Race walker Eiki Takahashi is determined to fill the gap left by the absence of world record-holder and Fujitsu teammate Yusuke Suzuki. He’ll get the chance after earning a spot at this summer’s Rio de Janeiro Olympics by successfully defending his title at the national 20-kilometer race walk championship here Sunday.
The 23-year-old clocked 1 hour 18 minutes 26 seconds on the course on Kobe’s Rokko Island to finish 19 seconds ahead of runner-up Isamu Fujisawa. Having already surpassed the qualifying standard of 1:20:12 set by the Japan Association of Athletic Federations, the victory clinched Takahashi’s place on the Japanese team to Rio.
His performance gives new hope for Japan’s race walk team following the shocking news that Suzuki would skip the Olympic qualifying races because of the lingering effects of an injury. “I was able to give everything I had,” Takahashi said after the race.
In last year’s race, Takahashi exploited the fast pace set by Suzuki, making a final spurt near the end to post an upset win. Without Suzuki in the field this year, Takahashi led the pack from the start. “I knew I’m the one who had to set the pace this year,” Takahashi said.
“I had never seen him that nervous,” said Fujitsu coach Fumio Imamura. “However, he managed to control the race.”
The victory has prompted Takahashi to change a goal he set at the beginning of the year of securing a top-eight finish at Rio. “For the sake of Yusuke, I will work hard to win a medal at Rio,” he said.