Asuka Cambridge, whose first name means “flying bird,” is the son of a Jamaican father and Japanese mother. Born in Jamaica, he moved to Japan at age 2. On Friday night in Rio de Janeiro, he took the baton even with Trayvon Bromell of the United States and slightly ahead of the great Usain Bolt.
As Bolt pulled away for his historic ninth sprint gold medal, Cambridge and Bromell dueled for the silver. Cambridge finished .02 seconds ahead of Bromell, who tumbled after the finish line with an injured Achilles tendon. The U.S. team was later disqualified for an illegal handoff.
The Japanese team’s time was 37.60 seconds. Jamaica won in 37.27.
At a post-race news conference, Cambridge, who does not speak English, sat impassively with his teammates next to the Jamaicans as Bolt fielded questions. Finally, someone asked Cambridge about his Jamaican heritage.
“Although I was born in Jamaica and my dad is Jamaican, I was brought up in Japan and always trained in Japan,” he said through an interpreter. “I’m really honored to be part of the Japanese and win a silver medal here.”
Japan’s only other Olympic sprint medal is a 4-x-100 bronze from the 2008 Beijing Games. But Japan has been gaining notice for strong relay performances based on seamless handoffs. Bolt and his Jamaican team practiced their handoffs once or twice after arriving in Rio. The Japanese team has been practicing since March.
Bolt wasn’t surprised to see Japan come in second. “It’s just teamwork,” he said. “Over the years I’ve noticed, China and Japan, these guys always have great baton exchanges.”
Cambridge, 23, has a personal best of 10.10 in the 100 and 20.62 in the 200. In the individual 100-meter dash in Rio, he made it as far as the semifinals, where he finished seventh in his heat.
The 2020 Olympics will be in Tokyo. The Japanese team has now won silver. With Bolt retiring, Cambridge and his teammates are hoping to win the gold on their home soil.