By Emily Sampl
BOULDER, Colorado, April 9. TOMORROW marks the first day of competition at the Japanese Long Course National Championships, and the meet is shaping up to be quite a showdown between some of Japan’s best. Here’s a preview of some of the swimmers and races to watch during the meet, which runs Thursday through Sunday.
On the men’s side, it’s a toss-up over which set of events will be the most hotly contested at the meet – breaststroke, backstroke or IM. All three disciplines feature a number of highly decorated swimmers with a lot of international experience. The breaststroke events figure to be a close battle between back-to-back, double Olympic gold medalist Kosuke Kitajima, 2012 Olympic bronze medalist Ryo Tateishi, and Ippei Watanabe, who’s ranked eighth in the world in the 200 breast this year. All three are probably best at the 200 distance, which should be the most intriguing race of the three breaststroke events.
The backstroke events figure to be just as exciting with a great race shaping up between Kosuke Hagino and Ryosuke Irie. Irie won silver in the 200 back and bronze in the 100 back at the 2012 Olympic Games, while Hagino has been on the rise over the past several years and is currently ranked first in the world in the 100 back (53.35) and 200 back (1:54.77). Hagino might be better known for his IM and mid-distance free capabilities, as he won bronze in the 400 IM in London and silver in the 400 free at last summer’s FINA World Championships. Hagino will definitely be challenged in the IM events by Daiya Seto, who won both the 200 and 400 IM at the 2012 Short Course World Championships, then followed that up with his first long course world championship in the 400 IM last summer. The two swimmers enter the meet as the first- and second-ranked swimmers in the world in both IM events, with Hagino on top.
Seto will also swim the 100 and 200 fly at the meet, where he’ll face off against Takuro Fuji, Ken Takakuwa, Takeshi Matsuda and Masayuki Kishida. Matsuda, a three-time Olympian and 2012 bronze medalist in the 200 fly, should give Seto a run for his money in that event. Matsuda’s best in the event is a 1:52.97, while Seto’s top-ranked swim of 2014 stands at 1:54.82. Takuro Fuji, who is ranked in the top 25 in the world in the 50 and 100 fly, will be a factor in the sprint fly events.
Headlining the women’s breaststroke events will be Kanako Watanabe, who has quickly established herself as one of the premier breaststrokers in Japan and a force internationally as well. Watanabe competed in the 200 breast at the 2012 Olympics as a 15-year-old and has been steadily improving since, posting the second-best 200 breast in 2014 (2:22.45), eighth-best 100 breast (1:08.02) and third-best 200 IM (2:10.65). Mio Motegi and Runa Imai will also be contenders in the breaststroke events, as both swimmers are ranked in the top 25 internationally this year in the 100 and 200 breast. Motegi is fourth in the 200, one spot ahead of Imai, while the three are separated by only a second in the 100.
Watanabe will also swim the 200 IM at the meet, an event she’s currently ranked third in internationally with a 2:10.65 from the NSW State Open Championships in February. She should get a solid push in the IM from Miyu Otsuka, who went a 2:13.31 at the BHP Billiton Aquatic Super Series at the end of January. Otsuka will also swim the 400 IM and 200 back at the meet; she’s stronger in the 400 IM with a 4:37.33, the third-best time in 2014.