IN YOKOHAMA, JAPAN
A cursory glance at the main bowl of the Yokohama International Stadium immediately conjures up images of the 2002 Fifa World Cup final.
It was in this iconic Kanagawa Prefecture stadium that “The Phenomenon” Ronaldo struck twice to hand Brazil their fifth World Cup title via a 2-0 win over a dysfunctional German machine.
The 72,327-seater stadium hosted four matches of the 2002 tournament, which was jointly hosted by Japan and South Korea, with the toothy striker feasting on sumptuous Rivaldo assists to beat an out of sorts but erstwhile reliable Oliver Kahn in the German goal.
First cashing in on a rebound off Kahn from a Rivaldo shot in the 67th minute, and then feasting on a mouth-watering Kleberson cross from the right, made more appetising by a Rivaldo dummy, to seal the “penta” (fifth title) for the samba boys in the 79th.
The Yokohama Stadium will also host the final of this year’s Rugby World Cup on November 2 and is meanwhile booked for next year’s Tokyo Olympic Games’ gold medal football match in a tournament that will see games also hosted in the prefectures (provinces) of Hokkaido, Ibaraki, Miyagi and Saitama, alongside principal hosts Tokyo.
But this weekend, the Yokohama International Stadium - now known as the Nissan Stadium after the Japanese automobile manufacturer bought its naming rights – will be the centre of attraction for global athletics as it hosts the fourth IAAF World Relays Championships.
The freshest competition on the roster of the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) is being held for the first time outside Nassau in the Bahamas where the first three competitions were held at the 15,000-seater Tommy Robinson Stadium on the scenic island in 2014, 2015 and 2017.
A total of nine relay events will be on the menu this weekend, namely the men’s and women’s 4x100m; men’s and women’s 4x200m; men’s, women’s and mixed 4x400m; mixed 4x2x400m and the unique mixed shuttle hurdles relay.
Kenya will be represented by the largest squad to ever show up at this sprints competition whose last three overall titles were bagged by USA.
The Kenyan squad landed at Tokyo’s Narita Airport yesterday evening after flying through Doha, and will feature, according to official entries at the IAAF, in the men’s 4x200 metres relay (Dan Kiviasi Asamba, Mike Mokamba, Mark Otieno, Samuel Chege Waweru); women’s 4x200m (Diana Chebet, Joan Cherono, Eunice Kadogo Neviah Michira, Frashia Mwangi, Milicent Ndoro) and the women’s 4x400m (Evangeline Makena, Neviah Michira, Gladys Musyoki, Veronica Mutua and Maureen Thomas).
Kenya has also fielded mixed relays teams in the 4x400m (Alphas Kishoyian, Aron Koech, Jared Momanyi, Hellen Syombua, Maureen Thomas) and 2x2x400m (Collins Kipruto, Eglay Nalyanya, Ferguson Rotich and Emily Cherotich Tuei).
But the final start lists are expected to be out by 2pm Friday.
The official programme starts today afternoon (local time) with the traditional pre-competition press-conference scheduled for 1.30pm and featuring IAAF President Seb Coe, Japan Athletics President Hiroshi Yokokawa and the mayor of Yokohama, Fumiko Hayashi.
Also in attendance will be selected athletes including Jamaica’s women’s 4x200m team that will feature former multiple global sprints champion Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce who is making a comeback to the track from a maternity break.
She teams up here with Shericka Jackson, Stephenie Ann McPherson and Olympic 100 metres champion Elaine Thompson.
The two-day competition will start at 6.38pm local time tomorrow (12.38pm, Kenyan time) with the shuttle hurdles mixed relay qualifying runs with Sunday’s programme kicking off at 6.00pm (12 noon, Kenyan time) with the women’s 4x200m heats.