Naoki Tsukahara, Shingo Suetsugu, Shinji Takahira and Nobuharu Asahara won bronze for Japan in the 4x100m relay at Beijing 2008.
Subsequent retests found that a member of the gold medal-winning Jamaican team was guilty of doping, and so the Japanese team was upgraded to silver.
Watch the Japanese 4x100m team’s story and the rest of the Take the Podium series on the Olympic Channel.
With those caught cheating through doping bringing sport as a whole into disrepute, it is important to remain focused on the true essence of sport. Shingo Suetsugu explains: “Sport is based on competition. Someone wins and someone loses. Track and field athletes are rivals in individual competition. We are all competitive with each other, but for that one moment, everyone has the same goal. That harmony shows what sport is. It is a symbol.”
Coming together as a team
Before Beijing 2008, Japan had only won a single medal in track sports. Having qualified from their heat in second behind Trinidad and Tobago, Naoki Tsukahara, Shingo Suetsugu, Shinji Takahira and Nobuharu Asahara advanced to the final, finishing in third place with a season’s best 38.15s.
The bronze medal marked the high point of a long career for Nobuharu Asahara, who had represented Japan at four Olympic Games: “Relay is about the synergy of four individual athletes coming together as a team,” he says. “Since the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, I’ve competed in the Olympic relay. We were never able to medal but we still pushed ourselves. For me, 2008 was the last chance to win a medal. It’s been a long journey to get here. Even though we’d advanced to the final heat, we never managed to actually win a medal. When we won the medal, it was like a dream come true.”
A symbol of fairness
Though the bronze medal was a fantastic achievement, there would be even greater cause for celebration 10 years after receiving their bronze medal, as the sprinting quartet were informed their result had been improved to a silver medal. Though this was greatly appreciated by the team, there was still an acknowledgement that they had missed out on the moment at the time because someone else doped.
“It’s not the result of our effort,” says Nobuharu. “It turned out somebody was cheating. To be honest, there is a dark side of competition. Even 10 or 11 years later, cheating is still cheating, and it’s important to make that clear. I hope this ceremony inspires good sportsmanship in the future. We embrace this moment for all Japanese Olympic representatives and world athletes. And we hope this moment will be remembered as a symbol of fairness and better competition.”
Speaking at their silver medal ceremony at the IAAF World Relays in Yokohama, Shingo emphasised the need to promote fair sport through moments like this: “Of course I’m happy about our medals being upgraded from bronze to silver,” he explains. “We are grateful to share this wonderful moment. From today, we will live as silver medallists. As silver medallists, we will continue our legacy as honourable athletes. We are committed to promoting fair and competitive track and field.”
Even 10 or 11 years later, cheating is still cheating, and it’s important to make that clear. I hope this ceremony inspires good sportsmanship in the future.