After Rough Olympics, Daiya Seto Notches Impressive Rebound in ISL

Daiya Seto
Daiya Seto has excelled during the ISL regular season for the Tokyo Frog Kings -- Photo Courtesy: Photo Giorgio Scala / Deepbluemedia / Insidefoto

After Rough Olympics, Daiya Seto Notches Impressive Rebound in ISL

Daiya Seto had the misfortune of swimming the worst meet of his life at the worst possible time. He was 27 years old and had won two gold medals and a silver at the previous global championships, and now he was competing in an Olympics in his home country.

He was expected to emerge as Japan’s shining star by winning gold in the meet’s very first event, the 400 IM, where he was the reigning world champion and Olympic bronze medalist. In fact, Seto had won gold medals in both the 400 IM and 200 IM at the 2019 World Championships and a silver medal in the 200 fly. He was aiming to keep the 400 IM title in Japanese hands after Kosuke Hagino claimed gold five years earlier in Rio. Instead, Seto bombed out in the prelims, finishing ninth and missing the final by three tenths.

Jul 24, 2021; Tokyo, Japan; Jay Litherland (USA), right, and Daiya Seto (JPN), left, after the men's 400m individual medley heats during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Summer Games at Tokyo Aquatics Centre. Mandatory Credit: Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Network

Daiya Seto with Jay Litherland after Seto finished a shocking ninth in the men’s 400 IM at the Tokyo Olympics — Photo Courtesy: Robert Hanashiro/USA TODAY Sports

Two days later, Seto advanced to the semifinals of the 200 butterfly but finished 11th, two tenths away from making the final. In his last race, the 200 IM, he performed much better and qualified for the final. He ended up swimming a time of 1:56.22, less than a tenth off his world-title winning time from 2019, but he was fourth, five hundredths off the podium.

Any way its framed, Seto’s Olympic performance was a major disappointment. At the start of 2020, he had posted the best swims of his career, including a 4:06.09 in the 400 IM that moved him to fifth-fastest all-time and was more than three seconds ahead of Chase Kalisz’s eventual gold-medal winning time in Tokyo. His 200 fly and 200 IM times would have easily made the podium as well.

But instead, Seto looked like a victim of the one-year Olympic delay, the COVID-19 pandemic having cost him his shot at glory. Seto claimed that he simply miscalculated in the 400 IM prelims, and that’s why he was too slow to make the final, but he never rebounded from that rough start. Seto had already been caught up in a very public controversy for having an extramarital affair in 2020, which earned him a suspension and the loss of multiple sponsorship agreements, so the results in Tokyo were simply another rough moment in a frustrating string of events for Seto.

But then, just four weeks after the swimming portion of the Olympics concluded, Seto began his run with the Tokyo Frog Kings in the International Swimming League (ISL) — and he looked like one of the world’s best swimmers again.

In the Frog Kings’ first two matches, Seto swept all four of his events: the 200 IM, 400 IM, 200 fly and 200 breaststroke. Yes, the 200 breaststroke. He is known for his IM and longer butterfly abilities, but in ISL competition, Seto has out-swum noted breaststroker specialists including double Olympic silver medalist Arno Kamminga, countryman Yasuhiro Koseki, American Nic Fink and ISL-record holder Marco Koch. Admittedly, the ISL is conducted in short course, but that’s still remarkable for a swimmer never known for his breaststroke abilities until late August.

SETO Daiya TOK Tokyo Frog Kings (TOK) ISL International Swimming League 2021 Match 8 day 2 Piscina Felice Scandone Napoli, Naples Photo Giorgio Scala / Deepbluemedia / Insidefoto

Daiya Seto competing during ISL Match #8 — Photo Courtesy: Photo Giorgio Scala / Deepbluemedia / Insidefoto

Seto’s one rough day in the ISL came in Match #8, when he suffered his first defeat to Ilya Shymanovich in the 200 breast and then finished a disappointing fifth in the 200 IM. But the next day, he swam the quickest time this season in the 200 fly by more than a second (1:49.44) and also won the 400 IM. Seto is also ranked first this season in the 400 IM (3:59.01) and 200 IM (1:51.12), the latter of which came when he narrowly held off Caeleb Dressel at the finish in a star-studded Match #6 showdown.

This was the swimmer we expected to show up to the Olympics and win multiple medals. It’s fair to say that in our post-Olympic rankings of the top 25 male swimmers in the world, we messed up big-time by not including Seto. One poor meet, even at the biggest moment, does not equal a poor swimmer.

We may never know why Seto faltered so badly at the Olympics, but his quick return to form on the ISL circuit has sparked the question as to whether will be able to return to his long course form from 2019 and early 2020. As well as he has performed over the last month, we don’t know if he can get the major championships redemption he will surely seek after his Olympic disappointment.

Still, give Seto credit for his resilience and ability to bounce back so quickly on the ISL circuit. The ISL is short course and its regular season a low-key affair in 2021, certainly without the grandeur of a meet like the Olympics, but Seto has reminded us loud and clear that, Olympic medals or not, he belongs among the world’s best.