Rio de Janeiro Olympic gold medalists Kosuke Hagino and Rie Kaneto shared the top prize for their achievements in 2016 from the Japan Swimming Federation at the annual Japan Aquatic Awards on Monday evening.
Hagino captured the gold medal in the men’s 400-meter individual medley and added a silver medal in the 200-meter individual medley and a bronze medal in the 4×200 freestyle relay in Brazil.
Winning three Olympic medals was undoubtedly a great achievement, but Japan’s ace didn’t necessarily have a perfect year.
The 22-year-old broke his right elbow after falling from a bicycle before the 2015 world championships in Kazan, Russia, which made him unavailable for the event. The elbow bothered him during the Rio Olympics. Hagino underwent surgery after the Summer Games in September and has not competed since, although he has resumed training.
“There were a lot of things (in 2016), including the Olympics, and I had to overcome some things,” Hagino said before the awards at a Tokyo hotel. “So overall, 2016 was a year that helped me grow.”
Kaneto was the only Japanese female swimmer to win gold at the Rio Games as she finished first in the 200-meter breaststroke.
Unlike Hagino, who will turn professional this spring, Kaneto seemed satisfied with her own performances over the year.
“I feel like I spent a satisfactory year and I can proudly receive this award,” said Kaneto, who broke her own national record for the 200 breaststroke twice in 2016.
The 28-year-old had publicly insisted that she could not see herself competing at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. But she said Monday that she has not made up her mind whether to retire right away.
Meanwhile, Ippei Watanabe, who shocked the swimming world by breaking the men’s 200-meter breaststroke world record the previous day, attracted just as much attention as the two top award winners.
The 19-year-old Waseda University student said that he had to prepare for a class examination on Monday so he couldn’t afford to enjoy his achievement.
“I don’t really feel like I’ve achieved anything big yet,” said Watanabe, who notched a time of 2 minutes, 6.67 seconds, exceeding the previous world record set by compatriot Akihiro Yamaguchi by 0.34 seconds, at the Tokyo metropolitan championships.
Watanabe said that he received several emails and text messages after the race, but had not watched his own performance on television.
Watanabe’s outstanding accomplishment has inspired other Japanese swimmers, including Hagino and Kaneto.
“I want to have a world record, too,” Hagino said. “(Watanabe) made me think that you have to work hard to break it. I don’t think I have that mind-set. You’ve got to think, ‘I’ll definitely do it,’ not ‘it comes when it comes.’ I feel like I’ve got to try to break world records, not just shoot for medals.”
Watanabe, who set an Olympic record (2:07.22) in the semifinals in Rio but fell to sixth place in the final, did not sound like he was content with the world record and set his sights higher.
Watanabe is the first person to swim under 2:07.00, but he believes that his rivals around the world will match that in the future. So he is determined to truly become a world champion.
“I have 3½ years,” he said. “And at the Tokyo Olympics, I’d like to dominate and set a world record.”
Other aquatics athletes who performed well at the Rio Olympics, such as swimmers Ryosuke Irie, Daiya Seto, Rikako Ikee and synchronized swimming’s Yukiko Inui and Risako Mitsui, were given the outstanding awards.