BUDAPEST - Yui Ohashi earned Japan’s first medal at the FINA World Championships on Monday when she claimed silver in the women’s 200-meter individual medley.
While placing 0.91 seconds behind Rio Olympic triple gold medalist Katinka Hosszu of Hungary, the 21-year-old debutante shaved 0.54 second off the national record, touching the wall at the Danube Arena in 2 minutes, 7.91 seconds.
Madisyn Cox of the United States took bronze with a time of 2:09.71. Ohashi’s compatriot Runa Imai placed fifth in 2:09.99.
“I was able to go all out,” said Ohashi, a senior at Toyo University who secured her world championship berth by winning both individual medley events at the national championships in April.
“Even I felt I was going fast as I was swimming. In the last 50 meters I zoned in and just swam recklessly. I knew I was in a good position but (when I looked at the electronic scoreboard) I was surprised with my time and was shocked (that I had won a medal).”
Ohashi, who placed eighth in Sunday’s qualifying and semifinal races, said she increased her stroke rate in the breaststroke and made adjustments to her arm movements in the final, where she improved her personal-best mark by more than two seconds.
“We were secretly aiming for a medal. I told her she could go under 2:09, but didn’t expect her to go under 2:08,” Japan coach Norimasa Hirai said.
Hosszu lived up to her country’s enormous expectations with an electrifying victory, spurred on by a flag-waving, foot-stomping crowd at Duna Arena.
The new 12,000-seat aquatic facility along the Danube River was packed all the way to the rafters, and it was clear who most of the fans came to see.
Hosszu didn’t let them down.
She led from start to finish in the race encompassing all four swimming strokes, finishing off with the freestyle and a time of 2:07. It was nearly a second slower than her world-record performance at the Rio Olympics last summer.
In the men’s 100-meter breaststroke won by Rio gold medalist Adam Peaty of Britain, Japan’s best performance was a fourth-place finish by Yasuhiro Koseki.
Now sporting a massive lion tattoo on his left arm, Peaty made the turn under his world-record pace from Rio but faded a bit on the return lap to touch in 57.47.
The unquestioned breaststroke king missed his mark of 57.13 yet still turned in the second-fastest time ever in the event.
His ultimate goal is to become the first breaststroker to break the 57-second barrier, a quest he has dubbed “Project 56.”
“I did my best and placed fourth so I have no regrets. I feel a sense of accomplishment,” said Koseki, who missed a bronze medal by 0.05 seconds.
Sweden’s Sarah Sjostrom just missed breaking her own world record in the 100 butterfly.
Having already set a world record with her leadoff leg in the 4×100 freestyle relay, Sjostrom nearly took down another mark in the fly with a winning time of 55.53.
That was just 0.05 seconds off her gold-medal triumph at Rio. When Sjostrom saw the time on the scoreboard, she covered her mouth in surprise.
“It felt like I was going a bit slower than I did yesterday actually, so maybe butterfly is about being all relaxed and then you can be even faster,” said Sjostrom, who didn’t look at all tired a day after racing four times.
Australia’s Emma McKeon (56.18) grabbed the silver and Kelsi Worrell of the U.S. (56.37) settled for bronze, while 17-year-old Rikako Ikee finished sixth.
Meanwhile, Katie Ledecky’s lone race Monday was the morning preliminaries of the 1,500 freestyle. She breezed through the grueling event in 15:47.57 — nearly 18 seconds faster than second-fastest qualifier Mireia Belmonte of Spain.
The final is Tuesday night.
“It felt good,” Ledecky said. “I know how to manage the schedule. I just kind of have to work through the prelims as easy as I can to keep myself rested.”