Kitajima headlines 31-member Olympic team

by Kaz Nagatsuka

Kosuke Kitajima was nearly speechless on the podium. He will give all the answers in Beijing.

The Japan Swimming Federation officially announced the 31 Japanese representatives, including several medalists from Athens such as gold medalists Kitajima and Ai Shibata and bronze medalists Reiko Nakamura and Yuko Nakanishi, for this summer’s Beijing Olympics at a news conference at the National Training Center in Tokyo’s Kita Ward on Monday.

“I don’t really have much to say,” said Kitajima, who won the 100- and 200-meter breaststroke races in last weekend’s National Swimming Championships.

“At least I learned that even when you’re too aware (of outcomes), often you don’t get what you want. So keeping cool will be a theme (for Beijing).”

As well as those experienced veterans, some new faces like newcomer Masayuki Kishida, a University of Arizona student who won the 100 butterfly with a new Japan record (51.86 seconds) in the National Championships, were also introduced.

The swimmers were selected based on the criteria made by the JSF, with which they had to finish in the top two and also break the standard times that the federation had set.

“We saw many new Japanese records at the National Short Course Championships (in February), and we were expecting the same at the National Championships,” Japan head coach Yoichi Suzuki said. “But I guess there was a peculiar atmosphere of an Olympics selection.

“We set the standard times pretty high and were anxious whether they would break those or not, though, the 31 athletes entered the tournament working very hard.”

But, for Kitajima, a former world record-holder and double gold medalist in Athens, being chosen for Team Japan is just a passing point and until he achieves his ultimate goal — to once again stand on top of the medal podium in an Olympics — it seems he never lowers his guard.

“As for the results I had in the National Championships, there were parts that I was able to perform to my best and parts I wasn’t able to perform my best,” the 25-year-old Tokyo native said. “In the main event (in Beijing), I hope I can give everything I have, fixing issues.”

Asked what kind of issues he has, however, Kitajima said with a grin: “It’s secret.”

In the meantime, most of the swimmers that attended the news conference revealed their genuine joy to have obtained tickets to China.

“I’m extremely happy that I can go to the Olympics,” said Hanae Ito, a backstroke specialist who’ll make her Olympic debut in Beijing.

“Four years ago, I was watching this press conference on TV. So I’m so glad that I’m standing here now.”

Ito, a 174-cm female, outswam Nakamura in the 100 backstroke with a new Japanese record of 59.83 seconds at nationals. Nakamura returned the favor when she won the 200 competition and Ito finished second.

Nakamura, meanwhile, had only a bitter smile sitting next to Ito, saying she held nothing but pity regarding her performance in the 100.

“In the 100 race, I gradually dropped my time from the qualification to semifinals to the final,” Nakamura said. “I was disappointed that I couldn’t have my best performance at the right time.”

Afterward, Nakamura showed her determination for the Beijing Games, saying she’s going to enter it putting her past glories aside.

“As for the Olympics, I’d like to go for a better colored medal,” she added.

JSF chairman Toshihiro Hayashi confidently summarized the Japanese National Team’s overall goal in the Olympics, but knows it won’t be easy.

“We have a mission to carry the momentum we got in Athens to Beijing,” Hayashi said. “And we’re going to be tested about our true value this time.

Said Suzuki: “We know people expect us (to do) better than Athens. We’d like to live up to the expectations as much as we can.”