Swimmer to Watch: Kanako Watanabe

Feature by Hideki Mochizuki, Swimming World Japanese correspondent

TOKYO, Japan, April 7. DURING Day 7 of the Japanese Olympic Trials, the most exciting race came in women's 200m breaststroke. Satomi Suzuki took first place with 2:22.99 but many spectators were on the edge of their seat to see who got second place.

In the end, five swimmers came back within Japanese qualifying standard of 2:25.38, but it was 15 year old Kanako Watanabe who came back strong and got an another ticket to London Games with a time of 2:23.56 (33.58, 1:10.46, 1:47.17). It was a moment that Watanabe became the youngest national swim team member for Japan in London. Spectators instantly refreshed their memories of Kyoko Iwasaki who got the gold medal in the same event at 14 years old and 6 days back in 1992 Barcelona Games. Winning time back then was 2:26.65 for Iwasaki passing Anita Nall (world record holder back then of 2:25.35) at last 10 meters to go. Amazingly, Iwasaki's personal best before Barcelona Games was 2:31.08. Almost nobody expected that she snatched the gold medal. Well, people smelled the same for Watanabe tonight.

Watanabe was sixth in 100m breast earlier in this week with 1:08.13, almost a second slower from her personal best. She was so devastated about result and many thought it would be difficult for freshman at high school managing this super intensive atmosphere. But she outsmarted everybody.

“After losing in 100 breast, I switched focus to 200 breast which is my event and that is what I trained for. I forgot everything about loss of 100. During the race, I knew that I was beating qualifying standard and I felt good. Throughout the race, I tried to stay strong convincing myself that nobody is going to beat me.”

Watanabe's coach, Ryuji Omi was pressed after loss in 100m breast. He did not feel good about her stroke and mental state so he said, “Kanako, you can scratch from 100 final.” Watanabe participated in the final but ended in disappointing sixth. Well over dozen media were catching her action every minute. Coach Omi said after 200m final tonight, “she held herself tight in this environment and changed her mental to be positive in a few days thanks to her optimistic personality. I kept preaching to say that our original goal is to go London with 200.”

Watanabe said in the press conference, “this magnitude of experience will never happen again, I feel. I certainly cherish this experience for long time.”

Kanako Watanabe
Born on November 15, 1996…….165cm, 55kg…….JSS Daiwa Swimming School…..coach: Ryuji Omi……started swiiming at age of 4 and training with coach Omi since 8 years old.

Personal Best
50m breast, 31.83
100m breast, 1:07.10
200m breast, 2:23.56

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