By Phillip Whitten
May 24. SUZU Chiba, one of Japan's brightest Olympic medal hopefuls, has inexplicably been left off the Japanese Olympic Team, a move that has swimming experts around the world shaking their heads in disbelief. The most common reaction has been: "What are the Japanese thinking?"
Chiba is appealing her federation's decision tomorrow before the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in Lausanne, Switzerland.
Chiba, 24, set Japanese national records last year in both the 100 and 200 meter freestyle events and was seen as a potential medalist, particularly in the 200. In 1999, Chiba clocked 54.99 in the 100, which ranked third globally behind America'a Jenny Thompson and Holland's Inky De Bruijn, and 1:58.78 in the 200, a time that was better only by Australia's Susie O'Neill.
At the Japanese Olympic Trials in April, Chiba won the 200 in 2:00.54 and placed third in the 100 in 56.29, despite the fact that she was so sick she had to be hospitalized and placed on an IV. Her coach, Bud McAllister, who coached Janet Evans and knows a thing or two about fast swimming, said: "It is absolutely amazing that Suzu swam as fast as she did when you consider how sick she was.
"Yes, before she came down with a high fever, I expected her to swim much faster. Most people as sick as she was wouldn't even be able to get out of bed, let alone swim world-class times." Chiba's 200 time betters the Olympic "A" qualifying standard.
Before the meet, Hironshin Furuhashi, president of the Japanese Swimming Federation and a former world record-holder in the distance freestyle events, said: "We are only taking potential medalists to Sydney." The federation set standards: men must not only swim "A" times but also rank among the top 12 in the world; women had to rank among the top eight.
A glance at the Japanese Olympic team roster, however, shows that some men as low as 18th in the world were named to the team; Chiba's time ranked her seventh.
McAllister, a Canadian national team coach and hea coach of the Region of Waterloo Swim Club in Ontario, Canada, said that in 1996, the Japanese federation blamed Chiba, the women's team captain, for the country's poor showing in Atlanta.
"They expected her to win the 200," he said, "but she only made consolation finals. They said that set the tone for the rest of the Olympics. Since when do you hold one swimmer responsible for the performances of other swimmers? Isn't that the coach's responsibility?"
Japanese officials have also indicated they were not happy that Chiba was training in Canada.
"By leaving Suzu off the team," McAllister said, Japan not only loses a potential medal in the 200 free, they send a weaker 4 x 100 medley relay team–a team that definitely has medal potential–and they lose the strongest swimmer on their 4 x 200 freestyle relay–another event in which they have a good chance to medal. It doesn't make sense.
Chiba was not the only swimmer who met the "A" standard who was left off the team. Yoshiaki Okita, who finished second in the men's 200 meter breaststroke in 2:13.90, also was omitted, despite the fact that he ranks in the world's top 12 and that Japan still has nine unfilled roster spots.
Speaking from her home in Waterloo, Chiba said: "I am waiting for the CAS decision before I decide what to do next. I am not asking for damages. All I want is to be placed on the Olympic Team, where I belong."