By Hideki Mochizuki, Swimming World Japanese Correspondent
HAMAMATSU, Japan, April 19. THE final day of the Japanese Long Course Championships featured a near world-record swim in the men's 200 back to close the curtains on an incredible meet.
Ryosuke Irie, who previously was a darkhorse candidate for an Olympic medal, announced himself as a serious threat heading into this quadrennium. Irie smashed his Asian record of 1:54.74 set in January when he raced to a 1:54.02 in the men's 200 back. That effort just missed Ryan Lochte's global standard of 1:53.94. Irie split the race 27.08, 56.22, 1:25.34, 1:54.02, showing his capability for endurance in the latter half of the race.
"It was close to the world record," Irie said. "I will bring that goal to Rome. In this Japanese Nationals, I got a personal best in both the 50 and 100, so I was confident going into the race. Especially, my weakness is the 50 sprint, but I could show much improvement there too."
Irie is now the second-fastest swimmer in history in the event, just behind Lochte. And, the time would have earned him a silver medal at the Beijing Olympics. Irie swam mostly in open water as Takashi Nakano placed second in 1:56.77.
In an exciting finish, Ryo Tateishi beat Yuta Suenaga by just .10 seconds to win the men's 100 breast, 59.80 to 59.90. Tateishi turned at 28.10 and held on to win, while Suenaga turned at 28.34. Tateishi's personal best heading into the meet was a 1:00.77. In another close finish, Nanaka Tamura caught Hitomi Nose down the stretch in the women's 100 breast, 1:07.52 to 1:07.66. Satomi Suzuki also was in the mix with a third-place 1:07.96. Nose wound up clearing her personal best by almost two seconds as she previously topped out with a 1:09.58.
Takuro Fujii knocked down Masayuki Kishida by .35 seconds with a swift 51.48 over Kishida's 51.83 in the men's 100 fly. Combined with other winners of three strokes, Japan is still a medal hopeful in the men's 400 medley relay even without Kosuke Kitajima competing this year. On the women's side of the 100 fly, Yui Miyamoto won in 58.81, but was far from the Japanese record of 57.89. Miyamoto won the 200 fly two days ago with a 2:07.56. Rome will be 16-year-old Miyamoto's first major international meet.
In the women's 200 back, Aya Terakawa led the way to the 100 from lane 1 and held onto the lead to win the race in 2:09.27. Terakawa flipped at 1:02.91 at the 100. Hanae Itoh placed second in 2:10.77. Terakawa swept the backstroke events in this meet.
"I am surprised that I could win all three events," Terakawa said. "I could get another personal best in this race too. I just tried not to think too much about the pace. I just focused, and relied on how I was feeling."
Maiko Fujino threw down a 16:16.52 to win the women's 1500 free. Japan is facing a lack of talent in the women's freestyle from sprint to long distance after Ai Shibata and Sachiko Yamada retired this year. It could take some time for Japan to rebuild this category.
Takeshi Matsuda posted the first Japanese record performance of the day with a 7:49.65 in the men's 800 free. That swim lowered his record of 7:50.93 set in 2007.
"I was a bit tired toward the end of the race as I decided to go out fast from the start of the race," Matsuda said. "Winning three events (200 fly, 400 free, 800 free) in this meet was encouraging for this summer."
Similar to the women's middle and long distance events, Japan will be dependent on Matsuda as a medal challenger for the time being as upcoming swimmers did not perform.
Misayaki Yamaguchi won the women's 50 free in 25.50, while Haruka Ueda finished second in 25.74. On the men's side, Makoto Itoh came close to the Japanese record of 22.18 with a 22.19. Tomohiro Yamanoi's 2001 standard of 22.18 remained the oldest men's record in the Japanese books.