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Japan nets two breaststroke medals at world championships

Kyodo, Reuters

Yasuhiro Koseki and Ippei Watanabe won silver and bronze, respectively, in the men’s 200-meter breaststroke at the world championships on Friday.

The 25-year-old Koseki touched the wall in 2 minutes, 7.29 seconds, finishing 0.33 seconds behind Russia’s Anton Chupkov who won with a meet record.

Watanabe, 20, was third at 2:07.47, as Japan earned two spots on the podium for the first time in an individual event at the worlds.

“I wasn’t expecting such a great time. Watanabe and Koseki are my friends and are really strong rivals,” Chupkov told reporters.

“No question, the pace has become much faster,” said an upbeat Koseki. “Watanabe and I entered the final hoping to stand on the podium together, but I feel we could meet our own expectations.”

The last time a male Japanese breaststroker won a medal at a world competition was at the 2012 London Olympics where Ryo Tateishi claimed the bronze in the 200.

Japan has not been able to win a breaststroke gold medal since Kosuke Kitajima struck a double at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

“I wanted to stand on the podium with Watanabe. I wanted a medal, no matter what color,” said Koseki, who was fifth at last year’s Rio de Janeiro Olympics. “It is my first medal at a major international tournament. It was a great experience.”

Competing in the worlds for the first time, Watanabe, who was sixth in Rio and set a world record of 2:06.67 in January, said, “To be honest, I am very pleased. I took the medal with my own swimming style.”

Japan now has five medals at the ongoing world meet in the Hungarian capital.

Russia took triple gold across the 200-meter events on Friday, thanks to Chupkov and Yuliya Efimova with a breaststroke double and Evgeny Rylov in the backstroke.

They upstaged Simone Manuel, who claimed the top prize for the U.S. in the women’s 100 freestyle. She had shared Olympic gold at the Rio Games last summer, but took the medal outright this time, beating top-ranked Sarah Sjostrom of Sweden.

Sjostrom had gone under the 52-second barrier in the 4×100 relay and was again under world-record pace at the turn. But Manuel, a 20-year-old Texan, clawed her way level with 25 meters left and with her final five strokes clocked an American-record time of 52.27 seconds.

“My legs were burning but I just really had to dig deep,” said Manuel, who was just 2 when the U.S. won its last women’s gold in the event in 1998.

“My path to swimming has just been a progress forward and a drop in time and trying to get better.”

Sjostrom finished 0.04 seconds back. Denmark’s Pernille Blume took bronze.

“I am really disappointed, it is so sad when I can’t do it the whole way,” said Sjostrom.

Earlier, Rylov had set a European record, beating Olympic champion Ryan Murphy of the U.S. in the 200 backstroke. Rylov stole a march on the opening 50 and held an unassailable lead thereafter, winning with a time of 1:53.61.

Murphy settled for silver and his compatriot Jacob Pebley took bronze.

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