BEIJING — Fifteen minutes after repeating as a double gold medalist at the Water Cube on Thursday morning, these were the final words of breaststroke specialist Kosuke Kitajima: “Ashita oyasumi.”
In other words, he’ll have Friday off to rest.
The son of a Tokyo butcher, Kitajima slaughtered the competition on Thursday morning. He held the lead at the 50-meter mark with the fastest split of any competitor in the race (29.04 seconds) and zoomed through the water with magnificent efficiency and the methodicalness of a high-powered machine.
It was a beautiful sight to behold, watching Kitajima collect his second gold of the week. He finished the 200-meter breaststroke with an Olympic record time of 2 minutes, 7.64 seconds, just 13 hundredths of a second behind his world mark, which was set on June 8 in Tokyo.
Kitajima won the race by more than a second, a swimming version of a political landslide victory. At the midway point, he was 0.14 seconds under the world record time.
“I’m so relieved,” a jubilant Kitajima told reporters. “I’m glad that I won this race. I was going to improve my time a bit more but I guess that to win this race is more important than to set a good time.”
Australia’s Brenton Rickard picked up the silver in 2:08.88 and France’s Hugues Duboscq found a bronze medal on his neck after a 2:08.94 effort.
“I can’t swim faster than Kosuke,” Duboscq said, “but it could’ve been possible to get a better result.”
Kitajima became the first swimmer to sweep the two breaststroke events at consecutive Olympics.
The 10:03 a.m. start time in Beijing worked out just fine for Kitajima.
“I was so calm that I think I could have seen each face in this venue,” he said.
Kitajima used a little reverse psychology when explaining his mind-set leading up to the Beijing Games.
“I was not thinking about winning two gold medals at two consecutive Olympic Games,” he said. “That was not my goal. I was focusing on these Olympic Games. What I wanted to do is show my best performance here in Beijing. If I can do this, that will come later.”
Not surprisingly, his outlook was altered after Monday’s golden performance.
“Winning the 100 meters was a big factor for today,” he said. “I felt different after that. If I didn’t win that race, I would have been anxious.
“The medal I got in the 100 meters made me more at ease.”
Kitajima and Japan compete in the 4×100 medley relay preliminaries on Friday night.
The most decorated Olympic gold medalist of all time, Michael Phelps, meanwhile, returned to the spotlight at 11:10 a.m. He won his 200 individual medley heat in 1:57.70, while U.S. teammate Ryan Lochte clocked a 1:57.69 to win the second heat.
Ken Takakuwa set an Asian record of 1:58.49 in the first heat, placed third and nabbed the fifth seed for the final.
“I think medals mean more than times,” said Phelps, with 11 gold medals in his collection and a desire for three more in Beijing, or one more than U.S. swimmer Mark Spitz had in 1972 when he became the record-holder for most individual golds in one Olympics with seven.
“That’s what I’m going to be focusing on over the next three days,” Phelps said.
“It’s elevating the team,” said U.S. star Aaron Piersol, the 100 backstroke gold medalist. “However, we’ve all got our own goals. No one is racing for second.
“We absolutely respect and admire Michael’s dreams. The feeling in our team is that we all race to win.”
In the women’s 200-meter butterfly final, China’s Liu Zige secured the gold with a world record time of 2:04.18, while teammate Jiao Liuyang picked up the silver in 2:04.72. Australian Jessica Schipper’s 2:06.26 was good enough for bronze.
Yuko Nakanishi placed fifth in 2:07.32. Nakanishi, the bronze medalist in Athens, was never in serious contention for a medal this time. She was fifth after 50 meters.