Shoma Sato Rings Alarm In Japan’s Tokyo 2020 Breaststroke Ranks With 2:07 Win Over Watanabe

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Shoma Sato - Photo Courtesy: FINA / Budapest 2019 Worl Junior Championships

Shoma Sato put the cat among the pigeons in the curtain-closing 200m breaststroke at Kosuke Kitajima Cup in Tokyo with a a cracking 2:07.58 victory over former world-record holder Ippei Watanabe, on 2:07.86.

That rocketed Sato, 18, from 10th to 5th in the all-time Japanese 200m breaststroke rankings and from 61st to 19th on the world all-time rankings. An alarm has been rung by a teenager in the ranks of Japan’s top men in one of its top events.

The crowd went home knowing it got its money’s worth. A day after powering to a 4:06.09 show of force in the 400m medley [Watch the race video] , Daiya Seto gave a glimpse of his work on the parts of the sum he aims to make good for gold at the home Tokyo Olympic Games this summer.

Seto entered the 100m butterfly final with a lifetime best of 52.36. He emerged sporting a new career high of 51.89 after a tussle with Naoki Mizunuma and others.

If Seto reminded the specialists about him that making the Japan team for Tokyo 2020 will be a towering task, Shoma Sato sent the same message to the toughest 200m breaststroke ranks you’ll find just about anywhere in the world.

In what is always, and aptly so, the curtain-closing race of the Kosuke Kitajima Cup in honour of the man with his name on the trophy as most decorated Olympic breaststroke champion in history (double gold, 100, 200m, 2004, 2008), Sato put his 2:09 days behind him in a fight with Watanabe and Kazuki Kohinata, whose 2:09.09 for third was better than Sato’s career best going into battle.

Watanabe took charge of the race in the first 100m but the challenge get four years his junior refused to let go and then, down the third lap, edged ahead.  Watanabe sought to hit back on the way home but Sato refused to yield.

The winner celebrated not only victory but maiden voyages inside 2:09 and 2:08, his previous best, 2:09.42 set at the Japan Open last year in a 2019 season in which he raced inside his 2018 best of 2:13.78 nine times, including his only other sub-2:10, a 2:09.56, at World Junior Championships for silver behind a 2:09.40 from American Joshua Matheny.

The ebb and flow in Tokyo today:

  • 29.02; 1:01.41; 1:34.22; 2:07.58 Shoma Sato
  • 28.88; 1:01.47; 1:34.41; 2:07.86 Ippei Watanabe
That made Sato the fifth fastest in Japan ever as the fifth entry in the domestic sub-2:08 club:
  • 2:06.67 2017 Ippei Watanabe
  • 2:07.01 2012 Akihiro Yamaguchi
  • 2:07.18 2017 Yasuhiro Koseki
  • 2:07.51 2008 Kosuke Kitajima
  • 2:07.58 2020 Shoma Sato
  • source: StateOfSwimming

Seto’s Target Practice

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Daiya Seto – Photo Courtesy: Becca Wyant

Out in 24.30, Seto unsettled the man 0.02sec adrift, Mizunuma, a man with a best almost a second up on the medley ace’s, pre-race. By close of play, Seto had extended his lead a touch, Mizunuma on 51.97, one of the few overseas visitors to the meet Luis Martinez, of Guatemala, on 52.18, for third ahead of a 52.22 from Yasu Takaya.

As the Kitajima Cup came to a close, Seto swam down from efforts that will surely embolden him on return to the toil-sweat-and-tears side of Tokyo 2020 preparation away from the lights.

Take away the swiftest medley efforts at the top of the all-time performances list that were clocked in global Games and Championships or trials for and Seto’s 4:06.09 is No1.

That speed has never been seen before in non-championship waters, the previous fastest in such circumstances the 4:07.47 clocked by Hungarian David Verraszto at the Seven Hills Meet in Rome back in 2017 as he prepared for a home World titles in Budapest.

Silver in the Hungarian capital followed, in 4:08.38 adrift the dominant champion, American Chase Kalisz on a championship record of 4:05.90.

The 100m butterfly at the Cup today is the part of a sum of two Olympic targets for Seto: the 400m medley and the 200m butterfly. He is likely to need more than his 4:06 flat to claim the golden prize he has nailed to the mast of home Tokyo 2020 dreams and ambitions. The runes read well, however.

At the end of a northern winter season that has included the World short-course record over 400m medley and an Asian record over 200m butterfly, the winner of three in the last four World titles in the long medley has entered the Olympic season arena in sizzling form, the 200m medley a third target for Seto after he claimed a golden IM double at Gwangju World Championships last July.

In other action on the last day of the Kitajima Cup, Shinri Shioura took the 50m freestyle in 21.97. At the other end of the distance spectrum Takeda Wataru was a class apart in the 1500m free, on 15:02.85, while Yui Ohashi survived a strong challenge from Omoto Osaka, 2:10.35 to 2:10.88 in the 200m medley.

Seto bypassed the 200m medley, leaving the win to Keita Sunama, on 1:58.89, ahead of Yuki Ikari‘s 1:59.38, third place to Ippei Miyamoto in 2:00.35.

There were also wins for Hiroko Makino, on 58.34 in the 100m butterfly and Reona Aoki, on 2:24.72 in the 200m breaststroke.