JAPANESE OLYMPIC SWIMMING: KOSUKE KITAJIMA, 11 MEDALS IN LONDON IN 2012 AND SYNCRONIZED SWIMMING

OLYMPIC SWIMMING AND JAPAN

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Japanese swimmer
Aya Terakawa
As of 2000 in the Summer Olympics, Japan had won 15 gold medals in swimming. In the early Olympics Japan won most of its medals in swimming. Yoshiyuki Tsuruta won gold medals in the 200 meter breaststroke in Amsterdam in 1928 and Los Angeles in 1932.

Hironoshin Furuhashi is legendary Japanese swimmer who no doubt would have won gold medals if Japan had he been allowed to compete in the Olympics after World War II when he was at his peak. Nicknamed the the “Flying Fish of Fujiyama,” he set world records in the 400-meter and 1,500-meter freestyle at the Japan national championships in 1948 with times that were far better than those that won gold medals at the Olympics that year. He set 33 world records during his career but had a disappointing performance in the 1952 Olympics after contacting dysentery in South America. After retiring from swimming he became very active in Japan Olympic Committee activities.

In the Olympic swimming events, six Japanese swimmers have won the gold medal since the Munich Games. Iwasaki Kyoko won the gold medal in the women’s 200-meter breaststroke at the Barcelona Olympic Games when she was 14 years old, making her the youngest gold medalist in the history of the Olympic swimming competition. And Kitajima Kosuke won consecutive gold medals in both the 100-m and 200-m men’s breaststroke events at the Athens and the Beijing Games. Other famous Japanese swimmer include Daichi Suzuki, who won a gold medal in the men's 100 meter backstroke at Seoul in 1988; Masaru Furukawa who won a gold medal in the 200 meters breaststroke in Rome in 1960; and Nobutaki Taguchi, who won the men’s 100 meter breaststroke.

The Japanese national swimming team hassome unorthodox race preparation techniques. After they are given a pep talk by their coach, they stretch with walkmans that play music specially designed to clear their minds of thoughts. One coach told the Daily Yomiuri, "The music sends alpha waves to the brain, opening their mind and helping them relax and concentrate."

The Japan Swimming Federation prohibits its swimmers from dying their hair and wearing garish nail polish. Alcohol is banned at their training camp.

Good Websites and Sources: Kosuke Kitajima, Official Site kitajima-kosuke.com ; Japanese Olympic Synchronized Swimmer Collapses at the Water Cube welt.de/english-news

Links in this Website: SPORTS IN JAPAN (Click Sports, Recreation, Pets ) Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; OLYMPICS AND JAPAN Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; JAPANESE OLYMPIC ATHLETES Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; JAPANESE MARATHON RUNNERS AND TRACK ATHLETES Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; JAPANESE OLYMPIC SWIMMERS Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; JAPANESE OLYMPIC GYMNASTS AND WRESTLERS Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; JUDO, JAPAN AND THE OLYMPICS Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; WINTER OLYMPICS AND JAPANESE ATHLETES Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; JAPANESE FIGURE SKATERS Factsanddetails.com/Japan RECREATION IN JAPAN (Recreational Swimming) Factsanddetails.com/Japan ;

Good Websites and Sources and Sources on the Olympics and Japan: Wikipedia article on Japan at the Olympics Wikipedia ; Medal Winners in Olympics.org olympic.org/en ; Japanese Olympic Committee joc.or.jp/english ; Essay on Japan’s Rebirth at the 1964 Olympics aboutjapan.japansociety.org ; Database on Olympic Athletes databaseolympics.com

Japanese Swimmers at the Olympics in 1992 and 2000

Kyoko Iwasaki came out of nowhere to win a gold medal in the women's 200 meter breaststroke at Barcelona in 1992 when she was only 14, making her the youngest swimmer ever to win an Olympic gold medal. When she won the race even though she was only 1.57 meters tall and weighed 45 kilograms. She was in sixth place at first turn and slowly made up ground throughout race, taking the lead with five meters to go. Kyoko-chan was never able to equal that performance. She didn’t even make the finals in 100 or 200 breaststroke in Atlanta in 1996.

Also in Barcelona, Yuko Nakanishi won a bronze medal in the women’s 200 meter butterfly and Norika Inada won a bronze medal in the 50 meter backstroke.

Japanese swimmers won two silver medals and two bronze medals in swimming at the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney. One of its best swimmers, Suzu Chiba, was left off the team even though her time was good enough to qualify, apparently because the old men on Japan's Olympic swimming committee thought she had a bad attitude and didn't like the fact that she trained in the United States and felt she let Japan down when she did less well than expected at the 1996 Olympics.

Japanese Swimmers at Olympics in Athens in 2004

Japan placed 3rd in behind the United States and Australia in medals in swimming at the Summer Olympics in Athens in 2004, winning three gold medals, three silver medals and three bronze medals for a total of eight medals.

Kosuke Kitajima won two gold medals (See Below). Ai Shibata was the surprise gold medalist in the women’s 800 meters freestyle; and Takashi Yamamoto won a silver medal in the men’s 200 meter butterfly.

Shibata was the first Japanese woman to win a women’s freestyle event. She won the gold with a strong final 100 meters. She got in shape by swimming 17 kilometers a day at altitude in the weeks preceding the event. She also won medals at the world championship 2005 and 2007. She retired 2008.

Bronze medals were won by the men’s 4-x-100 meter medley relay, Tomomi Morita in the men’s 100 meter backstroke, Reiko Nakamura in the women’s 200 meter backstroke and Yuko Nakanishi in the women’s 200 meters butterfly.

Japanese swimmers did well in the 2006 Asian Games. They won 47 medals, compared to 44 for China. Both countries took 16 gold.

Japanese Swimmers at Beijing Olympics in 2008

Japanese swimmer won five medals---two golds and three bronzes---in the swimming events at the Beijing Olympics in 2008. The golds were won by Kitajima. Japanese men with Kitajima swimming breaststroke won a bronze medal in the men’s 4-x-100-meter medley relay. 2008. The gold medal was won by the United States team with Michael Phelps.

Takeshi Matsuda won bronze medal in the men’s 200-meter butterfly. The gold medalist in the event was won by Michael Phelps. As a kid Matsuda trained in a pool covered by a makeshift vinyl greenhouse. In the winter he swam in water that sometimes dipped below 10 degrees C, Reiko Nakamura won bronze medal in the women’s 200-meter backstroke. She also won a bronze in the event in Athens in 2004. Zimbabwe’s Kirsty Coventry won the gold medal. Nakamura has the same coach as Kitajima.

Swimming suits were a major issue before the Olympics in Japan as they were elsewhere. Japanese swimmers had an agreement with Japanese sportswear companies to wear their suits. When swimmers began destroying word record with Speedo’s revolutionary LZR swimsuits the Japanese sportswear companies---Mizuno, Asics and Descente---began scrambling to quickly make speedy swimsuits of their own.

They experimented with new fabrics---including ones designs with the help of NASA and a super-fast synthetic rubber supplied by scuba wet suit maker---but were not able to make any breakthroughs and in the end allowed swimmers to wear any swimsuit they wanted with many of them selecting the LZR.

The decision to allow Japanese swimmers to use the LZR was made after Kitajima broke the world record in the 200 meter breaststroke wearing an LZR and 16 of 17 national records at a meet to decide who would go tp the Beijing Olympics were broken by swimmers wearing LZR suits. On the suits, Kitajima said, “If you are a competitive swimmer it’s only natural to want to wear a suit that give you speed.” There were concerns hat Japanese swimmers might fail to win a medal if they didn’t wear the Speedo suits.

Japanese Swimmers After the Beijing Olympics in 2008

In February 2009 Japanese high schooler Shiho Sakai broke the world’s record in women’s 100 backstroke, short course event. In November 2009, Shiho Sakei set two world records in two days: in the short course 100-meter and 200-meter backstrokes.

In May 2009, Ryosukie Irie set a world record in the men’s 200 meter backstroke in a meet in Canberra , Australia, with a time of 1:52.86, slicing 1.08 seconds set by American Ryan Lochte at the Beijing Olympics. After some discussion the record was taken away because Irie wore a bathing suit that had to been approved by the world swimming governing body.
In the end, Irie’s record was not recognized by swimming’s governing body because his Descente-made modified-rubber suit violated the rule that “swimsuit material shall not create air-trapping effects.” A suit made by Descente that was virtually the same expect it contained small holes that prevents air trapping was approved.

In August 2009, Ryosuke Irie took a silver medal in the men’s 200 meter backstroke at the swimming world championships in Rome after Aaron Peirsol won the gold meal in a world record time of 1:52.51. Irie had been expected by many Japanese to win and appeared gravely disappointed with the silver medal even though he was the first Japanese to win either an Olympic or world championship medal in the event.

In August 2009, Junya Koga won the men’s 100 meter backstroke gold medal at the swimming world championships in Rome with national record time of 52,.26. Takeshi Matsuda won a bronze in the men’s 200 meter butterfly. Michael Phelps was first in that race.

In July 2009, Takeshi Matsuda won a bronze medal in the 200-meter butterfly at the swimming world championships in Rome. Michael Phelps won the gold.

At the Japan national swimming championships in April 2010, Ryo Tateishi topped Kosuke Kitajima in all three individual races the two swimmers competed in: the 50-meter, 100-meter and 200-meter breaststrokes.

Japan at the World Swimming Championships in 2011

Japan won four silvers and two bronze medals at the world swimming championships in Shanghai in July 2011. Aya Terakawa won a silver medal in the women’s 50 meter backstroke. It was her first the world championship medal. She’d been trying for more than a decade to get one. At 26 she was the oldest member of the Japanese team.

Takeshi Matsuda won a silver medal in the men’s 200 meter butterfly at the world swimming championships in Shanghai in July 2011. For a while he leading multiple-Olympic-gold-medalist Michael Phelps but was passed by Phelps in the last 50 meters. Phelps won the race for a record five times. Yuya Horihata won a bronze medal in the men’s 400 meter individual medley at the world swimming championships in Shanghai in July 2011. It was the the first a Japanese won a medal in the event in the Olympics or the world championships.

Kosuke Kitajima

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Kosuke Kitajima
double Olympic gold medalist
in 2004 and 2008
Kosuke Kitajima is one of Japan’s best known athletes. He was won four Olympics gold medals in swimming in 2004 and 2005 and several world championship titles.

Kitajima burst on the international swimming scene with an outstanding performance at the Swimming World Championships in Barcelona in 2003 at the age of 20. He won the gold medals in the 100-meter and 200-meter breaststroke, each with a world record time. It was the first time a Japanese swimmer won two gold medals in a world championship and only the third time ever that a swimmer won both the 100-meter and 200-meter breaststroke titles.

In the 200-meter race he was over half a second behind world record pass at 50 meter turn but finished strong before a cheering crowd of 11,000 and finished a body length ahead of his nearest competitor and a tenth of a second ahead of the old world record. He took nearly two tenths off the 100 meter record. Kitajima had finished 4th in the 100 meter breaststroke at Sydney in 2000 at the age of 17. He broke the 200 meters breaststroke world record for the first time at the Asian Games in 2001. At that time it was the oldest world’s record in swimming.

After his success in Barcelona Kitajima became a big star. He could not take a train without being mobbed. His face was on billboards and television screens. He hired a management company to handle his business affairs so he could concentrate on training. In Japan, Kitajima is called “Frog.” His website is called frogtown,jp

Kitajima in Athens in 2004

Kitajima won two gold medals at the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens in the 100 meter and 200 meter breaststroke. He was the first Japanese to win two Olympic gold medals in swimming. In both events he beat his rival American Brendan Hansen, who had, earlier in the year, broken Kitajima’s world records in the 100 meter and 200 meter breaststroke. The medals made Kitajima and even bigger star than he already was. He made millions in commercial endorsements

An American swimmer accused Kitajima of using an illegal dolphin kick. He said he knows of no one else that uses his kicking methods but said in 17 years of competitions had never once been warned that it was illegal.

Hansen had not lost before losing to Kitajima in Athens. Between Athens and Beijing Kitajima won all four meetings between them.

Kitajima won the 200 meter breaststroke at the world championships in Melbourne, Australia in March 2007. Hansen was not in the race because he was suffering from a virus. Kitajima was ahead of Hansen’s world record pace at the 100 meter mark but tired at the end and was un unable to break the record. Kitajima took a silver behind Hansen in the 100 meter breaststroke. Kitajima failed to win the national title in the 200-meter breaststroke in 2005 and 2006.

Kitajima’s Training

One of the surprising things about Kitajima in sport dominated by very large men, is that he is pretty small, only five foot nine. Short, compact and aggressive, Kitajima is a sports science graduate from Nihon Sports Science University in Tokyo. He said quite openly that he rarely studied and devoted his attention to training. He is from Arakawa Ward in Tokyo. His father is a butcher.

Kitajima was 21 when he won in Athens. He attributed his success to high altitude training in Arizona, and intensive computer and video analysis of his swimming. For training he usually swims around 10 kilometers a day, five- kilometers in the morning and five kilometers in the evening.

Kitajima’s coach, Masaharu Kawai. is a former engineer at Nikon who told Kitajima he would never have any success unless he took a scientific approach t the sport. Kawai approached Kitajima’s swimming like an aerodynamics engineer designing a race car: everything was geared towards reducing water resistance and getting the most speed and distance out each stroke.

According to Kawai, Kitajima’s strength is speed after the kick. This was achieved after great emphasis was placed on speeding up the motion of the kick recoil to the starting position. When Kitajima broke the world record in Barcelona he followed advices by Kawai based on computer analysis of his stroke that was faxed to him before the final.

Kitajima at Beijing in 2008

Kitajima repeated his success in Athens by winning gld medals in the 100-meter and 200-meter breaststroke in Beijing in 2008. He set a world record of 58.91 in the 100 meters and won convincingly in the 200, finishing just .13 seconds off the world record he set in June. Kitajima became only the fifth male swimmer in history to complete a golden double in successive games’ and the first in the breaststroke.

The much anticipated rivalry between him and American Brendan Hansen failed to materialize. Hansen, who held the world record before Kitajima broke it, failed to make the American team in the 200 and finished forth in the 100. Hughes Dubosq, who won bronze medals in the 100 and 200 breaststroke, credited his success with tips on technique that Kitajima gave him in 2003 when the two swimmer trained together for two weeks.

Before the 2008 Games, a dozen Japanese reporters followed Hanson’s every move to the Olympics trial in 2008. A spokesman for the Japanese swim team told the New York Times, “You could say he’s second most famous swimmer in Japan.”

Kitajima was the oldest swimmer on the Japanese team in Beijing in 2008. He trained in the United States before Beijing. He wore a Speedo high-tech LZR Racer suit in Beijing and when he broke the 200-meter world at the Japan Open in Tokyo in June 2008 when he shaved .99 seconds off a record set by Hansen two months earlier in the suit.

After Beijing Kitajima initially said he was ready to retire. “I feel personally that it’s all over now. [The Beijing Olympics] is meant to be my last, and both my team and coach are pleased because I’ve achieved something.” Later he moved to the United States and said he would continue his career. Kitajima skipped the national and world championships in 2009

Kitajima was the winner of the Grand Prix (the top award) a the Japan Sports Awards in 2008. He was also won the honor in 2002 and 2003 and was the first three time recipient, surpassing judoka Ryoko Tani who won twice.

Kitajima moved to Los Angeles in April 2009 and trained at the University of Southern California. He skipped the swimming world championships in Rome and returned to swimming in November 2009 at an event in Tokyo and finished the year with a win at a meet in California.

Kitajima did poorly at the Asian Games in November 2010, failing to win a single medal, Afterwards he decided to take a break.

Naoya Tomita beat Kitajima and set a short course record in the 200 breaststroke at Japan national short course championships in October 2010.

Kitajima won a silver medal in the men’s 200 meter breaststroke at the world swimming championships in Shanghai in July 2011, beaten by Hungarian Daniel Gyurta. He could only manage forth in the 100 meter breaststroke. Afterwards he said he realzied he had his work cut out for him with the London Olympics coming up. "This is the first time in a while I have nothing left after a race," Kitajima told Kyodo News. "I didn't think I could swim like this and have a strong race in the 200 meters just days after a poor swim in the 100 final. I'm glad I could come back and give it my all in the 200."

Kitajima Engaged to Japanese Pop Star

In January 2013, Swimmer’s World reported: “Olympic gold medalist Kosuke Kitajima made sure he would have an exciting 2013 as he is now engaged to his girlfriend of two years, Chisa. Chisa is the lead singer of the popular musical threesome named Girl Next Door, which has released at least five albums since a debut in 2008. [Source: Swimmer’s World, January 1, 2013

Chisa announced the engagement on the GirlNextDoor.jp web site, stating in loosely translate Japanese, "Thank you for your always warm support. It is important to report to everyone that I, Chisa, am now engaged to Mr. Kosuke Kitajima. We began dating about two years ago." She also asks for continued warm wishes from her fans, as her relationship with Kitajima continues to mature. [Ibid]

Japanese Swimmers at the 2012 Olympics

The Japanese swim team won 11 medals---three silvers and eight bronzes in the London Games, breaking the postwar record of eight that was set at the 2004 Athens Olympics. The showing broke Japan’s postwar record of eight medals that was set at the 2004 Athens Olympics. The all-time high of 12 was achieved at the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics. [Ibid]

The strong showing was capped with the Men's and women's teams taking medals in 400-meter relay races. AFP reported: “Two-time double Olympic champion Kosuke Kitajima won his first medal of the London Olympics in its last swimming event on Saturday, when he and three other Japanese swimmers took the silver medal in the men's 400-meter medley relay. Japan also won the bronze medal in the women's 400-meter relay the same day. The men's medley relay team--Kitajima, Ryosuke Irie, Takeshi Matsuda and Takuro Fujii--finished their race in 3 minutes 31.26 seconds. The United States won in 3:29.35. It was the first time Japan has won a silver medal in the men's 400-meter medley relay. Japan took the bronze in the two previous Olympic Games. [Source: Jiji-Daily Yomiuri, August 6, 2012]

Irie, who had already won two medals in London, gave the team momentum by finishing second in the backstroke leg. Kitajima then overhauled American Brendan Hansen, his longtime rival, to touch the wall first. Matsuda was overtaken by Michael Phelps but ended the butterfly leg in second place. Australia trimmed Japan's lead in the last leg, but anchor Fujii held on to finish second. Irie said after the race that he, Matsuda and Fujii agreed: "We can't let Kitajima-san go home empty-handed." "It was awesome to participate in this wonderful medley team," Kitajima said. [Ibid]

Kitajima, who turned 30 a month after the London Olympics, is Asia's most successful swimmer. is bidding declined to comment about whether he would retire after the Olympic Games. "I need to think deeply and decide what will be my next stage, my next goal," he said. Kitajima finished fourth in the 200-meter breaststroke and fifth in the 100-meter breaststroke. The first Japanese swimmer to participate in four Olympics, won gold in both events at the 2008 Beijing Games and 2004 Athens Games.

The women's medley team--Aya Terakawa, Satomi Suzuki, Yuka Kato and Haruka Ueda--finished third in 3:55.73. The United States won the race in 3:52.05, setting a new world record. Australia finished second in 3:54.02. [Ibid]

Kitajima is known for his punishing altitude training sessions. [Ibid]

Japan's Swimmers Do High Altitude Training After Swimmer’s Death

In May 2012, Reuters reported that eight Japanese Olympic swimmers prepared for the 2012 London Games by undergoing altitude training near where Norwegian Alexander Dale Oen, the world 100 meter breaststroke world champion, died after suffering a heart attack at a high altitude training camp in Arizona. [Source: Alastair Himmer, Reuters, May 10, 2012|]

"We feel great sorrow at what happened (to Dale Oen)," JSF executive director Masafumi Izumi said. "But the autopsy results did not immediately link his sudden death to the altitude. "After holding an executive meeting we decided to take all necessary precautions and prepare the athletes in the safest way possible," he added. "We will send doctors to monitor the swimmers and before going we will conduct electrocardiogram and heart echo tests under low-oxygen conditions."

The eight Japanese swimmers who underwent the scheduled high altitude sessions in June and July asked for them not to be scrapped, Izumi insisted. "The swimmers all requested the training go ahead as planned," he said. "We are not forcing anyone. The swimmers want to go and we agreed to their wishes." JSF official Koji Ueno had initially said Japan "could not send any athletes who have concerns under any circumstances". [Ibid]

Japanese Swimmers Suzuki and Irie Win Silver Medals

Japan won two silver medals at the London Olympics with Satomi Suzuki taking second in the women's 200-meter breaststroke and Ryosuke Irie doing the same same in the men's 200-meter backstroke. Suzuki, 21, who won bronze in the 100-meter breaststroke, became the first Japanese female swimmer to win multiple medals in a single Olympic Games.

The Yomiuri Shimbun reported: “Suzuki finished her race in 2 minutes 20.72 seconds. Rebecca Soni from the United States won gold with a new world record of 2:19.59, repeating her victory at the Beijing Olympics four years ago. Irie, 22, passed American star Ryan Lochte in the final 50 meters but was unable to catch Tyler Clary, another U.S. swimmer. Irie, who won bronze in Monday's 100-meter backstroke, finished 0.37 seconds short of Clary in 1:53.78. [Source: Jun Tanaka, Yomiuri Shimbun, August 4, 2012]

The Japanese swim team's new heroine was surprised to learn no other Japanese female swimmer had won multiple medals at a single Olympic Games. "Wow, am I really the first? I'm really surprised," Suzuki said. Defending champion Soni began with a fast pace and quickly took the lead. Suzuki, swimming next to the American, chased fiercely and entered the last 50 meters in second. But she could not reduce Soni's lead and trailed 1.13 seconds behind her at the finish. Soni beat the world record that she set in the semifinal the previous day. Suzuki cut her personal best by more than a second in the race, tying the national record set by Rie Kaneto in 2009. "I'm disappointed with the loss, but I really enjoyed the race--I was able to swim beside [Soni], who I admire the most," Suzuki said. [Ibid]

Ryosuke Irie approached the 200-meter backstroke final with a strong sense of determination. [Ibid] "I'll surpass my limit," he said to himself. Since childhood, Irie's style was to preserve his stamina in the first half of a race and surge forward in the second half to overtake his tired rivals. [Ibid] However, using this strategy he came second to Ryan Lochte during the 200-meter backstroke final at last summer's world championships in Shanghai. Irie was unable to catch the American, who took a commanding lead in the first half of the race. [Source: Kenji Sato, Yomiuri Shimbun, August 4, 2012]

Irie realized he was subconsciously afraid of losing energy in the second half of the race. He needed to conquer his fear. In the race, Irie put all his focus on Lochte, who was swimming in the fifth lane. Lochte increased his speed from the start, but this time Irie also increased his speed and stayed close to Lochte. Irie was in second at the 100-meter mark, trailing Lochte by 0.22 seconds. He was confident the race was proceeding just as he had planned as he entered the final 50 meters. [Ibid]

Irie passed Lochte in the final few meters, and touched the goal believing he had won the race, but was astounded when he saw "2" next to his name on an electric scoreboard. Irie had not noticed that Tyler Clary overtook him and Lochte because Clary was swimming in the fourth lane. "Honestly speaking, I'm disappointed with the result because I sought only the gold medal. However, I was able to put everything I had into the race," Irie said. "I won't miss the top spot at the next Olympics," Irie added. [Ibid]

Japanese Swimmers Take Three Bronze Medals in One Day

A strong effort by three Japanese swimmers helped the nation win Olympic bronze in the men's and women's 100-meter backstroke and the women's 100-meter breaststroke, a day after the disappointing fifth-place finish by Kosuke Kitajima in the men's 100-meter breaststroke. [Source: The Yomiuri Shimbun, August 1, 2012]

The Yomiuri Shimbun reported: “Aya Terakawa, 27, became Japan's oldest female swimmer to win a medal after she came third in the 100-meter backstroke final, finishing in 58.83 seconds, a Japanese record. In first place was Missy Franklin at 58.33 seconds, while Australia's Emily Seebohm came second at 58.68. Terakawa strictly followed her race plan, increasing her pace when she saw the last 15-meter line to clinch the bronze. She said she thought of Norimasa Hirai, the head coach of the national swimming squad, just before she touched the wall. "He repeatedly told me, 'Make sure you do a perfect touch.' I remembered at the last moment," Terakawa said. She finished fifth in the 100-meter backstroke at last summer's world championships because she missed the timing of her touch. But, she performed a perfect touch. [Ibid]

Ryosuke Irie, 22, finished in 52.97 seconds to nab the bronze medal after struggling with left shoulder pain since June. Americans Matt Grevers and Nick Thoman won gold and silver, respectively, with times of 52.16 and 52.92. Irie has been dubbed Japan's "next-generation ace," but he wanted to display his mettle and become the team's dominant champion. For the past four years, he has been thinking this is only possible by winning medals at the Olympic Games. [Ibid]

Doubts crept into his mind before the final heat, he said. "What if I missed [a medal] again?" But he calmly reflected on the last four years. "I can do it," Irie said he told himself before the race. He chased his competitors in the first half of the race before accelerating in the last 15 meters to clinch third. "I probably could advance one step forward, but I must do well in both the 100 meters and 200 meters to be known as the 'ace,'" Irie said. He is now focusing on the 200-meter race. [Ibid]

In her first Olympics, Satomi Suzuki finished in 1 minute 6.46 seconds to come third in the women's 100-meter breaststroke final. Lithuania's Ruta Meilutyte won gold with a 1:05.47 finish. American Rebecca Soni came second in 1:05.55. The final was restarted due to malfunctioning measuring devices, but the 21-year-old Yamanashi Gakuin University senior said the accident did not bother her. "Even at such a big stage, an event that happens during regular training sessions took place. It just relaxed me," Suzuki said. She was smiling when the incident happened. During the final, Suzuki was sixth when she made her turn at the first 50-meter mark, but close to the 15-meter line she began overtaking swimmers ahead of her and finished in third, becoming the first Japanese to win a medal in the event. She tried to lose weight during the past year to increase sharpness in her body movement. Recently she has maintained her weight at between 62 kilograms and 62.5 kilograms, lower than the 67 kilograms she weighed in autumn last year. [Ibid]

A day earlier seventeen-year-old swimmer Kosuke Hagino grabbed a bronze medal in the men's 400-meter individual medley, setting a national record of 4 minutes 8.94 seconds. The race was won by Ryan Lochte from the United States, while fellow American Michael Phelps finished fourth. [Ibid]

Tateishi Overtakes Kitajima to Win Bronze

Jun Tanaka wrote in the Yomiuri Shimbun: Two-time double Olympic champion Kosuke Kitajima failed in his bid to defend his men's 100-meter breaststroke title, finishing fifth in his slowest time of three races at the London Games. Kitajima touched the wall in 59.79 seconds, slower than the 59.63 he swam in the preliminaries and the 59.69 in the semifinals. It was almost a second slower than the 58.90 he posted at the April qualifying meet for the Olympics. "It's frustrating that I couldn't show what I'm capable of. Unfortunately, I didn't perform at my best on this important stage," said Kitajima, who won gold in the 100 and 200 breaststroke in 2004 and 2008. South Africa's Cameron van der Burgh won the 2012 race in a world record of 58.46 seconds.[Source: Jun Tanaka, Yomiuri Shimbun, July 31, 2012]

His disappointment was compounded by the loss of a key rival a few months ago. About a month after he qualified for the Olympics and returned to his training base in the United States, Kitajima heard that one of his biggest rivals, Norway's Alexander Dale Oen, had died suddenly. Oen won at the 2011 FINA World Championships in Shanghai and was widely considered a medal contender in London. Kitajima has always performed his best when pitched against fierce rivals. [Ibid]

When he was a third-year middle school student, he finally beat a swimmer who had always defeated him until then. Kitajima also overcame foreign rivals when he surged to Olympic glory at Athens and Beijing. Kitajima reportedly wept in his room after he was defeated by Dale Oen at the Shanghai meet. The latter's death deprived them of a rematch in London. [Ibid]

A few days after the 100 meter event “Ryo Tateishi took Olympic bronze in the men's 200-meter breaststroke Wednesday, while Kosuke Kitajima finished fourth, failing to become the first male swimmer to win the same event at three successive Olympics. Hungarian Daniel Gyurta won the gold, setting a new world record of 2 minutes 7.28 seconds. Britain's Michael Jamieson took the silver. [Source: Jun Tanaka, Yomiuri Shimbun, August 3, 2012]

Kitajima looked radiant despite finishing without a medal. He said he swam as best he could. "Ryo took a medal instead of me. I have no regrets," Kitajima said. Kitajima had a hard time finding his rhythm after arriving in London. But in the 200 meter event he did his best from the beginning, aiming at gold. Kitajima first swam at a pace exceeding the world-record time. But he lost speed after the turn-around and was overtaken by Tateishi, who finished the race 0.06 seconds faster than Kitajima. Immediately after touching the wall, Kitajima shook hands with Tateishi, 23, and they hugged...Tateishi expressed his joy by pounding the water with his left arm and splashing with his right. "I was able to swim with poise as Kosuke-san was just beside me," Tateishi said. "I'm glad that I could overtake someone I respect." Hoshi worked harder after the mortification of failing to get a medal in the world championship in 2011, finishing fourth, just 0.01 second slower than the third-place time. [Ibid]

In the women's 200-meter butterfly, Natsumi Hoshi, 21, took bronze. China's Jiao Liuyang set an Olympic record to win in 2 minutes 4.06 seconds. Spain's Mireia Belmonte touched in 2 minutes 5.25 seconds to take the silver medal. Hoshi's time was 2 minutes 5.48 seconds. In April, Hoshi swam the 200-meter butterfly in 2 minutes 4.69 seconds, rewriting her own Japan record by 1.22 seconds and giving her a boost to strive for an Olympic medal. "I've never had a year like this. I worked so hard to be stronger as a swimmer. It's good I didn't quit," Hoshi said. [Ibid]

Matsuda Take Bronze in 200-Meter Butterfly, 0.2 Seconds Behind Michael Phelps

Takeshi Matsuda grabbed back-to-back Olympic bronze medals with a third-place finish in the men's 200-meter butterfly final. Matsuda, who had pledged to dethrone America's Michael Phelps, finished in 1 minute 53.21 seconds, 0.2 seconds behind Phelps. The reigning gold medalist was unseated, but by South Africa's Chad le Clos, who finished in 1:52.96, just 0.05 second ahead of Phelps. [Ibid]

Jun Tanaka wrote in the Yomiuri Shimbun, “Matsuda's strategy was to save his strength in the early part of the race and sprint in the last 50 meters. He was third after 50 meters and had dropped to fourth at the 100-meter mark. He moved up to second just behind Phelps after 150 meters, and the three medalists were neck-and-neck for the last 50 meters. When they touched the wall, however, Matsuda had been overtaken by le Clos and had failed to catch Phelps. This was the second Olympic loss to Phelps for Matsuda, 28, after his bronze-medal showing at the Beijing Olympics, where the U.S. swimmer won one of his record eight golds. [Source: Jun Tanaka, Yomiuri Shimbun, August 2,2012]

Matsuda is renowned for training in a "greenhouse pool" in his hometown of Nobeoka, Miyazaki Prefecture, since he was a child. The simple facility has vinyl walls that were installed by local parents to protect their little swimmers from rain and winter cold. Yumiko Kuze, Matsuda's coach since childhood, said some people call his way of thinking inefficient and anachronistic, but she defended her protege. "When Matsuda decides on something, he always carries through to the end, despite the difficulties," she said.Matsuda's goal of beating Phelps was born in 2002, when he began to focus more on the butterfly. However, he may never be able to achieve this goal, as the U.S. swimming legend has said this would be his last Olympics. Nevertheless, Matsuda seemed satisfied with the bronze medal. Holding it in his hand, he said, "I've done everything I could in my career as a swimmer" to beat Phelps. [Ibid]

Matsuda has had a rough path since Beijing. Sponsored by major sports equipment maker Mizuno at the Beijing games, Matsuda chose to wear a LZR Racer swimsuit at the 2008 games, as swimmers wearing the Speedo swimsuit had broken a number of world records before the Olympics. Matsuda posted a new national record in Beijing. After the Beijing Olympics, Matsuda asked Mizuno to terminate his contract. The firm tried to persuade him to stay in a four-hour meeting, saying they could not blame anyone for wanting to wear the LZR Racer. However, Matsuda insisted on bowing out of the contract to take responsibility for wearing another company's suit. The LZR racer was banned from 2010 as new rules imposed restrictions on swimsuits' materials and shapes, but Matsuda has stuck with Speedo suits. [Ibid]

Yuki Inamura wrote in the Yomiuri Shimbun: It costs about 20 million yen a year to cover a world-class swimmer's trips to overseas competitions and other activities. With all corporations tightening their belts due to the global economic downturn, Matsuda was also feeling the pinch. The loss of the endorsement contract was serious enough to make him consider retirement. Matsuda, however, had people on his team. Yumiko Kuze, who has trained Matsuda since he was 4, plunged into the search for a new sponsor. She wrote letter after letter to company presidents, selecting firms with strong stock prices, asking them to consider sponsoring Matsuda until the London Games. Kuze, 65, wrote about 600 such letters, most of which did not even garner a response. [Source: Yuki Inamura, Yomiuri Shimbun, August 2, 2012]

After six months, Matsuda was still without a sponsor and was feeling pressured. Kuze consoled him and told him to concentrate on training, but the lack of funds disturbed these efforts as well, as he was forced to give up a training trip to the United States. Desperate, Matsuda carried a suit and name cards with him at all times. If a chance came up to meet with a company official, he could quickly don his business wear to go ask for support. In the end, it was people in his hometown of Nobeoka, Miyazaki Prefecture, that came to the rescue. Kiyomoto Tekko, a local ironworks, launched a support campaign that resulted in an association of 12 Kyushu companies sponsoring Matsuda. They donated 20 million yen. "I went to people and told them, 'We could have a gold medalist from our region. Let's buy a dream,'" said Hideo Kiyomoto, the 73-year-old president of Kiyomoto Tekko. Matsuda concluded a contract with Cosmos Pharmaceutical Corp., a drugstore chain based in Kyushu, in October 2010. [Ibid]

Up and Coming Japanese Swimmers

In September 2012, AP reported: “Japanese teenager Akihiro Yamaguchi set a world record in the 200-meter breaststroke on Sept. 15 at a national swimming meet, nearly breaking the 2 minutes, 7 seconds barrier. The 18-year-old Yamaguchi clocked 2:07.01 at the event in Gifu to shave 0.27 seconds off the mark set by Hungary's Daniel Gyurta when he won gold at the London Olympics. Yamaguchi was left off the Japanese Olympic team after finishing behind four-time gold medalist Kosuke Kitajima in the national trials. Kitajima failed to win an individual medal in London, but now looks to have found a natural successor in the breaststroke events. [Source: AP, September 16, 2012]

In October 2012, Jiji Press reported: “Up-and-coming Daiya Seto won three races Saturday the short-course World Cup swim meet in Doha, setting two Japan high school records in the process. Seto, a senior at Saitama Sakae High School, set new marks by winning the men's 200-meter breaststroke in 2 minutes 4.87 seconds and 200 butterfly in 1:51.30. He also triumphed in the 400 medley, winning by over a second in 4:02.51. [Ibid] Meanwhile, Kosuke Hagino, the Olympic bronze medalist in the 400 medley, set a Japan high school record in placing third in the men's 100 backstroke in 50.92. Noriko Inada won the women's 50 backstroke in 27.29. [Source: Jiji-Daily Yomiuri, October 8, 2012]

Seto Wins Gold at Short-Course Worlds

In December 2012, Kyodo reported: “Japanese teen Daiya Seto rewrote his own record Thursday en route to winning the men's 400-meter individual medley on the second day of the short-course FINA World Swimming Championships. Eighteen-year-old Seto shaved 0.87 second off his previous mark to take the gold medal in 3 minutes, 59.15 seconds in the final, touching the wall ahead of Hungarians Laszlo Cseh and David Verraszto, who timed 4:00.50 and 4:02.87, respectively. [Source: Kyodo, December 15, 2012]

"This is a huge confidence boost for me," said Seto, who missed out on a spot in the London Olympics. "I will try to aim for the gold medal at next year's (long-course) world championships (in Barcelona)." London Olympic bronze medalist Kosuke Hagino trailed in fourth in 4:04.13. [Ibid]

Japanese Olympic Synchronized Swimming

Japan is also good in synchronized swimming. The duet pair, Miya Tachibana and Miho Takeda, and the Japanese team won silver medals at the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney. Tachibana and Takeda beat their rivals, a Russian duet, to win a gold medal at the world swimming championship in 2001.

The Japanese won silvers duet and team event in synchronized swimming at the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, in both cases placing behind the Russians and ahead of the Americans as they did in Sydney 2000. In the Athens Miho Takeda and Miya Tachibana won a silver in the duet synchronized swimming for the second straight Olympics behind the Russians. They did a jerky, humorous “Japanese doll” routine.

Japanese synchronized swimming coach Masayo Imuru coached Japan’s national team through six consecutive Olympics beginning with Los Angeles in 1984, earning the team a medal each time. In December 2006, she shocked the nation when she announced she was going to coach the Chinese national synchronized swimming team and prepare it for the Beijing Olympics in 2008. She had to deal with both anti-Japanese sentiments in China and feeling at home that she betrayed Japan. She was reportedly paid quite well to coach in China and Chinese team took the bronze medal.

Synchronized Swimming at Beijing in 2008

Saro Harada and Emiko Suzuki won a bronze medal in the synchronized swimming duet competition in Beijing in 2008. The team only managed fifth place after receiving a deduction for touching the bottom of the pool when one swimmer passed out at the end of the free routine and had to be pulled from the water by two men who jumped in the pool to assist her.

Hiromi Kobayashi---the swimmer who passed out---apparently hyperventilated. At the end of the team’s routine her body went limp and she sank to the bottom of the pool as she lost consciousness. As her teammates crawled out of the water Kobayashi did not move. Two of her team mates pulled her toward the pool’s edge, where it looked as if she was talking to her coach, and then just dropped into the water again. For a couple seconds nobody reacted. Two lifeguards jumped in the pool and pulled her out. Kobayashi passed out on the deck and had to be carried off in a stretcher.

Kobayashi quickly recovered. Her coach said she held her breath too long in the routine causing her to hyperventilate. Another swimmer on the team had 540 stitches in her face and body after crashing through the windshield in a head on automobile collision several years earlier.

After guiding China to its first ever synchronized swimming medal Masayo Imura turned down a request to continue on as China’s head synchronized swimming coach.

Image Sources: xorsyst blog

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Daily Yomiuri, Times of London, Japan National Tourist Organization (JNTO), National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

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© 2009 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated January 2013

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