• Kyodo


Two-time world champion Daiya Seto edged Rio Olympic winner Kosuke Hagino in the men’s 400-meter individual medley at the national swimming championships Thursday.

Seto beat his good friend and the defending national champion Hagino by a hair at the wall, finishing in 4 minutes, 10.44 seconds — 0.01 seconds ahead of Hagino.

This meet doubles as a qualifier for this summer’s world championships in Budapest.

“My time wasn’t great, but this is one I’ve wanted to win for a long time,” Seto said.

It was Hagino’s first meet in Japan since he had elbow surgery following the Rio Olympics in August. He only returned to competition in March.

“It was my first competition here at home and I’m looking forward to the remaining three days,” Hagino said. “I thought I had him in the end, but all credit to Daiya.”

“I didn’t feel great after the heats and it was tough, but I wanted to put up a fight in the final. I tried to milk myself to the last drop. The battle continues and I’ll definitely get him back.”

Seto led after the butterfly (55.38) before Hagino moved in front at the half (1:58.31). Seto, who took bronze in the race in Rio, recaptured the lead through the breaststroke and barely came out ahead in a dead heat with his fellow 22-year-old.

Seto said he thinks he can hit peak form when July rolls around.

“I’m not close to being perfect. Physically, I think I can take it up a notch or two by the summer,” he said. “It was punishing at the end, but I’ve got a good feel after a win and can go into the 200 on a high.

“Every year, I feel like I struggle in April so it’s nice to get that win. This victory will help my confidence.”

The world record-holder in the 200 breast, Ippei Watanabe, settled for second in the 100 (1:00.11) to Yasuhiro Koseki (59.26), who also met the qualifying standard for Budapest.

Watanabe vowed to rebound in the 200 on Sunday.

“I wanted to go through the first half in 27 seconds and that made me uptight,” said the Waseda University student. “I think it cost me at the finish, but I left everything out there. I’m not happy with the time, but I’m pleased with the way the race unfolded.”

Sixteen-year-old Rikako Ikee collected her first win of the meet in the women’s 50 butterfly in 25.51, coming within 0.01 of her own Japan record. She finished more than a second ahead of runner-up Ai Soma.

Ikee, Japan’s big female hope for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, is entered in five races at this competition and will swim in Friday’s 200 free.

“When I looked up, I thought my time was 24.50 for a second,” Ikee said. “My time wasn’t bad. I’d like to think this will get me going. I’ll have more opportunities at a record.”

Chihiro Igarashi topped the women’s 400 free in 4:08.28.

In the men’s 100 breaststroke B final, Ryo Tateishi, who said after the heats that he would retire following the championships, finished sixth in 1:01.97.

Tateishi will swim in Sunday’s 200 breast, the final event of his career, and the one in which he won bronze at the London Olympics.

“The 200 is a special race to me so I want to give it everything I have right to the end,” Tateishi said. “Regardless of the result, I want to go out with a smile on my face.”

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