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Kitajima on target for double haul

by Ed Odeven

BEIJING — Kosuke Kitajima remains on target for an unprecedented repeat double in the Olympic men’s breaststroke competition.

Kitajima, Monday’s champion in the 100-meter breast, cruised into the final of the 200 breast by winning the first semifinal on Wednesday morning at the Water Cube.

Kitajima led from start to finish, clocking a winning time of 2 minutes, 8.61 seconds. He put himself in the driver’s seat by posting the day’s quickest split time over a 50-meter distance, 2916 seconds to begin the race. His splits over final three 50-meter distances were as follows: 32.34, 32.83 and 34.28.

“My body moved better than I thought,” said Kitajima, who established the world record in the 200 breast in June in Tokyo (2:07.51). “I thrust through the water quite well. I cannot lose my tension. From the warmup this morning, my body was moving smoothly.

“After this race I thought I can do well in the 200-meter breaststroke (final) as well.”

Scott Spann of the U.S. came in second in 2:09.08 and Italy’s Paolo Bossini was third in 2:09.95. The 200 breast final is on Thursday morning.

“My coach (Norimasa Hirai) said to me Paolo Bossini is fast in the last part,” Kitajima said, “so I was asked by my coach to check (out) the surroundings for the first half, but I said, ‘No, I just want to do my own race,’ but the last 50 (meters) I could swim by checking the surroundings.”

Canada’s Mike Andrew Brown won the second semifinal in 2:08.84.

With his historic victory on Monday, Kitajima became the first Japanese male to win back-to-back gold medals in a breaststroke event since Yoshiyuki Tsuruta’s golden performances in 1928.

Yet it didn’t seem promising when Kitajima opened his eyes on Wednesday morning.

“After I woke up this morning, I thought I was tired,” he said, “but my body is moving well. Better than I thought. My condition is not too bad. So tomorrow all I have to do is just go out there and perform without thinking about anything.”