By Hideki Mochizuki, Swimming World’s Japanese correspondent
TOKYO, Japan, September 13. WITH Tokyo having just been named the host city of the 2020 Summer Olympics, plenty of top-flight National Teamers are taking part in the Japanese Sports Festival that began today at the Tatsumi International Aquatic Center in Tokyo.
The competition has three levels of competition with junior high seniors and high school freshman battling in the B group, and sophomore to seniors in high school competing in the A group. Meanwhile, there is also an university/open division.
Typically, National Teamers take a long rest after a World Championship meet, providing youngster the opportunity to shine. Akihiro Yamaguchi set his 200-meter breaststroke world record here a year ago. This year, however, plenty of the top swimmers are in attendance.
Kosuke Hagino, now 19 and rapidly growing into one of the ace swimmers out of Japan, dominated the field in the 400-meter free with a 3:46.93. That’s a full two seconds back of his third-ranked season best of 3:44.82 from Worlds in Barcelona, but provided him a three-second victory here in Tokyo. He just missed the meet record by .34 seconds as well.
“I was shooting for the championship record, but my strength was not there during the last part of my race,” Hagino said.
You can’t blame Hagino for being tired. He had seven event entries at Worlds, and just competed in the Japanese Intercollegiate Championships a week ago — the Japanese equivalent of the NCAA championships.
“By accumulating experiences in a lot of meets, I see a chance for my 400-meter freestyle to become better,” Hagino said.
Hagino’s best event is yet to come with the 400-meter IM still on the slate. Hagino has publicly stated that he still holds to his aggressive goal of winning multiple Olympic medals at the 2020 Tokyo Games. The 400 IM world champion Daiya Seto also competed in the 400 free and finished fifth in 3:51.24.
There were plenty of other notable swims during the first day of action. Kanako Watanabe punched the wall in 2:23.42 to win the women’s 200-meter breaststroke. That swim vaulted her to eighth in the world rankings, and second in Japan this year behind only Rie Kaneto’s 2:22.96 from Worlds. Similar to Hagino’s rise, 16-year-old Watanabe quickly emerged last year to grab a ticket to the 2012 London Games in the 200-meter IM. She’s actually stronger in the 200 breaststroke, but finished 10th at the Japanese Olympic Trials, leaving her with a bitter taste in her mouth. Tonight, she rinsed some of that away with a personal best.
“It was a perfect swim for me right now,” Watanbe said. “Finally, my stroke and rhythm are back.”
Meanwhile, Yuka Kato topped the women’s 100-meter fly in 58.08 to break the meet record, and nearly crack the top 10 in the world rankings. Kohei Kawamoto clinched the men’s 100 fly in 52.25, beating veteran Takeshi Matsuda (52.45) in the process.
The meet continues for the next two days, and I’ll be back with some more highlights each evening.