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Hagino shatters own 200 IM national mark, secures spot in fourth Rio event

by Andrew McKirdy

Staff Writer

Kosuke Hagino rewrote his own 200-meter individual medley national record Saturday to claim a fourth berth at this summer’s Rio Olympics and round off a dominant week at the national championships.

Hagino blazed home in 1 minute, 55.07 seconds to chop 0.26 seconds off his previous record, beating second-place Hiromasa Fujimori by 2.50 seconds and finishing inside the Rio qualifying mark by almost three full seconds.

The national championships this year double as qualifiers for the Rio Games.

Hagino’s time at Tokyo Tatsumi International Swimming Center was 0.74 seconds faster than American Ryan Lochte’s winning mark at last year’s world championships in Kazan, Russia.

Hagino will compete in the 400-meter individual medley, 200-meter freestyle and 800-meter freestyle relay this August in Brazil, and the 21-year-old has a clear idea of what he wants to achieve.

“In Rio I’m aiming to win gold in the 200 and 400 individual medley, and to win a medal in both the 200 free and the 800 relay,” said Hagino, who won bronze in the 400 IM at the London Olympics four years ago.

“It’s been four years since I was last in this position qualifying for the Olympics, and it is a special occasion. At first I was a little nervous but day by day I have become more comfortable and by the end I was able to swim the way I wanted.”

Fujimori also claimed a spot in Rio after finishing second ahead of Daiya Seto, 0.05 seconds faster than the qualifying time.

“I’m relieved,” said Fujimori, who finished almost two full seconds outside the qualifying time in his semifinal.

“To be honest, my semifinal wasn’t good and I wasn’t confident going into today’s race. But my coach corrected a few things and it worked out for me.”

Rie Kaneto threatened to upstage Hagino earlier in the evening when she blew away a strong field to win the women’s 200-meter breaststroke in 2 minutes, 19.65 seconds — just 0.54 seconds off the world record.

Kaneto, who missed out on the London Olympics four years ago, beat second-place Kanako Watanabe by 3.89 seconds to claim her spot in Rio.

“I’m in the position where I can try to break the world record, so I’m aiming to do that,” said the 27-year-old Kaneto.

“More than thinking about the Olympics tonight, I was thinking about all the support that the people around me have given me. I was in tears before the race and almost again as I walked out to the pool. So many people have helped me in my career and I felt very happy going into the race.”

Watanabe failed to beat the Olympic qualifying time but had already secured an automatic berth by winning the event at least year’s world championships.

“It’s frustrating, but this is a result of how I have been training,” said the 19-year-old Watanabe, who will compete in three events in Rio. “From now on I have a schedule that allows me to concentrate fully on the Olympics.”

London Olympic silver medal winner Ryosuke Irie locked up his place in the men’s 200-meter backstroke in Rio, finishing ahead of Masaki Kaneko and Keita Sunama to claim his 10th straight national title.

“First of all, it’s great to win a 10th straight title,” said Irie, who will also compete in the 100-meter backstroke in Rio. “I’m glad that I qualified for Rio but my work isn’t finished yet. I want to go there in good shape.”

Kaneko also claimed a place in Brazil, coming from behind to surge past Sunama in the final length and beat the qualifying time by 0.27 seconds.

“It’s always been my dream to compete in the Olympics, and now it has come true,” said Kaneko. “I kept going until the end, and the fact that it paid off gives me confidence.”

In the night’s other final, Miho Takahashi won the women’s 800-meter freestyle title but failed to beat the Rio qualifying time.