Kitajima punches ticket to Olympics

Kyodo News

Reigning breaststroke Olympic champion Kosuke Kitajima coasted Wednesday to his ninth straight victory in the men’s 100 meters at the national swimming championships and secured a spot in the Beijing Olympics.

Kitajima was quicker than the national record pace before slowing down in the final five meters to finish with a time of 59.67 seconds at Tokyo Tatsumi International Swimming Center, shrugging off a challenge from Yuta Suenaga by 1.05.

Suenaga took second place and met the qualifying requirements for the Beijing Olympics set by the Japan Swimming Federation — finishing in the top two and swimming faster than 1:00.84 in the final of the event.

“Today I felt strong pressure time-wise and I want to swim once again,” Kitajima said, referring to his failure to rewrite the national mark of 59.53 he set at the 2005 world championships.

“I was in pretty good shape when it comes to how I swam but I know I have to accept this time,” Kitajima said. “You know with this time it’s hard to win at the (Beijing) Olympics, making me feel I need to build up myself from phase one.”

Kitajima, winner of the 100 and 200 at the Athens Olympics four years ago, will next appear Friday in the 200-meter heats. The final of the 200 is scheduled for Saturday evening.

His ninth straight national title matched the championship record held by Hajime Itoi in the 200-meter backstroke.

In Wednesday’s other finals, Yuko Nakanishi beat out Yuka Kato at the wall to win the women’s 100-meter butterfly in a national-record 58.52 and clinch a place in the Beijing Games.

Nakanishi broke the previous mark Ayako Doi produced in Tuesday’s semifinals by 0.07.

“I’m surprised at the time I’ve got. What I was trying to do was to hold my composure from early on and put my focus on winning the race,” said Nakanishi, the 200-meter bronze medal winner in Athens who will make her third straight Olympic appearance.

Kato, who finished 0.03 behind, also qualified.