Yamaguchi Maintaining Japan’s Rich Breaststroke Tradition

Column By John Lohn

GILLETTE, New Jersey, September 17. THIS part of the year is typically dormant in the sport, the Olympic lull still in effect. Sure, the collegiate season is gearing up. Yes, various awards are handed out, including several by USA Swimming. For the most part, though, it's a waiting period until competitive action once again is ignited, and times can be analyzed.

Well, someone forgot to tell Japan's Akihiro Yamaguchi about the lull. By now, most fans have had the chance to digest the world record produced by the 18-year-old at the Japanese National Sports Festival. Nearly two months after Hungarian Daniel Gyurta set a world record en route to the gold medal in the 200 breaststroke at the Olympic Games in London, Yamaguchi brought the global standard down to 2:07.01.

It's been a spectacular summer and fall for Yamaguchi, who is joined as an Asian rising star by individual medley and backstroke standout Kosuke Hagino. Yamaguchi has produced several sub-2:08 performances since the end of the Olympics, which he narrowly missed. More, the teenager is knocking on the door of some efforts which are stratospheric, such as a 2:06-point showing in the offing.

There has been considerable discussion about Yamaguchi being the man who will carry the legacy of Kosuke Kitajima, the four-time Olympic champion who is considered the best breaststroker in history. However, it's worth noting that Yamaguchi is not just picking up for Kitajima, but is maintaining a rich Japanese tradition in the event that dates to the first half of the 1900s.

The breaststroke events have long been a shining area for Japan. From 1928-36, the only Olympic champions in the breaststroke were Japanese, with Yoshiyuki Tsuruta prevailing at the 1928 and 1932 Games and Tetsuo Hamuro capturing the Olympic gold medal at the 1936 Games in Berlin. Twenty years later, Masaru Furukawa and Masahiro Yoshimura delivered a gold-silver showing at the Melbourne Olympics. Meanwhile, Nobutaka Taguchi was the gold medalist in the 100 breaststroke and the bronze medalist in the 200 breast at the 1972 Olympics.

So much is made of Australia's legacy in the 1500 freestyle, thanks to the likes of Murray Rose, Kieren Perkins and Grant Hackett, among others. Much is made of the United States' dominance in several events, including five consecutive Olympic triumphs in the 200 backstroke. But Japan deserves credit, too, for its tradition in the breaststroke, a legacy which seems to be in good hands with Yamaguchi.

**Had a discussion recently about the historical pecking order of the greatest female swimmers and who occupied which position. The candidates were agreed to be Dawn Fraser, Janet Evans, Tracy Caulkins and Krisztina Egerszegi, but there wasn't a consensus about the order. How would you rank those four legends of the sport?

**When USA Swimming announced its award winners over the weekend, there was little to argue. It was appropriate for Michael Phelps to receive the Athletes' Appreciation Award, given the impact he has had on the sport, not to mention his vast achievements. Meanwhile, Missy Franklin was certainly deserving of the Swimmer of the Year accolade she received.

If there is one argument, it is the fact there are not separate Swimmer of the Year awards for each gender. While Franklin was worthy of her selection and Phelps did receive recognition, there is no doubt Phelps had the best year of an American male and deserved to be recognized for his campaign, especially with it being his farewell season.

**One of the best clinics of each year is the Eastern States Swim Clinic in Cherry Hilly, New Jersey. This year's production is scheduled for Oct. 20-21 and will include appearances and presentations from some of the world's finest coaches, including Teri McKeever, Jack Bauerle and Brett Hawke. Additionally, Tyler Clary, Ian Crocker, Misty Hyman and Kristy Kowal — with eight Olympic medals between them — will be working with and speaking to young swimmers.

Follow John Lohn on Twitter: @JohnLohn

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