With the gold medals they won in Russia, three Japanese swimmers added shining accolades to their collections. What’s more, they’ve also secured precious time to prepare for next summer’s Rio de Janeiro Olympics.
Speaking at a news conference right after returning home, Daiya Seto, Natsumi Hoshi and Kanako Watanabe, who captured gold medals at the FINA World Aquatics Championships in Kazan, said that they are happy to be able to spend the next year training without facing qualifying pressure until the Olympics.
Seto, Hoshi and Watanabe triumphed in the men’s 400-meter individual medley, women’s 200-meter butterfly and women’s 200-meter breaststroke, respectively. As a result, they have earned spots on the Tobiuo Japan national team for the 2016 Summer Games without having to qualify at the national Olympic trials next April.
“I’ll be able to train thoroughly,” said Hoshi, who’s guided by famous coach Norimasa Hirai, at Tokyo’s National Training Center on Tuesday. “It’s my first time to know that I’m going to an Olympics a year in advance. I’ll discuss with Coach Hirai how I’ll develop myself.”
Despite the victory at worlds, the 24-year-old Hoshi felt that she was a little passive in Kazan and needs to work on her speed and stamina to repeat the feat in the Olympics.
“Otherwise, I won’t reach where I want to be,” said Hoshi, who became the first Japanese female swimmer to win a gold medal at worlds.
Seto said that it wasn’t necessarily an easy tournament for him in Russia. The 21-year-old placed sixth in the 200 butterfly and didn’t qualify for the 200 IM final before he finally gained his winning form in the 400 IM on the final day.
That said, Seto added that he was pleased to be able to concentrate particularly on the two events he faltered in.
“I could go actively from the early portion of the 400 individual medley,” said Seto, who defended his 400 IM title from the 2013 worlds in Barcelona. “But other countries’ swimmers have speed. I think I can develop my speed for the 200 individual medley using the time.”
Watanabe, the 18-year-old who is considered the nation’s next next female swimming ace , has no intention of resting on her laurels. Instead, she wants to build off her success in Russia.
“I’m not satisfied with the lap time toward the end that I had this time,” said Watanabe, who also collected a silver medal in the 200 IM, of her gold medal-winning race. “So I’ll need to improve my stamina. And I haven’t clinched Olympic berths in two races, in the 200 individual medley and 100-meter breast. I’ll have to develop in those.”
Meanwhile, Hirai, the Team Japan head coach, wasn’t particularly pleased about the team’s three gold-medal haul. In fact, his remarks gave the impression that his team had a subpar overall performance at worlds. In Kazan, Japan’s four medals were far short of its double-digit target.
“There were some races (where) we looked for gold medals, but ended fourth or sixth,” Hirai said. “You aim at the gold and finish sixth … that’s not going to happen very often. I don’t know if we really understood where we were and where our rivals were. You’ve got to set your goals based on that. Maybe we didn’t have the eyes for analyzing.”
Hirai also questioned whether Japan has the proper development system in place, especially in the run-up to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. He said that although the country invests a large sum of money on swimmers, it should also recognize the significance of coaches.
“I’m not saying that the coaches should earn more money,” Hirai said with a bitter smile. “But swimmers don’t train alone.”
Hirai insisted that countries like the United States and Britain hire full-time coaches to give them consistency and Japan should follow that model so it could develop the entire team thoroughly, reinforcing its weaker disciplines.
“We certainly need to invest some money to develop the swimmers,” Hirai said. “But we’ve got to think of the coaching system toward the Tokyo Olympics.
“As much as the discussions on the new national stadium and other things (are important), I want them to listen to our voice, too.”
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