RIO DE JANEIRO – Kosuke Hagino held off a late challenge from American Chase Kalisz to win Japan’s first gold medal of the 2016 Rio Olympics in the men’s 400-meter individual medley on Saturday.
Hagino finished in a time of 4 minutes, 6.5 seconds, while world champion Daiya Seto finished third in 4:09.71 to give Japan two swimmers on the same Olympic podium for the first time in 60 years.
“I knew I had something left,” said the 21-year-old Hagino, who ended a run of five straight American champions in the event. “I’m terrible at breaststroke so I kept something back for the final freestyle.
“It was tough but I enjoyed it. A lot of things were going through my mind. My coach was spurring me on and all I could do at the end was just go for it.”
Hagino and Seto looked to have left Kalisz for dead by the halfway point of the race, only for the American to come roaring back and eat into Hagino’s lead going into the final 100 meters.
But Hagino held him off by 0.7 seconds to win his first Olympic gold medal and the first of Japan’s campaign in Rio, boosting his confidence as he looks to write his name all over the 2016 Games.
“I’d like to celebrate this quietly, but I’ve still got races to come and I want to give my all in them,” said Hagino, who will also compete in the 200-meter IM, 200m freestyle and 4×200 freestyle relay this week.
“Last year, I wasn’t able to take part in the world championships and a lot of people supported me. Daiya, my coach and family were all there for me, so when I touched the wall I really felt that their support was the reason why I had won.”
Hagino, who took bronze in the 400 IM at the 2012 London Games, became the first non-American to win the event since Hungary’s Tamas Darnyi in 1992, and the Tochigi Prefecture native was happy to join such exalted company.
“I watched great American swimmers like Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte and they inspired me,” said Hagino. “I wanted to be like them. So to be able to win in this discipline makes me very happy, and in the 200 individual medley I’ll be trying my best too.”
Hagino’s childhood friend Seto was unable to recreate the form that brought him world championship gold last year in Kazan, Russia, but the 22-year-old intends to set the record straight in the 200m butterfly later this week.
“I’m really happy for Kosuke to win the gold medal,” said Seto, who posted the second-fastest time (4:08.47) in qualifying behind Kalisz’s 4:08.12. “I gave a good account of myself in the heats but I wasn’t able to show what I was fully capable of in the final.
“There are four years until the Tokyo Olympics and I want to use this frustration in four years of training and beat Kosuke and get a good color of medal in Tokyo,” the Saitama Prefecture native added. “But these Olympics aren’t finished yet. I’ve still got the 200 butterfly to come, and I want to make sure I’ve got enough left in the tank for the final of that one.”
Kalisz was looking to continue the United States’ stranglehold over the event in the absence of 2012 champion Lochte and 2004 and 2008 winner Phelps, who dropped the event from his 2016 program.
“Hagino is one of the best freestylers in the world and I’m not,” said the 22-year-old Kalisz. “He finished better. He was telling me how bad it hurts and I know I was hurting. He just got his hand on the wall first.
“I left it all in the pool. I don’t think I could have gone any faster. I gave it 100 percent, all I had.”
Elsewhere in the pool, Sakiko Shimizu finished eighth in the women’s 400 IM final, while Japan also placed last in the women’s 4×100-meter freestyle final. Australia won the race in a new world-record time of 3:30.65.
Sixteen-year-old Rikako Ikee qualified for the women’s 100 butterfly final with a third-fastest time of 57.05 seconds, while Yasuhiro Koseki reached the final of the men’s 100 breastroke with a fourth-fastest time of 59.23 seconds.