Kosuke Kitajima announced his retirement from the sport of swimming, following his fifth place finish in the 200 breaststroke at the 2016 Japanese Olympic Trials. The most decorated breaststroker of all time spoke a little bit more with the media, and became tearful at times.
While Kitajima did not want to talk about what will come next in his life, citing just announcing his retirement, and still processing not meeting his goal of another Olympic Games, he spoke on his final race and his relationship with his coach.
Norimasa Hirai has worked with his swimmer since junior high school, and Kitajima reflected on how much he appreciated that Hirai, “always tried to lift me up.” It was no different before his last race. Kitajima shared, “‘As usual, he said to me the same words, ‘All right, let’s go.'”
Olympic experience has shaped Kitajima’s career. He cited it as the most important part of his journey, and what kept him pushing, keeping his hopes alive heading into this final meet. While he was upset to have missed the Olympic team, Kitajima was pleased that he could perform for his fans. He noted, “I feel that I could carry out my style pretty well toward end of the race,” as he put on one final show.
Kitajima also thanked his sponsors, including Coca-Cola Japan, for staying with him, even through the “difficult times”.
“My last race was just a bit unsatisfactory,” he said, yet, he “is pretty filled with feeling of accomplishment.” Despite missing the Olympic team, Kitajima put this race in persepective, and with an appreciation for his entire career and pride in his accomplishments said, “I did well as a swimmer.”
“With confidence, I would like to move to [the] next stage of life,” declared Kitajima. And so, the legendary Kitajima retires with four Olympic gold medals and three long course world titles to his name.
Special thanks to Hideki Mochizuki for contributing to this report.