A year ago, he was just another of Japan’s swimming prospects for the 2004 Athens Olympic Games. But now, Kosuke Kitajima is a double world record holder and an Olympic gold medal contender.

News photoKosuke Kitajima shows off his gold medals won at the recent World Swimming
Championships during a press conference in Tokyo.

Kitajima, who last month won two gold medals and set world records in the men’s 100-meter and 200-meter breaststroke events at the World Swimming Championships in Barcelona, Spain, attended a luncheon at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan (FCCJ) in Tokyo on Thursday to answer questions from domestic and foreign media.

“I’m a little bit nervous to be in front of this many people today. I feel more comfortable in the swimming pool,” Kitajima said.

Kitajima though realizes that this is something he will have to get used to.

“I hope to be one of the elite swimmers in the world,” Kitajima said. “So there will be many more occasions like this that I need to become used to.”

Kitajima said that while he has the utmost respect for Australian swimming sensation Ian Thorpe, he does not consider him a rival.

“Thorpe broke the old world record when he was 17 years old.” Kitajima said. “Four years on, he has continued setting records and has been the world’s No. 1 swimmer. I wish I could be like him.”

The 20-year-old Kitajima clocked 59.78 seconds in the men’s 100 meters breaststroke and 2 minutes, 9.42 seconds in the 200 meters to become the planet’s fastest swimmer in those categories.

He is the second Japanese swimmer to set a world record in the men’s 100 meters breaststroke. Nobutaka Taguchi set it at the 1972 Munich Games, clocking 1:04.94. In the 200-meter breaststroke event, Kitajima set the then-world record at the Asian Games in Pusan last October.

“The fact that I won two golds at Barcelona will motivate the Japanese swimming team,” Kitajima said. “Those wins inspired my teammates and helped us claim the bronze in the men’s 4×100 medley relay later in the championships.”

Kitajima started swimming at the age of five. Since competing in a National Championship as an elementary school kid, swimming in the Olympics has been his dream. His dream came true at the 2000 Sydney Olympics where he finished fourth in the men’s 100-meter breaststroke.

“I was not good at other sports. Whenever I tried something else, I got injured. That’s the memory from my childhood,” Kitajima said.

When asked what he likes to do in his private time, Kitajima broke into a smile.

“I like driving and that is one way to get relaxed,” Kitajima said. “But now that I spend a lot of time overseas, I don’t have my car to drive around in.

“I’m also very interested in fashion (he wears a swimsuit made by Louis Vitton and carries a Vitton bag) but I am surprised how you know about my swimsuit?”

It has been reported that Kitajima is now the main target among advertisement agencies in Japan.

Asked if he is interested in appearing in TV commercials, Kitajima answered: “I wouldn’t say no. If I can be like Naoko Takahashi, who has appeared in many TV commercials and still managed to win the gold medal at the Olympics, that would be nice.”

Four hours daily training in the swimming pool and an additional hour of weight training, focuses Kitajima on his next goal — winning a gold medal at Athens.

“I aim to win a gold medal at the Athens Olympics and I’ve been working hard for that,” Kitajima said.

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