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Kitajima ‘disappointed’ after exit

Sets target to improve physical condition, aims to compete for gold medals in London

by Hiroki Noda

Kyodo News

GUANGHZOU, China — Two-time double Olympic breaststroke champion Kosuke Kitajima is more than aware that his fans will have great expectations if he appears at the London Olympics in 2012.

“I know people want me to win another gold, and the foreign media ask me if I can become the first swimmer ever to win gold in three Olympics. But I don’t really think about it,” Kitajima said during an interview on Friday.

“If I can make history, it’ll be an unbelievable honor. But just to be in a position to try for such a feat is wonderful,” he said.

He was speaking a day after his third Asian Games ended on a disappointing note.

Kitajima finished fourth in both the 50 and 100 meters before withdrawing from the 200 because of various injuries.

Team Japan suffered a worse-than-expected loss against China in the swimming gold medal standings. China outscored Japan 24-9 in the tally, four years after the two nations won 16 golds apiece in Doha.

“Without a doubt, I’m disappointed about my performance and withdrawal. I wasn’t able to come to the Asian Games in good form,” the 28-year-old said. “But I’ll never regret coming here to compete.”

Kitajima had capped the 100-200 double at the previous two Games and the last two Olympics. He set his first world record at the Asian Games in Busan in 2002.

“The Asian Games have meant a lot to my swimming career. I was looking forward to the Guangzhou Games and wanted to contribute to my team,” he said.

Kitajima, who now lives in the United States where he trains at the University of Southern California, took a year off after the Beijing Olympics to start his new life.

“The new environment has helped me enjoy swimming more than ever,” the Tokyo native said. “It’s been nice to experience something new and something different — the whole new challenges. I don’t have to do this or do that. Now I’m training for myself.”

On Wednesday, senior Japanese official Koji Ueno said Kitajima has hurt his right shoulder, right elbow and left knee. The shoulder, which is inflamed, is the most serious of all.

“For now, my focus is to regain my physical fitness so that I can get back to training hard next year,” Kitajima said.

Asked about his future after swimming, he said, “I know I won’t be a swimmer forever. I know I should be thinking about my future while continuing my swimming career.

“There are a lot of people who have given me tremendous support in my career. So for now, I just think about producing for them.”