JAKARTA: Japan’s 4×100 metres relay team added gold to their Rio silver on the last night of Asian Games athletics Thursday, as they dared to dream of a shock victory at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
Three of the four sprinters who earned Japan a stunning second behind Usain Bolt’s Jamaica at the 2016 Olympics teamed up again for a dominant showing in Jakarta.
They led from the start to win in 38.16, while home team Indonesia drew a massive cheer by holding on to finish second, ahead of China.
“We came here for the gold so we are happy to get the job done,” said Ryota Yamagata. “We have pressure for the Olympics but we have confidence too.
“We want to get gold — I think it is possible.”
Yamagata said the win was a great introduction for new member Shuhei Tada — replacing Shota Iizuka — even if their time was 0.56 seconds slower than in Brazil.
“We were aiming to go under 38 seconds but we attacked the race and got what we came for,” he said.
Indonesia celebrated as if they had won gold after edging out Asian heavyweights China, who made a slow start but nearly caught up in the final stretch.
The team’s 18-year-old talisman Lalu Zohri, who is from quake-hit Lombok, paid tribute to the support he had received from home fans.
“I feel very proud and grateful because I could give the best to Indonesia,” he said. “I hope in the future I can perform better for my beloved country.”
Zohri admitted he had felt the pressure during his seventh-placed finish in the individual 100m earlier in the meet.
“Tonight it’s a team, so it’s good mentally. The other day, on the sprint, maybe I was mentally down to see the big names.”
Lalu, who is from humble origins and grew up in a bamboo hut unable to afford running shoes, won Indonesia’s first ever gold at the junior world championships in Finland this year.
The feat led to a government promise to rebuild his parents’ poor home.
“My new home has already been constructed, which was granted by the military,” he confirmed.
– ‘There’s no secret’ –
Elsewhere, Bahrain’s Edidiong Odiong added the 4x100m gold to her 100m and 200m victories, but fell short of an unprecedented fourth win in the 4x400m — which started less than two hours after her earlier win.
“I thank God for giving me the three gold medals, and I’m very happy,” she said. “I was thinking — now I want to go for four … It was too much. I’m happy but 400 was too much.”
Her compatriot Kalkidan Befkadu also secured multiple golds after adding the 1,500m title to her 5,000m victory. She edged out another Bahraini athlete, her training partner Tigist Belay.
“Today was very hard, because she’s my friend — today I’m fighting with her. But we make each other better,” she said.
Triple Olympic medallist Olga Rypakova of Kazakhstan soared to victory in the triple jump, with her 14.26m easily enough for a third consecutive Asian Games win.
Rypakova, 33, who took gold at London 2012, said there was “no secret” to her longevity.
“It’s my job. I like it,” she said. “I have a little worry that there’s nobody coming through after me in Kazakhstan — nobody who can match my results in the future.”
India scooped two more gold medals to take their athletics tally to seven — a vast improvement on their two in Incheon 2014.
Jinson Johnson made up for his shock loss to compatriot Manjit Singh in the 800m by winning the 1,500m, while India’s women comfortably won the 4x400m relay.
Bahrain also went one-two in the men’s 5,000 metres to finish level with China at the top of the athletics medals table on 12 golds each. —AFP