Kosuke Kitajima kept alive his hopes for a fifth Olympic appearance by a hair, squeezing into the men’s 200-meter breaststroke final at the national championships on Thursday.
Kitajima finished third overall in the semifinal heats with a 2 minute, 10.16 seconds to finish behind Ippei Watanabe (2:09.46) and Yasuhiro Koseki (2:09.98) at Tokyo Tatsumi International Swimming Center. Kitajima was one of eight swimmers who clocked 2 minutes, 10 seconds, with two failing to advance to Friday’s final.
For the former two-time double Olympic champion to make the cut for Rio de Janeiro, he must finish the final in the top two while meeting the qualifying standard of 2:09.54.
“It’s so competitive, really,” said the 33-year-old Kitajima, who was seventh overall in the morning heats. “I’ve got my back against the wall. I was nervous. It was so close anyone could have gone through.
“I’m not going to lie, I was scared. But you only get this scared or compete in this kind of intensity because the Olympics are on the line, and I love that feeling like you’re gambling.”
Kitajima has no chance of going to Rio as a member of the 4×100 medley relay team after placing second to Koseki in the 100 breaststroke on Tuesday, so Friday will in all likelihood be his last shot at an Olympics berth.
At the 2012 London Games in London, Kitajima was fifth in the 100 and fourth in the 200, but helped Japan earn a silver in the medley relay.
“I feel fortunate that even at my age I can compete for a spot at the Olympics with the younger guys,” he said. “I felt a lot better than I did this morning. Today’s race was competitive enough to be a final.
“If I’m not good enough, then I’m not good enough. After today, I’m just going for broke.”
There was an upset in the women’s 200 individual medley as Kanako Watanabe, world champion in the 200 breaststroke, failed to qualify, placing third in 2:10.93 behind Miho Teramura (2:09.87) and Runa Imai (2:10.76).
The 15-year-old Imai beat Watanabe at the wall and set a new junior world record in the process.
“It’s incredible, it’s like a dream,” Imai said. “The Olympics has been a goal of mine all along. I’ve got the 200 breaststroke tomorrow morning, but I don’t think I’m going to be able to sleep tonight.”
Watanabe was visibly upset as she came out of the pool, slumping to her knees.
“My entire body didn’t move very well. I felt so much fatigue,” the 19-year-old said. “Clearly I didn’t train well enough. I need to regroup fast for the 200 breaststroke tomorrow.”
Natsumi Hoshi lived up to her billing as world champion in the 200 butterfly final, qualifying for Rio with victory in 2:06.32. Suzuka Hasegawa was runner-up in 2:06.92, joining Hoshi on the team.
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