Japan Open: Japanese Federation Spinning Out Of Global Alignment; Ryosuke Irie Misses World Record Bid

By Hideki Mochizuki, Swimming World Japanese correspondent

TOKYO, Japan, June 6. THE second day of long course meter swimming at the Japan Open featured all eyes on Ryosuke Irie in the men's 200 back final.

Having cleared Ryan Lochte's world record of 1:53.94 with a 1:52.86 in an unapproved suit at the Duel in the Pool, Irie attempted to beat Lochte's time once again. He nearly did it, this time in a Speedo LZR Racer. Irie went out fast splitting the first 50 in 27.03, then clocked a 55.85 at the 100 to be way ahead of the pack and within striking distance of the global mark. Turning at 1:25.40 at the 150, Irie showed signs of fatigue and tightened up the last 20 meters of the race to finish in 1:54.09.

"The plan was to go out fast from the beginning," Irie said. "It was very close. I have been constant in terms of time recently, so I am not disappointed."

Although Irie could not break the record, a little more than 3,000 fans gave him a rousing ovation after the race, which made his eyes fill will tears.

"The cheers from the stand were such a great thing," Irie said. "Obviously, I am in a strange situation in terms of world-record ratification. So, I am determined to once again break it and get gold in Rome."

In a separate mixed zone interview with the press, Irie dove into the swimsuit situation.

"It is an important thing to bring the attention back to the swimmers and away from the suits," Irie said. "Honestly, I was a little tired and not fully tapered for this meet after the Japanese Nationals and Duel in the Pool in Australia. Also, there was a period where I could not focus myself on my training because of the suit issue. Positioning of this meet was a step to Rome. But, all of the sudden, lots of attention came about my world record. So, that was tough mentally."

At the end of the second day, the Japan Open has not produced any Japanese records. The fact refreshes the mind about the Japan Open from a year ago. Last year, 17 Japanese records were broken with 16 of them coming in the LZR Racer. Kosuke Kitajima, who had a professional contract with Mizuno, decided to race in the LZR Racer during the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

The Japanese Swimming Federation has had a contract with three Japanese companies to provide competition suits from three brand (Mizuno, Asics and Descente/Arena), with the contract not ending until 2017. The LZR Racer is being distributed in Japan now by Japanese corporation Goldwin.

The Japanese Federation announced after April's Japanese Nationals that its swimmers would be allowed to wear suits outside of the three contracted brands during three international events this year – Worlds, World University Games and the East Asian Games. The effectiveness of the Federation's contract is now being questioned.

Lending more information to the confusion, Irie was not allowed to wear the LZR Racer or any other suit outside of the three contracted brands during the Duel in the Pool. This move led to Irie wearing the unapproved suit created by Descente.

Another issue within Japan right now is that all of the new technical suits presented for FINA approval by the three companies contracted with Japan were rejected during the first round of approvals.

The Japanese Federation has been spinning out of the global movement allowing swimmers to use non-approved fast suits at this year's Japan Open. The Federation is also allowing all junior records set in non-approved suits, even after the U.S., Australia and LEN have moved towards global alignment.

With the Japanese Federation stating that it would not ratify any national record in an unapproved suit as of June 1, national team director Koji Ueno has encouraged national team members going to Rome to compete only in approved suits. Most national team members are following the request, but many others are not.

Another question offered regarding Japan's stance on ratifying Irie's world record time as a national record no matter what FINA does regarding the world record in the 200 back done in an unapproved suit. What would happen if Irie clocks a time that falls between his 1:52.86 from Australia and Lochte's 1:53.94? In a sign of how odd the situation has become, the Federation lists Lochte's time as the world record on the 200 back results sheet, while Irie's time of 1:52.86 is listed as the national record.

In the men's 50 fly, Takayuki Ohno and Kohei Kawamoto tied to win in 23.59, just outside of the national record of 23.45. There was definite relief from some management on the pool deck as Ohno was wearing Descente's Aquaforce Zero, the suit worn by Irie during his 200 back world record. The Federation could not have ratified a record set by Ohno, which is making is difficult for the fans in the stands to follow the meet.

While the first day did not feature any junior high or high school records, the second day did with some of the times coming by way of unapproved suits. Contrary to moves by the U.S. and Australia prohibiting use of fast suits by junior swimmers, the Japanese Federation will ratify junior high and high school records no matter the suit until the end of March 2010. This move will likely lower the global credibility of Japan's junior records.

Specifically, high school senior Yosuke Mori won the men's 400 IM in 4:13.31 in a non-approved Descente suit to set the high school record. Meanwhile, Satomi Suzuki posted a 31.54 to win the women's 50 breast in an unapproved Asics suit.

In other action, Miho Takahashi won the women's 400 IM in 4:42.84 with Yuka Katou taking the women's 50 fly in 26.60. Yuki Honda earned the men's 50 breast crown in 27.59, while Kazuki Wakanami took home the women's 400 free title in 4:12.38. Takeshi Matsuda touched first in the men's 400 free in 3:46.20 with Shiho Sakai winning the women's 200 back in 2:08.74. Haruka Ueda topped the women's 100 free in 55.09, while Takurou Fujii claimed the men's 100 free in 49.08.

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