The Japan Swimming Federation officially announced its national team for this summer’s Rio de Janeiro Olympics on Monday.
Medal hopefuls such as Kosuke Hagino, Ryosuke Irie, Kanako Watanabe and Rie Kaneto will lead the 34 representatives — the second-biggest team in Japan’s Olympic history. Japan had 38 swimmers at the 1964 Tokyo Games.
Japanese swimming’s governing body prepared a big room for the news conference at Tokyo’s National Training Center, yet it was easily filled by media reflecting the public’s high expectations for “Tobiuo Japan.”
Four years ago at the London Games, the swimming squad accounted for 11 of Japan’s 38 overall medals, helping the country record its biggest medal haul in the post-World War II era.
Japan will dispatch a young group to Brazil. Of the 34, 21 will be first-time Olympians and the team’s average age is 22.4. Takeshi Matsuda, a three-time Olympic medalist who will be appearing in his third Summer Games in the men’s 4×200-meter freestyle relay, is the oldest swimmer at 31. The youngest is Natsumi Sakai at 14.
Hagino and his childhood rival, Daiya Seto, said they would like to give a boost to the young team with their own results in the men’s 400-meter individual medley, which will be held on the first day of the swimming competition in Rio on Aug. 6.
“We’ll start with the 400-meter individual medley and with Kosuke, we’d like to complete a 1-2 finish so we can give some energy to the team,” said Seto, who has captured a couple of gold medals in the discipline at the world championships.
Rising female star Rikako Ikee, who just enrolled at a Tokyo high school this month, is the second-youngest swimmer at the age of 15 and will compete in four disciplines in Brazil.
Japan head coach Norimasa Hirai said that the team’s goal in Rio is to win multiple gold medals, which it failed to achieve at the previous Olympics in London. Japan won three silver and eight bronze medals in 2012.
Meanwhile, Hirai said that the rise of young female swimmers, such as Sakai, Ikee and Runa Imai, was remarkable in this past week’s national championships.
But with regard to winning medals in the Olympics, the 52-year-old coach, who is widely known for developing Kosuke Kitajima into a top swimmer, urged his athletes to step up their performance. He said that only Hagino’s time in the men’s 200-meter individual medley (1 minute, 55.07 seconds — a new national record) met the medal standards that the JSF had set. He also added that Kaneto’s national-record performance in the women’s 200 breaststroke (2:19.65) was impressive, and that she could shoot for the gold medal at the Olympics.
“We’re starting with the national team from today,” Hirai said. “The swimmers will have to develop themselves more (until the Olympics) and we hope to have a positive result.”
The national team plans to hold a second training camp in early May and then a third before the Japan Open meet, which will be held between May 20 and 22.
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