By Jack Tarrant
TOKYO (Reuters) – Japanese sprinter Aska Cambridge has raced the very best in the world in relays but is heading to Jakarta for the Asian Games looking to establish a name for himself as an individual ahead of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
In the aftermath of Jamaica’s victory in the 4×100 metres relay at Rio that delivered Usain Bolt his ninth Olympic gold medal, it was perhaps easy to miss the Japan team in second.
Fired by a blistering opening leg from Ryota Yamagata, the well-drilled Japanese sprint quartet who took the silver medal to contribute half of their country’s haul from the Rio Games athletics.
Cambridge, then 23, ran the anchor leg that day against Bolt but was unable to keep pace with the Jamaican, who turned a slender lead into a five-metre winning margin.
While Bolt retired after pulling up injured in the 4×100 relay final at the 2017 world championships, Cambridge won a bronze with his team mates in that race and has been cast as the possible face of Japanese athletics at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
“After Rio, I feel more expectations from people but I don’t really feel the pressure,” Cambridge told Reuters at a Japanese Olympic Committee farewell event in Tokyo on Monday.
“I want to meet their expectations as much as I can and I feel that having bigger expectations is a good thing for me.”
Cambridge has been training in the United States since last year’s worlds as he prepares for Jakarta, where he is aiming for relay glory and a medal all for himself for the first time at a major championships.
“As an individual, I want to get a medal in the 100 metres but for the relay we are aiming for a gold,” said Cambridge
The Jamaican-born sprinter has identified team mate Yamagata and Su Bingtian, the first Asian-born athlete to break the 10 second barrier, as his main rivals.
Cambridge, whose personal best is 10.08 seconds, is hoping to get the edge over Su with one eye on the Tokyo Games, where the Japanese is hoping to match his Chinese rival by earning a spot in a major global 100 metres final.
“At the last world championships, Su was in the final so I am trying my best to compete with him at the Asian Games,” he said.
“If I can do that, then it leaves me in with a good chance of making the final at Tokyo 2020.
“That is why it is important to get a good result at the Asian Games.”
The Asian Games run from Aug. 18–Sept. 2 with athletics events starting on Aug. 25.
(Reporting by Jack Tarrant, editing by Nick Mulvenney)