Katsuhiro Matsumoto Raced Inside Japanese 200m Record Pace At Time Trial Just As Tokyo 2020 Was Halted

Katsuhiro Matsumoto shows off the growing body he's proud of as he explains to Japanese media that training has seen him grow out of his bathers - Photo Courtesy: screenshot, Hochi Shimbun

Katsuhiro Matsumoto, fastest home over 200m freestyle among podium placers with a clean record at the World Championships last year, has only taken two weeks off training throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, according to an interview with the Kyodo News agency in which he reveals that he raced inside his own Japanese-record pace in a time trial in the very week the home Olympic Games in Tokyo were postponed.

In a Japanese record of 1:45.22, Matsumoto was the third man to the wall in the 200m at World titles in Gwangju last year, behind Danas Rapšys, of Lithuania, and Sun Yang, of China. Rapsys was disqualified, however, for “moving on the blocks” at the start, while Sun, elevated from silver to gold, was towing a doping suspension towards a second brush with anti-doping authorities that ended in an eight-year suspension being imposed on him last February 28.


Stand-off: Britain’s Duncan Scott, right, refuses to pose with Sun Yang, flanked by Katsuhiro Matsumoto, left, and Martin Malyutin, after the 200m free medals ceremony – Photo Courtesy: Patrick B. Kraemer

The podium was completed by Russian Martin Malyutin and his match on the clock Duncan Scott, who refused to pose for photos with Sun in protest at the Chinese swimmer’s doping record. The British sprinter and Sun both were both handed warnings from FINA, as was Australian Mack Horton, who had already staged his own similar protest after the 400m freestyle final earlier in the week.

Much troubled water under the bridge and, like all others, Matsumoto learned on March 23 that the Tokyo Olympic Games would no go ahead on July 24 this year. Two days later, the Japanese Olympic trials were cancelled, too, as Games organisers headed towards a decision to reschedule the big event. Matsumoto would have to wait a whole year for his date with destiny.

“After all I had done [I thought] this just shouldn’t be happening,” the disappointed 23-year-old swimmer told Kyodo News.

By the end of that week, frustration would reach a new level: on March 29, Katsuhiro Matsumoto swam a time trial at a specially arranged meet to provide competition for those heading into a period with no racing for the foreseeable future.

He tells Kyodo of a swift 200m that lacked only the power of taper for it to have been a national record: at the 100m mark, he <b>Matsumoto</b> says that he was 0.10sec faster than his split at World titles; by the last turn he was 0.25sec inside his Gwangju 2019 pace. No rest, no challengers, he fell off the pace on the way home but still clocked 1:45.44, just 0.22sec from career best.

“It showed I have the ability to swim 1:44,” Matsumoto tells Kyodo.

He and his coach Yoji Suzuki believe the winning pace will be sub-1:44 over 200m freestyle come Tokyo 2020 in 2021. Only two men have ever done that in textile, Yannick Agnel, the 2012 Olympic champion from France, on a sizzling 1:43.14, and Michael Phelps, the 2008 Olympic champion from the USA, on 1:42.96 in polyurethane bodysuit in Beijing on the way to a record eight golds and in world-record time of 1:43.86 in textile almost 18 months before for the World title in Melbourne, 2007.

Next on the textile list is the 1:44.06 at which Ian Thorpe, of Australia, set the World record in 2001, while Rapsys, 1:44.38 on World Cup tour last autumn, and Sun, on 1:44.39 for the World title in 2017, are next.

Matsumoto is looking to leapfrog the 1:44s. Says Suzuki:

“Someone is definitely going to swim 1:43 at the Olympics.”

“I was going to push toward the 1:43 level at an altitude training camp in June,” adds Matsumoto.

That camp is now postponed, as is a planned training camp in the United States this summer, Matsumoto’s preparations now geared to a Games that will now start in Tokyo in July 23, 2021.

A high-altitude training camp in Mexico from February to March had convinced Matsumoto that he was on the right track to achieve his goal of a clear shot at glory at a home Games. He had emerged from winter training able to maintain an even pacing over his first three lengths of a 200m free, the work now geared to bringing the are home. He believed he had “found the key”

Matsumoto and Suzuki were happy to have found themselves on track at that March 29 time trial but, as Kyodo puts it, “found themselves looking at a blank page”.

Matsumoto took two weeks off “to push the reset button” and did not resume training until mid-April. Now, he’s come to terms with the situation and concludes:

“I guess this is not going to be the year I win an Olympic gold medal after all.”

How Matsumoto Had Been Growing in Stature – Literally

A day after setting a 3:37.94 Japanese short-course record over 400m freestyle back in January, Katsuo Matsumoto ended the Chiba Prefectural New Year Swim Festival with a 1:44.02 win over 200m freestyle.

The time fell short of the 1:42.41 national mark he set on October 26 last year at the Japanese Championships at the same pool in Tokyo but cheered Matsumoto, who noted that it had been the last of his fine races and followed a 15:02.42 in the 1500m free and a 54.14 in the 100m medley. He told local media:

“My legs felt fluffy like bread. I had nothing left at the end. We had a hard training camp for about two weeks on Phuket Island, Thailand at the end of the year … so I was racing quite tired.”

It was another day of training for a man who gad told Japan he was gunning for gold at a home Olympic Games in Tokyo come July.

At the time, Matsumoto, whose first means ‘bonito’ and is used in that sense by teammates as a nickname, after the bonito fish a ray-finned predator from the same family as mackerel and tuna – was making headlines at home because he was becoming a bigger fish in every way.

He told the media gathered at the meet in Tokyo that swimming training has grown him out of his suits of late. At 84kg and standing 186cm, he cuts a cut figure as he said, through laughter:

“As a result of swimming training, some shorts (swim suits) got too tight and I couldn’t wear them anymore. My body is getting bigger and my back muscles are swelling. I’m still far from done [growing] … even I was surprised: I suddenly looked at the mirror and thought ‘this feels good’.”

Of Tokyo 2020 and his Olympic prospects, Matsumoto said: “I’m really determined to win a gold medal.”

He still might. In 2021.

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