The Japan Swimming Federation on Sunday named a 33-athlete squad for the Tokyo Olympics that features a lot of new faces.
The swimmers were selected following the national championships, which finished Saturday at the Tokyo Aquatics Centre. Those chosen met the criteria for selection set by the sport’s national governing body.
The team consists of 17 male and 16 female swimmers, with 22 making their first appearance at a Summer Games.
While the squad features a number of fresh faces, there are also veterans who have already achieved global success, such as Daiya Seto, Kosuke Hagino and Ryosuke Irie.
Katsuhiro Matsumoto and Shoma Sato, who will be trying to win gold in their Olympic debuts, are among the younger swimmers on the team.
The team also features leukemia survivor Rikako Ikee, who stunned the world by sweeping the four disciplines she competed in at nationals and clinched berths in the women’s 4×100 medley and 4×100 freestyle relay for the games in her hometown.
Irie, a backstroke swimmer, earned an Olympic berth for the fourth straight time, tying him with former greats Kosuke Kitajima and Takeshi Matsuda. Irie, a three-time Olympic medalist, is the oldest member of the squad at 31.
Hagino, the men’s 400-meter individual medley gold medalist at the Rio Olympics in 2016, will be appearing at his third straight Summer Games in the 200 IM and 4×200 freestyle relay.
Six teenagers made the team, with women’s 400 individual medley swimmer Ageha Tanigawa and Konosuke Yanagimoto, who will compete in the men’s 4×100 freestyle relay, the youngest at 17.
“We had athletes who have made the national A team raise their hands and athletes that will make their first Olympics raise their hands during our meeting,” Norimasa Hirai, the national team head coach, said during a group online interview Monday morning. “And we were like, ‘Oh my, we have this many.’
“(Having so many swimmers with no Olympic experience) may give us a tough time unless we communicate well and share the experience we have throughout the team.”
Those selected for the squad entered a training camp at Tokyo’s National Training Center on Sunday that will last until Thursday.
Matsumoto, a silver medalist at the 2019 world championships, has decided not to compete in the 4×100 freestyle relay to focus more on the 200-meter freestyle race. As a result, Shinri Shioura, who originally thought he had missed his chance to compete at the Tokyo Games after finishing fifth in the 100 freestyle at nationals, was added as a member of the relay team.
The swimming finals at the Tokyo Olympics will be held during the morning, with heats taking place the evening before. Hirai said the team would need to glean tips from those who competed at the Beijing Olympics, when swimming competition was held under a similar schedule.
Irie is the only member of the current team who swam in China, while Yoji Suzuki, who now mentors Matsumoto, and Hirai were part of the squad as coaches.
Hirai recalled the heats at the Beijing Games being at a higher level than normal and said the swimmers in Tokyo will have to push themselves to reach the finals.
“Those who have the experience will need to tell everybody those things, including things like when they need to start training to prepare for the morning finals,” Hirai said Saturday.
Japan sent a 36-person team to the Rio Games in 2016, capturing seven medals including two golds.
“It feels we have a fresh team,” Hirai said of the squad assembled for the Tokyo Games. “With that being said, we have so many with no experience and need to think about what we have to do to form the best team we can toward the Olympics. I think the results we come up with will depend on how we do that.”
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