Tokyo Flashback: Yui Ohashi Supplies Home Country Joy with 400 IM Domination

Jul 25, 2021; Tokyo, Japan; Yui Ohashi (JPN) celebrate after winning the women's 400m individual medley final during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Summer Games at Tokyo Aquatics Centre. Mandatory Credit: Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Network
Yui Ohashi; Photo Courtesy: Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Network

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Tokyo Flashback: Yui Ohashi Supplies Home Country Joy with 400 IM Domination

One year has passed since the Olympic Games, delayed by a year due to COVID-19, unfolded in Tokyo. To celebrate what went down in the Japanese capital, Swimming World is revisiting the championship finals – each on their one-year anniversary – by once again running the stories that were posted after the medals were decided.

Some people wear their hearts on their sleeves. Yui Ohashi wears hers on her socks.

A signature of the 25-year-old Japanese IMer at meets are socks adorned with the mascot of her hometown, Hikone, a magical white cat named Hikonyan.

Sunday morning at the Tokyo Aquatics Centre, Ohashi brought a dose of pride to every corner of her home country.

Ohashi entered the women’s 400 IM as the third seed out of prelims, but she left no doubt in the final, winning in 4:32.08.

“It doesn’t feel real. It is like a dream for me,” Ohashi said. “I couldn’t go to the Rio Olympics, so for the past five years this became a big dream for me. This accomplishment is amazing for me.”

Despite her obvious talent, Ohashi has had a long road here. She’s a first-time Olympian at 25. She overcame a dislocated kneecap while swimming in college at Toyo University. And now she’s making history, the first Japanese woman to win gold in the 400 IM and just the second to medal for since the event started in 1964 (Yasuko Tajima, silver, 2000). Where Daiya Seto, the top seed in the men’s 400 IM, faltered Saturday night and didn’t make the final, Ohashi got faster as the meet wore on.

Emma Weyant was the closest to Ohashi’s stellar pace, the 19-year-old American setting her second personal best in as many days to take silver in 4:32.76. Hali Flickinger authored a gutsy final 100 meters to overcome Katinka Hosszu and fend off the charge of Mireia Belmonte to take bronze in 3:43.90. For the 27-year-old, who’s been a staple of American programs for nearly a decade, the medal is her first at the Olympics.

“I’m super happy to race the best in the world,” Weyant said. “I stuck to my strengths, which is the back end of the race. I’m happy with it.”

Weyant set the fastest time in prelims at 4:33.55, a personal best for her. Ohashi was third in 4:35.71, with Wilmott in the middle, but Ohashi was composed over the last 50 meters, shutting it down to coast into the wall and leave something in the tank.

When Weyant and Flickinger saw the men’s 400 IM, with Chase Kalisz and Jay Litherland going 1-2, the message was simple.

“When we saw that happen,” Weyant said, “we looked at each other and said, ‘it is our turn’.”

“It is incredible, an honor,” Flickinger said. “We got to watch Chase and Jay right before we swam, and we were ready to go and do it for the US.”

Hosszu, who was fifth in 4:35.98, fell short in her bid to become the second-oldest women’s swimming gold medalist in history (Dara Torres, age 33, 2000). The 32-year-old icon of the sport has three more chances, in the 200 butterfly, 200 backstroke and 200 IM. Hosszu won’t defend her 100 back title from Rio; she won gold there in the 200 IM and silver in the 200 back. Belmonte, who took bronze in the event at Rio, was fourth.

Given the connections for Yui Ohashi to her home and the atmosphere under which these Games are taking place, her medal feels that much more special.

“Yes it is very special for me,” she said. “Spending time in the Olympic Village with all the athletes and volunteers and all the staff supporting me – has helped make it become real.”

Women’s 400 IM

  • World Record: Katinka Hosszu, Hungary, 4:26.36 (2016)
  • Olympic Record: Katinka Hosszu, Hungary, 4:26.36 (2016)
  1. Yui Ohashi, Japan, 4:32.08
  2. Emma Weyant, United States, 4:32.76
  3. Hali Flickinger, United States, 4:34.90
  4. Mireia Belmonte, Spain, 4:35.13
  5. Katinka Hosszu, Hungary, 4:35.98
  6. Viktroia Mihalyvari-Farkas, Hungary, 4:37.75
  7. Aimee Wilmott, Great Britain, 4:38.30
  8. Ilaria Cusinato, Italy, 4:40.65
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