Yoshihide Kiryu sprinted off into Japanese athletics history by becoming the first man from his country to break the 10-second barrier in the 100 meters, running a 9.98 at an intercollegiate meet Saturday.
Kiryu finally realized a long-held Japanese dream by shaving 0.02 off the national record set by Koji Ito in 1998. The tail wind was 1.8 meters on Saturday in Fukui Prefecture, where Kiryu competed in his last meet as a Toyo University student.
"I'm thrilled to have done it in my last 100 race of the season," Kiryu said after beating out Shuhei Tada (10.07) in the 100 final. "I'd been stuck for four years and I managed to rewrite my own record at last."
"I'm on the starting block of the world now that I've run a nine. I'm so grateful to my coach and trainer. It still hasn't sunk in yet."
"I thought it might be a 9.99 or a 10.00 at first."
The 21-year-old Kiryu said his left leg actually did not feel right before the start of the race.
"I had to stop being afraid and believe in my leg. I thought if I tear a muscle, then I tear a muscle," he said.
"Everyone remembers the first person to do anything. Even though I never said it, ever since I ran the 10.01 in high school, I wanted to be the first to do it. I don't think I would have been able to do it if I didn't believe it."
Kiryu, a member of Japan's silver medal-winning men's 4x100 relay team at the Rio Olympics, had come close to running a nine previously, setting a personal best of 10.01 in 2013 -- then the second fastest time in Japan -- as a high school senior in Kyoto.
The world record is owned by the recently retired Usain Bolt, who clocked 9.58 at the 2009 world championships. The Asian record of 9.91 is held by Qatar's Femi Ogunode.
Ito, now the head of development at the Japan Association of Athletics Federations, said Kiryu has pushed Japanese sprinters into turf they have never ventured into.
"It was more about pride than technique, I felt," Ito said. "When Tada stepped out I thought Kiryu might be his usual self, but he broke through right before my own eyes."
"Only when you run a nine have you earned the right to talk about being able to compete on the world stage. I think we're going to see more of them to come."
Added Kiryu's coach at Toyo, Hiroyasu Tsuchie, "He's been through a lot, had to endure some tough times, but he blew all that away today. I know he wanted to be the first to run a nine, and I wanted to see him to do it. I'm so glad he got it done."
Two years ago, Kiryu ran a wind-assisted 9.87 but had fallen short of a validated record -- until Saturday, which proved to be sweet vindication of Kiryu's talent.
Along with his Rio relay teammates Asuka Cambridge, Ryota Yamagata and Shota Iizuka, the 1.76-meter Kiryu enjoyed the national spotlight after last summer's Olympics with the question turning to who would be the first to break 10.
But Kiryu failed to make the Japan team in the 100 for this summer's world championships after finishing fourth (10.26) at the nationals in June, when the up-and-coming Abdul Hakim Sani Brown stole the show from the likes of Kiryu by sweeping the 100 and 200.
Kiryu went to the worlds in London for the 4x100, helping Japan to a bronze -- its first medal ever in the race at the championships. Yet it's in the 100 that Kiryu has -- and always will -- sought to shine, as he did on Saturday by carving his name permanently into the record books.
Yamagata congratulated his teammate from Rio for achieving the feat.
"Kiryu is amazing because he set the record under all the pressure he's faced," Yamagata said. "It kind of stings that he beat me to it, but hopefully I can rewrite the next Japan record."