RIO DE JANEIRO – Kosuke Hagino, the men’s 400-meter individual medley champion at the Rio Olympics, is considering having surgery on his right elbow after the Rio Games, Japan swimming head coach Norimasa Hirai said on Thursday.
Hagino broke the elbow in June of last year during a bicycle accident. The injury forced him to miss the world championships that fall in Kazan, Russia, where the 21-year-old was expected to contend in several events.
Hagino swam his last race of these Olympics on Thursday, winning a silver medal in the 200 individual medley behind Michael Phelps, who won his fourth gold of the meet and the 22nd of his storied Olympic career.
While Phelps has been nothing short of incredible, Hagino finished almost two seconds behind the American. His time of 1 minute, 56.61 seconds, was more than 1.5 seconds slower than what he swam at the Japanese Olympic trials in April, and he was an inexplicable seventh in the 200 freestyle on Monday.
Hirai said Hagino has been feeling pain in the elbow since last month, when he trained at high altitude in Spain. Looking ahead to the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, post-Rio surgery might be the best option for Hagino to regain full mobility in the elbow, Hirai said.
“It’s something to consider when you think about where he wants to be four years down the road,” Hirai said. “If it’s something that time will heal, great, we leave it alone.
“But we need to think about his situation long and hard once the Olympics are done. I don’t think his time will be horrible if he decides to not have surgery, but it’s probably a good time for him to weigh his options.
Hirai said the issues were present before the Olympics.
“He was feeling some pain when we trained at altitude. He’s been icing it every day here. If it’s bothering him, this is as good of a time as any to have an operation,” he said.
“But I don’t want him missing all of next year or anything like that.”
Hagino himself did not make any excuses for the result in the 200 IM against Phelps on Thursday.
“My time was slow, plain and simple,” Hagino said. “I don’t have more to say about that. I just didn’t have the speed, and I wasn’t strong enough — physically as well as mentally.
“I feel like I should have given (Phelps) more of a run for his money because I’ve been putting in the work to do so. It’s pretty frustrating I couldn’t do it.
“I want to become a stronger swimmer. I really want to know how I can become one. I’m not sure how I can get to where I want to go. I hope to find that out through the training and whatever advice I can get from various people.”
Hirai is not saying surgery is a must. But with the Japanese camp expecting Hagino to carry the team at the Tokyo Olympics, an operation right now may not be a bad option.
“I want Hagino to be the face of Japanese swimming,” Hirai said. “I want him to compete abroad as often as he can.
“He lost to Phelps. I don’t know if he’ll get another shot against him though. He can do a lot, lot more. He won a gold, silver and bronze here but I hope he can win three golds.
Hagino has to get a handle on the situation before he can really plot his course for Tokyo 2020.
“It depends on his elbow. If all was well, he would be swimming the backstroke,” Hirai said. “But we need to see how far his elbow can return to normal. That will decide what events he will swim in.
“He gave it everything he had. Some of it is on me for not managing his training better. We need to go back to the drawing board for next season and see if he can start pushing himself the way he did in 2013.
“But there are meets other than the Olympics or the world championships. He’s got the Asian Games, the Pan Pacs, the nationals and I want him competing as much as possible.”
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