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Kitajima poised to defend title in 100m breaststroke

by Ed Odeven

Kosuke Kitajima took care of business in the 100-meter men’s breaststroke semifinals on Sunday morning at the Water Cube, winning the first heat in 59.55 seconds.

The defending Olympic champion enters Monday’s final with the second-fastest time.

Norway’s Alexander Dale Oen won the second heat in 59.16 seconds, an Olympic record. American Brendan Hansen is the world record-holder, having been clocked in 59.13 on Aug. 1, 2006, in Irvine, Calif.

“It feels great,” said Oen of his record-shattering swim. “I didn’t expect to swim a 59.1. It shows I had my nerves under control and kept my own pace the entire way. It means I have great confidence going into the final.”

Oen played the role of race analyst during his post-race comments to reporters.

“Kitajima and Hansen will definitely come out strong in the final,” Oen said. “I have all the respect for my competitors and I know they will push me all the way.”

Meanwhile, Hansen, who swam in Lane 7 in the second semifinal, placed third in the race (59.94 seconds). Hansen is seeded fifth for the final, a race that puts him and Kitajima in the spotlight for their much-anticipated Olympic rematch.

Hansen failed to qualify for the 200 breast, the race Kitajima also won in Athens, so this will be the lone individual event the two rivals will compete in.

Hansen set the Olympic record of 1 minute, 0.01 seconds at the 2004 Athens Summer Games in the semifinals before finishing runnerup to Kitajima.

“Everything is going as planned,” Hansen said. “I’m not going to show what I can do until tomorrow. Everyone is swimming scared. They’re all wondering why (is Hansen) swimming out in Lane 7. I had a dream and called my brother Sean to tell him that I won the gold medal from Lane 2. That’s where I’ll be in the final. I won my first world championship in that lane. I’m comfortable in that position.”

Kitajima completed Saturday’s heat in 59.52. He swam the first 50 meters in 28.34. A day later, he was the pace-setter in the first semifinal, touching the wall in 27.84 seconds at the midway point. At that point Australia’s Brenton Rickard was next in 28.05.

With swift, powerful strokes, Kitajima stayed in his customary spot in front of the pack and held off Rickard’s strong charge at the end, winning by one long stroke. The Australian took second in 59.65.

“After yesterday’s heat, my movement was good,” Kitajima said. “I guess my pace went down in the last half (of the race). It was because I swam fast in the first half. I was going to go fast from the beginning.

“Even though I lost pace in the last half, finishing the race in 59.5 seconds was quite OK for me.”

Kitajima, appearing content with his performance, exhaled seconds later. Then he took a few deep breaths before getting a well-deserved rest.

“I had limited time (from Saturday’s semifinal heat to Sunday morning’s race),” Kitajima said, “but I was quite OK with it. I went back to the (Olympic) Village after 11 (p.m.) last night, had dinner and slept straight away. I woke up at 6 this morning.”

On Monday morning, he’ll wake up and get prepared to defend his Olympic title. The race is scheduled to begin at 11:30 a.m. Japan time.