Eriguchi Masashi is the hot favourite to emerge as the fastest man at the Asian Games in Guangzhou.

The Japanese speed king is so far ahead of the rest in Asia that the Chinese have virtually given up on the sprints despite winning a surprise 100m gold through Zhang Peiming at last year's Asian Championships.

Qatar's Nigeria-born Samuel Francis had become the fastest in Asia with his stunning 9.99-second run in 2007 but it is the 22-year-old Masashi who has been the fastest Asian the last two years with his 10.16 secs this year and a personal best 10.07 last year.

Masashi, whose favourite food is horse sashimi — a delicacy made from horse meat, has been running like a champion race horse this season. He is 45th in the list of the world's fastest men this year, a list dominated by sprinters from Jamaica and the United States.

China's Lao Yi, who finished sixth in the Inter-Continental Cup in Split, Croatia in September, is the second-best Asian in the world list at No. 66 with his 10.21 secs while South Korean junior Kim Kukyoung comes next at the 77th spot.

Samuel Francis, who shattered the 10-second barrier at the 2007 Asian Championship in Amman, Jordan, has a season best of 10.25s which puts him in the 94th spot this year in the world and fourth in Asia.

Question mark

However, there is question mark over Francis's fitness. He pulled out of last week's Malaysian Open final with a hamstring problem after topping the semifinal. Francis was the fastest Asian at the 2008 Beijing Olympics with his 10.11 secs which carried him to the semifinal.

“The Japanese and Chinese make the sprints at the Asian Games tough. And the presence of the African athletes just makes it tougher,” said Abdul Najeeb Qureshi in a recent chat. Qureshi is currently India's fastest man and the only sprinter from the country to figure in the world 100m list this year at No. 144.

The 22-year-old from Hyderabad equalled Anil Kumar's five-year-old national record of 10.30 secs while qualifying for the semifinals at the recent Commonwealth Games in Delhi.

Though Levi Pinto was the fastest man in the inaugural Asian Games in Delhi in 1951, no Indian has won a 100m medal at the Games in the last 30 years, Tamil Nadu's R. Gnanasekharan being the last with his silver at the 1978 Bangkok Asian Games. Gnanasekharan also won the 200m gold in Bangkok.

Keywords: Asian Games

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