JAKARTA - This summer, veteran swimmer Satomi Suzuki sent a strong message to Japanese fans, reminding them that she can still compete at the highest level.
At the ongoing Asian Games, many supporters perhaps have their eyes on younger prospects with the 2020 Tokyo Olympics less two years away.
But the 27-year-old Suzuki grabbed their attention with convincing results this month in a pair of international meets, the Pan Pacific Championships in Tokyo and the Asiad.
The female breaststroke swimmer successfully racked up three gold medals. She helped Japan tie with China for the most gold medals (19) in the Asian Games swimming competition. Tobiuo Japan finished with 52 medals, edging China (50) for the overall lead.
Suzuki became a star when she collected three medals (one silver and two bronze) at the 2012 London Olympics. But she fell into a long slump afterward.
However, a couple of years ahead of the Summer Games, she has returned to an elite level once again.
Suzuki has retooled her skills. She is swimming more effectively with a more compact form in the water. Of course, it took a lot of time and effort in practice to do so.
“I’ve worked hard to get to this point and established confidence that I would not execute poorly,” Suzuki said after Thursday’s 4×100 medley relay final, her final race here.
Suzuki teamed up with 17-year-old Natsumi Sakai, 18-year-old Rikako Ikee and 23-year-old Tomomi Aoki to achieve a gold-medal performance in the relay.
For Suzuki, her strong confidence right now, is also helping her concentration. She added that she is solely focused on her own performance instead of dwelling on other competitors. In fact, she doesn’t care about her own times too much.
“It wasn’t about what kind of times I would come up with or who I needed to beat, but it was about how precisely I would execute what I’ve done in training,” Suzuki said. “That’s kind of been the best routine for me to have the best possible results in the races, and I feel I’ve been able to do that through the Pan Pacs and Asian Games. And it gave me a great deal of confidence.”
Suzuki surprised many in the swimming community by earning the bronze medal in the 200 breaststroke at the Pan Pacs, which was her first medal at a major international meet since the London Games.
Japan has had some male swimmers with longevity in the pool, including Kosuke Kitajima and Takeshi Matsuda. Suzuki aims to follow that path, which is rare for a female swimmer.
At the 2020 Games, Suzuki would be competing at 29. To her, age is only a number and, with unshaken confidence, she will target additional gold medals at the Olympics.