By Emily Sampl
BOULDER, Colorado, June 18. THE Japan Open, which begins tomorrow in Tokyo and runs through Sunday, features some of the top talent in Japan, and a lot of exciting matchups as a result. Here are five races to watch in what should be a very fast meet.
Men’s 100 Back
A quartet of the top backstrokers in Japan will face off in the men’s 100 back, which features the likes of Ryosuke Irie, Takeshi Kawamoto, Junya Koga and Kosuke Hagino. Irie has the fastest time this year of the foursome at 52.57, which he swam at the Japan Open in April. Hagino finished half a second behind in that race with a 53.06. Kawamoto went a 54.70 at that meet as well, while Koga swam a 54.25 at the recent Monaco stop of the Mare Nostrum meet. Japan should have a great medley relay internationally and will be looking to solidify the backstroke spot with one of these swimmers, most likely.
Women’s 200 Breast
Japan has demonstrated over the past few years how incredibly deep it is in the women’s breaststroke events, and all three events are loaded at the Japan Open. In the 200 breast, five of Japan’s top seven swimmers will be racing, including Rie Kaneto (2:21.58), Mio Motegi (2:23.81), Runa Imai (2:24.53), Naoko Fukudome (2:26.22) and Satomi Suzuki (2:26.30). Missing from the bunch is top-ranked Kanoko Watanabe, who posted a 2:21.09 at the Japan Open in April. Watanabe will race in the 100 breast, but not the longer distance. Kaneto, Motegi and Imai are all ranked in the top ten in the world this year.
Men’s 400 IM
A couple of the top all-around swimmers in the world will face off once again in the men’s 400 IM. Kosuke Hagino owns the top time in the world for 2014 by more than three seconds – a 4:07.88 from April’s Japan Open – but will have his hands full with Daiya Seto (4:12.30) and Takeharo Fujimori (4:13.80), whose times rank fifth and sixth in the world, respectively. Seto has been swimming fast lately, posting a 1:54.70 in the 200 fly at the Monaco stop of the Mare Nostrum meet just over a week ago.
Women’s 400 IM
The women’s distance medley features a strong lineup as well. Miyu Otsuka, who enters the meets as the second-fastest in Japan this year with a 4:37.33, is the top seed and will likely be pushed by Miho Takahashi (4:40.22), Yura Taniguchi (4:42.34), Emu Higuchi (4:42.38) and Misuzu Matsuo (4:44.28). Those five are ranked second through sixth in Japan this year, behind Sakiko Shimizu, who will not be competing. A few more sub-4:40 swims are definitely possible if these ladies wind up next to each other in the final.
Men’s 100 Fly
The men’s 100 fly may be one of the most loaded events of the entire meet. It’s hard to say who the favorite is with the likes of Kosuke Hagino, Ken Takakuwa, Takeshi Matsuda, Takeshi Kawamoto, Takuro Fuji, Hirofumi Kebata and Kou Fukaya all racing. Fuji owns the top time in Japan for 2014 with a 51.84, while Kebata is right behind in 51.98. After those two, the rest are tightly bunched within one tenth of one another, from Takakuwa at 52.82 to Kawamoto at 52.86. Hagino is not even ranked in the top 10 in Japan this year, but will no doubt be a factor.