics would drive interest in cycling in Japan, other than keirin, which is a huge gambling industry.
"Japan is not yet a country that is drawing attention in the bicycle world, it just planted seeds and started," he said.
"If we want to be a big country in the bicycle world, we have to grow further. Four years of preparation is not enough to win a (keirin) medal at the Olympics.
"It happened that there were talented riders this time, but four years is too short to prepare for the medal."
Japan did sign off with a medal on the track, however, as Yumi Kajihara took the silver medal in the omnium.
(Writing by Martyn Herman; editing by Clare Fallon)
(c) Copyright Thomson Reuters 2021. Click For Restrictions -