Kosuke Hagino Back in Form Just in Time for Olympic Year

Kosuke Hagino
Photo Courtesy: Joao Marc Bosch

By David Rieder

Last year’s World Championships were supposed to be the meet for Kosuke Hagino to announce himself to the world. It had been a steady rise to preeminence that began at the 2012 Olympics when he touched out Michael Phelps for the Olympic bronze medal in the 400 IM. He won a pair of silvers at the World Championship a year later and was leading the 400 IM final most of the way before fading badly over the final 50 and finishing fifth.

2014 was Hagino’s breakout year‒he won three medals at Pan Pacs and six at the Asian Games, sweeping the IMs on both occasions. He finished with the top times in the world in both events‒1:55.34 in the 200 IM and 4:07.75 in the 400‒on his way to Swimming World Swimmer of the Year honors.

But an elbow injury suffered during training camp a month before Kazan sidelined Hagino, and he could only watch as countryman Daiya Seto defended his World title in the 400 IM and Ryan Lochte won his fourth straight gold in the 200.

So far this year, though, Hagino has looked as though he hasn’t missed a beat. He will be in the medal conversation in the 200 free, but in the IMs he will be a threat‒perhaps even favorite‒for Olympic gold. He won the event at the Japan Open Saturday in 4:08.85, the top time in the world for 2015 and just a little bit slower than Seto’s 4:08.50 from Kazan last summer.

The 200 IM will be a bigger challenge for the 21 year old as he has to face off against the American duo of Phelps and Lochte, who have combined to win the event at every World Championships or Olympics going back to 2003. But Hagino has already swum the event in 1:55.07 earlier this year, by far the top time in the world.

Hagino’s injury woes a year ago cost him what could have been a hefty medal haul at the World Championships, but that means absolutely nothing for this summer when Hagino could be one of the headliners in Rio.

*Cate Campbell on a mission. It must have been a strange feeling for Cate Campbell last summer in Kazan when she lost her 100 free World title to none other than her younger sister. Bronte Campbell was an Olympian in 2012 and a solid contributor for the Australians but never quite as heralded as Cate, who won her first Olympic medal all the way back in 2008 at the age of 16‒until Bronte swept the 50 and 100 free World titles last summer.

But Cate has regained the upper hand this year, and as it stands right now Cate would be the odds-on favorite for both Olympic gold medals. Cate put up a 52.38 in Tokyo Saturday to match her own top time in the world‒which is not all that far off of Britta Steffen’s world record of 52.07. Cate has also been a 23.84 in the 50 free this year‒no one else has cracked 24‒so do not be surprised to see a different Campbell as 2016’s sprint queen.

*200 back contenders in action. No event saw more of a shake-up from the expected at last summer’s World Championships than the men’s 200 back. Defending champion Ryan Lochte did not even participate while the top two finishers from the London Olympics, Tyler Clary and Ryosuke Irie, missed the podium. And it was young Australian Mitch Larkin who took the win in an impressive 1:53.48.

Larkin will be favored to add Olympic gold to his résumé this summer, and he has the top time in the world this year as the only man under 1:54. Evgeny Rylov, Xu Jiayu and Ryan Murphy have all been under 1:55. But a couple veterans posted 1:55s Saturday to send quick reminders that they will also be factors as the 200 back has become more wide-open than it has been in years.

Irie swam a 1:55.89 in Tokyo while two-time World silver medalist Radoslaw Kawecki put up a 1:55.98 on his way to a third straight European championship. Both have proved their mettle in the past‒Irie with a never-ratified world record of 1:52.86 during the supersuit era and three medals in London and Kawecki with his consistency over the past five years‒so either or both could be waving to the crowd when medals are awarded in Rio.

*Filippo Magnini still going after all these years. The official results from the European championships list birthdays, and it’s hard not to notice the guy on all those Italian relays born February 2, 1982. You might think he’s been around awhile, and you’d be correct: Filippo Magnini was the European champion in the 100 free in 2004 and 2006 and the World Champion in 2005 and 2007.

Now 34, Magnini can still pop off a good relay leg and provide some veteran leadership for a strong group of Italian freestylers. At the European championships he split 48.55 on the 400 free relay and 1:47.82 on the 800. This summer will be Magnini’s fourth Olympic Games, a level where he has won one relay medal (bronze in the 800 free relay in 2004) and his best finish was fifth in the 100 free in 2004.

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