Osaka Notes, Day 2, by Mary Nicole Nazzaro

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In today's column, Nicole writes about the host country Japan and the challenge in gettig medals as a host country.

Osaka Notes
By Mary NicoleNazzaro
Day 2: Sunday, August 26, 2007

There's always one day at the world track and field championships where the host country merits a mention, if not for a superior medal-winning performance then for the sheer sportsmanship and support shown by its fans.

Japan's day came early, on Day Two in Osaka. There were no Japanese medals handed out today – the men's marathoners fought valiantly in the heat on Saturday, notching places five through seven and with them, the team title – but what there was, was an abundance of support for every single athlete wearing a Japanese uniform, no matter if they finished in the middle of the pack or even in last place.

In the men's 100-meter semifinals, Nobuharu Asahara fought as hard as he could in a star-studded field, but wound up in last place. The crowd was with him all the way, cheering as he was introduced, exploding as the race began, and falling silent as Asahara faded behind eventual silver and bronze medalists Derrick Atkins and Asafa Powell.

On Saturday Asahara won his first-round heat – his 10.14 was a season-best mark for him – and then popped a fourth-place finish in his second-round race to notch a spot in the semis. No question, Asahara did everything he could to stay in the meet – and that earned him accolades from his country's fans, and well-deserved ones at that.

It was no different for the rest of Japan's competitors on Saturday. During the women's pole vault qualifying round, Tayako Kondo stayed with a hotly competitive field – twelve women would eventually hit the auto-qualifier of 4.55 meters – and finally fell on her third attempt at 4.45 meters. The "ahhh!" in the stadium as the crossbar fell was truly painful to hear. But the 4.35 mark she did notch on her third attempt tied her personal best, originally set in May 2004. Kudos to the 31-year-old Japanese with a heart to match that of anyone who placed above her in these championships.

Also meriting a mention was Kenji Narisako in the men's 400-meter hurdles, who acknowledged the crowd's cheers as he as introduced in his semifinal race, then pushed as hard as he could to try to out-lean his competitors at the tape. He missed fourth place (and a spot in the final) by one one-hundredth of a second – but set a season-best 48.44 in the process.

Of course, there's no rule that says the host country won't have more than one special day. It just happened that on the second day of the 11th IAAF World Track and Field Championships, the Japanese distinguished themselves and made everyone sit up and take notice.

--
M. NicoleNazzaro
The China Sports Blog: http://chinasports.wokpopcorn.com

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