Up for grabs: Men's 100m at Japanese athletics trials set to be slugfest for ages

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 19:  Ryota Yamagata, Shota Iizuka, Yoshihide Kiryu and Aska Cambridge of Japan celebrate after winning silver in the Men's 4 x 100m Relay Final on Day 14 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at the Olympic Stadium on August 19, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 19: Ryota Yamagata, Shota Iizuka, Yoshihide Kiryu and Aska Cambridge of Japan celebrate after winning silver in the Men's 4 x 100m Relay Final on Day 14 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at the Olympic Stadium on August 19, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

New Japan record-holder YAMAGATA Ryota, Abdul Hakim Sani Brown headline dead heat in Osaka for the 3 tickets to Tokyo 2020.

It's do or die for Japanese athletes eyeing the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games as the national athletics championships will get under way on Thursday (24 June).

The marquee event of the four-day Olympic trials at Nagai Stadium in Osaka will be the battle royale in the men's 100 metres featuring the new fastest man in Japan - YAMAGATA Ryota.

Yamagata, part of the silver medal-winning 4x100 relay team at Rio 2016, is coming off a career best performance two weeks ago when he punched a national record of 9.95 seconds.

Yamagata returns to the championships for the first time in three years after dealing with a collapsed lung in June 2019 and rupturing a right-ankle ligament that November.

In the summer of 2020, he had a bout with patellar tendonitis. Had the Games not been postponed by a year, Yamagata may not have been anywhere near Tokyo 2020.

But now, he appears to be closer to the Games than anyone. A top three finish in Friday's final will send Yamagata to his third Olympic Games.

"Everything will be decided starting tomorrow and I have to go all in," Yamagata said during an online press conference on Wednesday. "It's do or die now. There's an extra layer of tension.

The trials are always special. There's a different buzz to it. It's anxiety and excitement at the same time. I've always felt that way about the trials.

Yamagata admitted the record-breaking run took more out of him than usual but said he has fully recovered for this meet.

And despite owning the bragging rights now, the 29-year-old still considers himself a challenger and not the champion.

At this summer's Games not only does Yamagata hope to return to the podium in the 4x100 but also try to qualify for his first final individually in the 100 after bowing out in the semis at Rio 2016 and London 2012.

"I think I can run even faster. I'm still a challenger. The record doesn't change that. And I still have to qualify.

"Not for a second am I expecting the race to be easy. I have to be more aggressive than ever".

Abdul Hakim Sani Brown is back in Japan where he will compete for the first time in two years. (Photo by UDN Sports)
Abdul Hakim Sani Brown is back in Japan where he will compete for the first time in two years. (Photo by UDN Sports)

He will be going up against three former record-holders: KIRYU Yoshihide (9.98), KOIKE Yuki (9.98) and Abdul Hakim Sani Brown, whose 9.97 was rewritten by Yamagata.

Also in the conversation are TADA Shuhei (10.01) and Yamagata's Rio 2016 relay teammate CAMBRIDGE Asuka (10.03). Tada ran the first leg when Japan set the 4x100 Asian record at the 2019 world championships in Doha.

There's no questioning Sani Brown's upside but his current form is a mystery.

The Florida-based 22-year-old only ran his first competitive race since the 2019 worlds on 31 May when he clocked a 10.25.

Sani Brown, a two-time winner at the nationals in 2017 and 2019, came home earlier this month and completed his two-week quarantine just days ago.

Whether that will be enough to send him to his Olympic Games remains to be seen. He has not raced in Japan in two years.

The ever laid-back Sani Brown, though, does not seem to be losing any sleep over it.

"I hear we will have a crowd of 5,000 and I'm looking forward to my first big meet in a long time," he said after a light workout Wednesday morning in Chiba Prefecture.

It's the national championships with the Olympics riding on it, but I don't want to forget to have fun. It's sports after all.

"Honestly, if I can reproduce what I'm doing in practice I don't think it will be a problem. I need to stay focused and take it one race at a time.

"The competition is getting stronger and stronger every year. I'm excited about that and I can't wait.

"I have to make sure to finish in the top three and make the team. I hope to have a good meet and that these championships will be a good springboard for the Games.

"I've done everything I can to get ready. I just have to go out and do it."