A Japanese finally did it! Yoshihide Kiryu, a senior at Toyo University, ran a 9.98 100 meters in an inter-collegiate track meet in Fukui, Japan on Saturday, September 9, 2017. No Japanese had ever run a sub-10-second 100 meters until that day.
No doubt, this will be a big boost to sprinters in Japan looking to find glory on home turf at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Without a single top individual sprinter in the finals of the 100-meter sprints at the 2016 Rio Olympics, the Japanese men’s team still came away with silver in the 100-meter relays. Kiryu ran the third leg, before handing off to Asuka Cambridge, who clung to Usain Bolt‘s shoulder for the dramatic finish.
In the history of the men’s 100 meter sprint, 10 seconds was a barrier which seemed more psychological than physical, much like the 4-minute mile was before Roger Bannister showed that it was possible.
The first person said to break the 10-second barrier was Bob Hayes, who a year before the Tokyo Olympics ran the 100-meters in 9.9. At the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, he did it again in the semi-finals, although both sub-10-second finishes were run during illegal tailwinds.
Four years later, a few months prior to the 1968 Mexico City Olympics, American sprinters Jim Hines, Ronnie Ray Smith and Charlie Greene were all credited with times of 9.9 seconds at the USA Outdoor Track and Field Championships. Hines would record 9.9 seconds at the 100-meter finals in Mexico City that year, the first non-wind assisted electronic sub-10 second 100-meter spring. And yet, Mexico City was a high-altitude location, a quality that is said to have been advantageous to speedsters (as opposed to distance runners.)
In 1977, the way official times for sprinting was measured changed, from hand timing to fully automatic timing (FAT). After the rule change, only Hines’ times in 1968 were held up as the only ones to be considered under 10 seconds. It finally took American Carl Lewis at the 1984 World Championships in Modesto, California to record a time of 9.97, the first sub-10 second finish at low altitude and with fully automated timing.
Of course, a lot has happened since 1977, and Lewis’ time in 1984 doesn’t even merit a top 25 all-time fastest 100-meters. In fact, the slowest of the top 25 fastest 100-meter sprints is 9.88 seconds, a full second better than Kiryu’s Japan record. Additionally, it’s still way off Christian Coleman’s time of 9.81 seconds in June, 2017, and way, way off of the incredible 9.56 seconds posted by all-time great, Usain Bolt, way back in 2009.
And yet, when Kiryu realized he broke the 10-second barrier, he had broken a psychological dam in Japan. I would not be surprised to see Japanese sprinters break 10 seconds many times in the coming three years leading up to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.