Ryota Yamagata, Japan’s fastest man, eyeing Paris after surgery

Ryota Yamagata said Tuesday he hopes to break his own 100-meter national record at the 2024 Paris Olympics.

The 29-year-old, who underwent right knee surgery in October, set the current record of 9.95 seconds at a domestic event last June. But he missed out on a spot in the Olympic semifinals in Tokyo, the first time he had failed to reach that stage in three games appearances.

“I want to better my personal best and come below 9.9 in Paris,” Yamagata said in an online news conference. “It’s important to first get my body into shape that allows me to get such record.”

Yamagata, who captained the host’s delegation at the Tokyo Games, claimed his decision to have an operation to cure some inflammation on a patella tendon was driven by the desire to make a “big leap” in his career.

“Things have gone well. I’m back to 70, 80% (of full fitness),” said Yamagata, adding that he was eying a return to action at the Oda Memorial Meet in late April in his home prefecture of Hiroshima.

Asked on the performance of Japanese athletes during the recently closed Beijing Winter Olympics, Yamagata spoke highly of speed skater Nana Takagi, the 2018 Olympics women’s team pursuit and mass start gold medalist.

The fellow 29-year-old fell victim to late slips in both the team pursuit and mass start races in China, and had to settle for eighth in the 1,500 meters when she said she was blocked by a skater from the host nation.

“I assume she was left very frustrated (by the slips) but I got really motivated by her continuing to compete despite the situation she found herself in,” Yamagata said.

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