• Kyodo

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Japan’s Kosuke Kitajima set an Olympic record to ease into the semifinals of the men’s 100-meter breaststroke on Saturday, the opening day of swimming competition at the Athens Games.

Kitajima clocked the fastest time of 1 minute, 0.03 seconds — just 0.25 off his Japanese record — among the eight heats at Olympic Aquatic Center, making an ideal start in his bid to win an Olympic gold medal and reclaim the world record from American rival Brendan Hansen.

Hansen, who broke Kitajima’s 100 and 200 breaststroke world records at the U.S. trials last month, was second overall in 1:00.25 with fellow American Mark Gangloff third in 1:00.81.

“I was able to stand on the starting block with confidence,” said Kitajima, who rewrote Italian Domenico Fioravanti’s previous Olympic record of 1:00.46 set at the Sydney Games in 2000.

“The time was good enough for the kind of swimming I did today. This is just the qualifiers, so I didn’t worry at all about (James) Gibson,” he said of the English swimmer in the next lane.

The semifinal will be held later Saturday and the final on Sunday.

Earlier, Jiro Miki qualified for the evening final in the men’s 400-meter individual medley by clocking 4:16.32 for the fourth best time overall in the heat and second best in his heat.

World record holder Michael Phelps of the United States topped the overall rankings with a time of 4:13.29 while Hungarian Laszlo Cseh was second in 4:14.26.

In the men’s 400-meter freestyle, Takeshi Matsuda advanced to the final by placing eighth overall in the heat in 3:49.05. Grant Hackett and Ian Thorpe completed a 1-2 finish for Australia.

Matsuda became the first Japanese swimmer to reach the 400-meter freestyle final at the Olympics since Tsuyoshi Yamanaka finished sixth at the 1964 Games in Tokyo.

In women’s action, Junko Onishi booked her spot in the semifinal of the 100-meter butterfly by finishing seventh overall among the five heats in 59.22. Yuko Nakanishi was 17th.

Misa Amano failed to advance to the final of the 400-meter individual medley after finishing 10th overall in the heats.

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