Exclusive: Interview with Kosuke Kitajima

By Takahisa Ide

VICTORIA, British Columbia, Aug. 21. NOT too long ago, Kosuke Kitajima was the world's premier breaststroker. Not only did the Japanese star hold world records in the 100 and 200 distances, he was the world champ in 2003 in the 100 and 200 disciplines.

More, Kitajima won gold at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens in the 100 and 200 breaststrokes, but not without controversy. In the 100, Kitajima used dolphin kicks off the start and turn to narrowly edge American Brendan Hansen. At the time, the dolphin kick was an outlawed maneuver.

These days, though, Kitajima isn't what he was. He has battled some knee injuries and some illness and reports from Japan suggest his motivation level isn't what it once was. His biggest problem, however, is Hansen, who has changed the nature of the breaststroke by taking the 100 and 200 world records to ridiculously low levels.

Three weeks ago, Hansen blazed 59.13 in the 100 breast at the United States Nationals and also produced a 2:08.74 effort in the 200 distance. Hansen further lowered his 200 record on Sunday night when he touched the wall in 2:08.50 to defeat Kitajima at the Pan Pacific Championships in Victoria, British Columbia. Kitajima was more than two seconds behind.

It's gotten to a point where questions have arisen as to whether Kitajima will be able to regain his past form. And, even if he can match his personal-best times of 59.53 (100) and 2:09.42 (200), those swims do not compare to what Hansen has recently produced.

Takahisa Ide of Swimming World Magazine caught up with Kosuke Kitajima at the 2006 Mutual of Omaha Pan Pacific Championships in Victoria, British Columbia. The interview focused on the rivalry with Hansen and took place prior to Hansen's world-record swim in the 200 breast.

With his responses, Kitajima seemed unwilling to delve into whether he will catch up to the risen bar established by his American competitor.

SWM.com: What did you think about Brendan Hansen setting a pair of world records at the USA National Championships?
Kosuke: My motivation really went up when I saw that Brendan broke both of those world records.

SWM.com: What did you feel about the 100-meter breaststroke earlier this week?
Kosuke: During the 100-meter breaststroke, Brendan was very fast at the first 50-meter mark. I want to race against him next time in that 100-meter breaststroke.

SWM.com: What changes do you think you need to make to compete against Hansen?
Kosuke: After watching Brendan in the first 50 meters, I have to focus more on the first 50 meters of the 100-meter breaststroke.

SWM.com: What do you think about the future of the breaststroke?
Kosuke: I think Brendan and I should be able to make more noise in the breaststroke in the future.