LONDON – The bronze age arrived for Japanese swimming on Monday as Ryosuke Irie, Aya Terakawa and Satomi Suzuki all took third in their respective events at the London Olympics.
It was the first Olympic medal for the three swimmers.
Irie took home his bronze in the men’s 100-meter backstroke in 52.97 seconds while Terakawa, 27, became the oldest Japanese female swimmer to medal at the Summer Games with an Asian record 58.83 in the women’s 100 backstroke.
Suzuki reached the podium in the women’s 100 breaststroke with 1 minute, 6.46 seconds in her Olympic debut to cap a fruitful day for Japan, which has yet to strike gold in the pool in London.
The 22-year-old Irie was also third at last year’s world championships. He came in fifth in the 200 at the last Olympics in Beijing but did not race in the 100 then.
Irie said not only did he want to avenge his loss from four years ago when he was billed as the new face of Japanese swimming, but also wanted to race for Kosuke Kitajima, who finished out of the medals the previous day in the men’s 100 breaststroke final.
“Four years ago, I wasn’t in the 100 but I couldn’t win a medal and let myself down,” said Irie, who finished 0.81 second off the pace of American Matthew Grevers’ new Olympic record.
“One of my goals was to medal in the first race so I could get myself going. But I also wanted to win a medal for Kosuke — not just me but the whole team.”
Irie had a typically slow first half, coming off the turn in sixth, but roared back from that point on. His 27.15 over the last 50 was second fastest to Grevers’ 26.80.
“At the last Olympics, there was all this hype about me being the next ace of Japanese swimming and all that, but I couldn’t win a gold medal and step up when it mattered,” Irie said.
“So to reach the podium means a lot. I want to cherish this bronze medal. A lot of the other swimmers were frontrunners but I like to come from behind. I was confident I could make up ground.”
“I was pretty calm today.”
Like Irie, Terakawa, who was in tears after the race, came on late as she was fifth at the far wall. Only winner Missy Franklin’s 29.51 was better than Terakawa’s 29.87 in the second half.
Terakawa had not seen much international success previously as she was eighth in the 200 backstroke at the 2004 Athens Olympics and failed to even make the team for Beijing. She was fifth in the 100 at the worlds last year, when she was second in the 50, a non-Olympic event.
Terakawa said the national championships in April, which served as the Olympic trials, gave her confidence for the Olympics.
“The national championships were my test for the Olympics,” she said. “That’s where I gained a pretty good feeling for what to do in London.”
“It wasn’t the color of medal I was wishing for, but I’m happy. Just before the wall, I thought about how my coach had told me, ‘Get that touch down.’”
The 21-year-old Suzuki was not expecting to be on the medal stand after qualifying with the seventh best time for the final, in which she finished almost a full second behind the 15-year-old winner from Lithuania, Ruta Meilutyte.
“I’m so happy,” Suzuki said. “I was thrilled just to be a part of this party, but I managed to get through the heats, then the semifinals and now this.”
“Honestly, I never imagined I could win a medal from the first lane. I was completely locked in on my own race, and I think that’s what drove me to a medal.”