Yamamoto Seito sees pressure as motivating factor for Tokyo

The Japanese pole vaulter reveals his admiration for footballer Honda Keisuke, and says the postponement of Tokyo 2020 gives him a chance to be stronger.

Pole vaulter Yamamoto Seito is hoping to end his unfortunate record at the Olympic Games.

In two appearances, the reigning Asian Games champion has failed to make a single clearance.

At London 2012, he went out in qualifying with three failures at 5.35m.

Four years later in Rio, he did the same at his opening height of 5.45m which left him contemplating retirement.

As well as that unhappy statistic, there will be the added pressure of a home Games when Tokyo 2020 comes around.

But speaking to Olympic Channel after completing the official Olympic Day Workout, Yamamoto insists he will cope with the expectation and finally deliver on the biggest stage of all.

"I've always tried to use pressure to motivate myself. The bigger the pressure, the more I want to perform. That's how I deal with it." - Yamamoto Seito to Olympic Channel.

"I see this extra year as an opportunity to become stronger"

Yamamoto's 2018 Asian Games triumph in Jakarta is the highlight of his track and field athletics career so far, with sixth place at the 2013 Moscow World Championships his best finish in a major global event.

He won his first of four Japanese national titles back in 2012 but was only third in last year's edition in Fukuoka, behind youngster Ejima Masaki and veteran Sawano Daichi.

All three went to the IAAF World Championships in Doha but none made it to the final, with Yamamoto's 5.60m the best of the trio.

While some athletes have mixed feelings about the postponement of Tokyo 2020, the 28-year-old is looking at it positively.

He said, "I see this extra year as an opportunity to become stronger. I’m probably already stronger so I’m looking forward to next year.

"At my first and second Games, I didn’t have the result I wanted. Hopefully third time is the charm and I can repay everyone who helped me. I’m working hard.

"It’s a home Games so there will be a lot more fans, be it in the stands or on TV. I’ll probably be more nervous than usual." - Yamamoto Seito

Yamamoto Seito after collecting his 2018 Asian Games pole vault gold medal in Jakarta
Yamamoto Seito after collecting his 2018 Asian Games pole vault gold medal in JakartaYamamoto Seito after collecting his 2018 Asian Games pole vault gold medal in Jakarta

Yamamoto was a keen footballer in his youth, but the junior high school he attended did not have a team and he ended up switching to the pole vault.

He still enjoys playing the game, even using it in warm-ups occasionally, and greatly admires former Japan national team midfielder Honda Keisuke, who played at Beijing 2008.

Honda's illustrious career has seen him turn out for the likes of CSKA Moscow and AC Milan, and he is currently at Brazilian club Botafogo.

Yamamoto says, "I draw inspiration from Honda’s words because he backs up what he says with action. And he works hard to make it happen, which is why I look up to him."

New signing Honda Keisuke is presented to the Botafogo fans in February 2020
New signing Honda Keisuke is presented to the Botafogo fans in February 2020New signing Honda Keisuke is presented to the Botafogo fans in February 2020

Football's loss is athletics' gain, and Yamamoto has no regrets about the path his career has taken.

"Football is a team sport where people come together to achieve one goal. To achieve that you need trust and you earn joy from passing, shooting with your team-mates. In pole vault, it’s the only athletics event to use a pole, which allows you to soar. It’s almost like a combination of athletics and gymnastics.

"I like pole vault because you don’t just run but you use the pole to really get up there. You need to be able to run. Running is fundamental."

Yamamoto Seito in qualifying at the 2019 World Athletics Championships in Doha
Yamamoto Seito in qualifying at the 2019 World Athletics Championships in DohaYamamoto Seito in qualifying at the 2019 World Athletics Championships in Doha

He continues, "You have to run with a pole in your hands, and fast. If you’re too wound up you lose speed. So running is at the heart of it, then technique.

"The pole weighs 3kg. You know how a baseball bat feels heavy when you grip the end of it? It's the same in pole vault. The pole is 5m long and you’re grabbing the end of it so it feels like 20kg in your hands."

Japan has not been as affected by the COVID-19 coronavirus as many other countries, but the Chukyo University graduate says it's vital that people across the globe stay safe and take regular exercise.

He said, "I think the situation is serious around the entire world. It’s important for people to stay home and stay active. Hopefully that will keep everyone fresh and, next year, people can come together for the Games in Tokyo."

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