INCHEON, SOUTH KOREA – Kosuke Hagino continued to perform at a world-class level by winning his fourth gold medal of the Asian Games in the men’s 400-meter individual medley Wednesday.
In the event in which he edged Michael Phelps to take bronze at the London Olympics, Hagino pulled away in the freestyle to win in a games record of 4 minutes, 7.75 seconds, opening up a gap of 2.43 over second-place Yang Zhixian of China.
Hagino’s teammate Daiya Seto, the defending world champion in the 400 IM, settled for a distant third in 4:10.39.
Hagino turned for the free in fourth place before leaving the competition in the dust down the last 50 meters, where his time was almost a full two seconds faster than Yang.
“I was looking to start well in the fly, but I couldn’t pick up the tempo so I had to try to win it in the second half,” said Hagino. “I felt good during warm-ups but the race is a completely different animal.
“But I didn’t think I’d even break 4:10 so I guess I’m getting stronger, fundamentally. I hope I swim better in the 200 backstroke tomorrow.
“I’m not the least bit satisfied. I need to able to do what I just said at the big events like the Olympics, the world championships, the Asian Games.”
Hagino’s dissatisfaction isn’t surprising given how high he’s raising the bar for himself.
“My goal is to win gold medals in several events not just at Rio but at Tokyo, and I’ll do whatever it takes to achieve that,” the 20-year-old said, referring to the 2020 Olympics.
“There might be pressure on me but there’s pressure because people are counting on me, which isn’t a bad thing. The most important thing for me is to concentrate on my work and if I do that, I’m sure I’ll end up pleasing a lot of people.”
Japan head coach Norimasa Hirai credits Hagino’s success to his unquenchable desire to win.
“We were a little worried because he got back so late last night,” Hirai said. “We missed the 10:15 p.m. bus and he ended up getting a ride from one of the volunteers.”
“He just wants to win, plain and simple. And I’m not talking about just swimming fast times. I think a lot of that is down to the international experience he’s gained.
“What he couldn’t do last season, he’s been able to do this season at the Pan Pacs and here at the Asian Games. He beat a pair of big names in Sun Yang and Park Tae-hwan in a big race in the 200 free.
“When your ace wins, the rest of the team follows. Kosuke Kitajima won at the Olympics after a good Asian Games, and I hope (Hagino) follows in his footsteps.”
Hagino’s gold was the only one for Japan on a night when China hauled in four. Japan narrowly missed out and was runnerup in the men’s 4×100 freestyle relay and the women’s 200 butterfly, in which Natsumi Hoshi and Miyu Nakano finished two-three.
Japan also collected silvers in the women’s 200 free (Chihiro Igarashi) and the men’s 100 breaststroke (Yasuhiro Koseki), where unknown Kazakh Dmitriy Balandin added to the 200 title he won a day earlier.
Hirofumi Ikebata also won bronze in the men’s 100 fly.