TOKYO (Reuters) - Yoshihide Kiryu gave Japan's burgeoning sprint reputation another hefty boost when he became only the second Asian-born athlete to run under 10 seconds for the 100 metres on Saturday.
The 21-year-old, who won a 4x100m relay silver at the Rio Olympics and a bronze at the World Championships last month, ran 9.98 at an intercollegiate meet in Fukui to become the first Japanese to dip under the barrier.
"I'm thrilled to have done it in my last 100 race of the season," Kiryu told the Kyodo news agency. "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."
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China's Su Bingtian was the first Asian-born athlete to run under 10 seconds when he clocked 9.99 in Oregon in May 2015, while the Asian record of 9.91 is owned by Nigerian-born Qatari Femi Ogunode.
Kiryu ran a wind-assisted 9.87 as a teenager at the Texas relays in March 2015 but his previous best legal run was the 10.01 he ran as a schoolboy in 2013 and again last year.
"Everyone remembers the first person to do anything," he added.
"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."
Japan's growing strength in sprinting is such that Kiryu failed to make team for the individual event at last month's World Championships in London after finishing fourth in the trials.
With the Tokyo Olympics only three years away, Japan Association of Athletics Federations head of development Koji Ito said he thought Kiryu's breakthrough could prove a watershed for the country's sprinters.
"It was more about pride than technique, I felt," said Ito, whose 1998 Japanese record of 10.00 seconds Kiryu bettered on Saturday.
"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."
Ryota Yamagata, another member of the relay team in Rio and London, also suggested Kiryu's run would inspire his fellow Japanese sprinters.
"It kind of stings that he beat me to it, but hopefully I can rewrite the next Japan record," he told Kyodo.
Recently retired Jamaican Usain Bolt holds the world record for the blue riband sprint with the 9.58 seconds he ran at the Berlin World Championships in 2009.
(Reporting by Nick Mulvenney, editing by Greg Stutchbury)