When Tokyo changed into introduced because the host town of the 2020 Olympic Games, it slightly registered on Koki Ikeda’s radar. Naturally, he become pleased that the Games might be held in his domestic united states, however as a 15-12 months-vintage middling excessive college distance runner, he believed his first-rate chances of being there has been as a spectator. Just five-and-a-half of years later, however, he reveals himself as a leading contender inside the host country’s most powerful subject inside the No.1 game of the world’s largest sporting match. It changed into all quite by means of twist of fate, too. His excessive school coach counseled that adding some race strolling work-outs into Ikeda’s schooling plan would assist together with his distance strolling. Ikeda took up his instruct’s inspiration or even entered some race strolling competitions. Those early consequences showed wonderful promise, so he committed increasingly more time to honing his new ability until he sooner or later became one of his school’s top race walkers. “I even have surprised myself,” Ikeda says of his progress. “When I commenced, I failed to even assume I’d make it on to the country wide crew.” By 2017, he had stepped forward his 10,000m time to forty:28.Forty eight and his 20km time to one:20:forty eight, making him the second-fastest U20 race walker inside the global for both distances that yr. He still lacked international revel in as he headed into 2018, his first 12 months as a senior athlete, however he finished a decent – albeit distant – fourth on the relatively competitive National 20km Race Walking Championships in Kobe at the start of the 12 months, setting a PB of 1:19:13. Three weeks later, he lined up on the prestigious Lugano Trophy in Switzerland, his first ever competition outside of Japan. Still a relative unknown, he stuck the eye of the international race taking walks community by triumphing in 1:21:26. But notwithstanding that performance, he wasn’t considered to be some of the medal contenders for the IAAF World Race Walking Team Championships Taicang 2018. Part of a 99-sturdy field brimming with global and Olympic medallists, it would be the hardest race to this point for Ikeda, who turned 20 just 3 days earlier than the 20km in Taicang.

So low had been the expectancies of him, even Ikeda himself wasn’t wondering man or woman medals in Taicang. “I wanted to do properly for the group because we have been aiming for the team gold medal,” he says. “I wasn’t thinking too much approximately my character performance, but I assume that helped to keep me secure and to compete without pressure.” He accomplished his number one intention of securing the crew gold for Japan. But he went one higher and gained the man or woman identify too, displaying an excellent exchange of tempo when striding far from domestic favorite Wang Kaihua on the very last stretch, winning by 9 seconds in 1:21: thirteen. “No one knew me, and I didn’t count on to win myself; I become just happy to be selected for the national group. Everything went properly leading as much as Taicang, but I didn’t assume I’d win a huge identify like that so quickly.” NEW WAVE Ikeda become a part of a record-making Japanese group in Taicang. Japan had never received a gold medal inside the 47-yr records of the championships. However, their squad got here away from Taicang with four gold medals after prevailing the man or woman and team contests in each of the senior men’s activities. Over the beyond a decade, Japan has speedy grow to be one of the primary race walking international locations inside the world however had struggled to live as much as an expectation at major championships. Their performances in Taicang, however, recommended their fortunes might be converting – just in time for their domestic Olympics. Having numerous medal contenders is fantastic for Japan, of the path, however, for the athletes, it approaches it turns into increasingly hard to make the countrywide team.

Take the current Japanese 20km Race Walking Championships, as an example. The first six men finished inside 1:20 – the benchmark for elite race walkers. The top 10 finishers were all in the World Championships qualifying standard. Fortunately for Ikeda, he finished a near 2d to Eiki Takahashi in a lifetime great of 1:18:01, transferring to twenty-first on the all-time arena list and becoming the fifth-quickest Japanese guy in history. Perhaps greater substantially, the overall performance helped increase Ikeda to the No.1 spot inside the IAAF international ratings. The Asian 20km Race Walking Championships in Nomi City later this month could be some other possibility for Japan’s leading race walkers – Ikeda covered – to electrify the national selectors beforehand of the IAAF World Athletics Championships Doha 2019. “It’s going to be absolutely hard to make it directly to the team for the Olympic Games and for this 12 months’ World Championships in Doha,” says Ikeda. “If I do make the group for Doha, that will help my probabilities of being selected for the Olympics.” ROAD TO TOKYO With the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games still the high-quality part of 17 months away, plenty can happen among now after which. Ikeda, an economics scholar at Toyo University, will hold plugging away in the intervening time, overlaying about 120 kilometers in step with the week. Despite being a relative newcomer to the field, Ikeda says he hasn’t tried to imitate any of the oppositely established race walkers. “My method isn’t always inspired by any specific athlete,” he says. “There are such a lot of unique builds within race on foot, you have to discover a style that works for you.”

He doesn’t envisage a trade of event any time quickly, both. “At the instant, I’m not considering transferring up to 50km,” he says. “It may happen. However, it won’t be before the Olympics.” Indeed, Tokyo – and, more imminently, Doha – stays his number one attention for now. They may not have been realistic goals this time final 12 months, but if Ikeda keeps improving at this price, he could yet again make history and turn out to be the first Japanese guy to win a medal in the 20km race walk at the World Championships or Olympic Games. He is starting to agree with it, too. “Up till ultimate year, I notion the 2020 Olympic Games could come too quickly and that the 2024 Games would be an extra sensible aim,” he says. “But prevailing in Taicang changed my outlook, and now I’m very tons centered on the Tokyo Olympics. Not just competing there, however challenging for a medal.”