IRVINE, Calif. – Olympic champion Kosuke Kitajima marked his return to the spotlight with a victory Thursday in the 100-meter breaststroke on at the Pan Pacific Swimming Championships.
Competing in his first major international event since completing a 100-200 breaststroke double at the Beijing Games two years ago, Kitajima posted the world’s fastest time this season to top the heats in 59.04 seconds before going on to win the final in 59.35.
Australia’s Christian Sprenger was second in 1 minute 0.18 seconds, while Mark Gangloff of the United States was third in 1:00.24. Japanese national champion Ryo Tateishi took fourth in 1:00.26.
“I think I can give myself high marks for going under one minute in both races. I am swimming in a really good frame of mind,” said Kitajima.
Kitajima has been training at the University of Southern California since last year as he aims for a three-peat at the London Olympics in 2012.
Asked about his bid for more gold in London, the 27-year-old said, “I’m not good enough to do that just yet. But I can use this meet as a launch pad to take myself to a higher level.”
Kitajima did not win any of the 50-, 100- and 200-meter breaststroke events at the Japan championships in April, but turned in strong performances in the three-legged European Grand Prix series two months later.
In Canet, France, he produced a 2:10.73 victory in the 200, his personal best since making his competitive comeback last November.
Also Thursday, Junya Koga struck gold at the Pan Pacs, the 2009 100-meter backstroke world champion touching the wall ahead of Australia’s Ashley Delaney to win the 50 backstroke in 24.86.
Delaney clocked 24.98 and American Nick Thoman followed in 25.02. Ryosuke Irie was sixth.
“I felt like I had just won the start. I wasn’t going at full throttle,” said Koga.
Elsewhere, Japan’s men’s team, comprised of Takeshi Matsuda, Yuki Kobori, Yoshihiro Okumura and Sho Uchida, won the 4×200 freestyle silver medal behind the United States while Aya Terakawa took second in the women’s 50 backstroke final, increasing the country’s medal haul to seven after two days of competition.
The Pan Pacs serve as a qualifier for Japanese swimmers for the Asian Games in Guangzhou, China, in November.