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Regardless of what has gone on outside the pool, Daiya Seto has remained one of swimming’s top stars and an athlete capable of representing Japan at the highest level.

Seto was embroiled in controversy last year when news of his extramarital affairs were made public and has been apologetic at almost every turn since returning to competition in February.

Despite everything that’s happened recently, nothing has changed for Seto in the pool. As he proved during last week’s national championships, he can still swim as well as anyone.

Seto captured three medals at Tokyo Aquatics Centre, winning gold in the men’s 200- and 400-meter individual medleys (IM) and taking silver in the 200 butterfly. The 26-year-old will compete in those disciplines at the Tokyo Olympics.

Considering what Seto went through in 2020, his performance may have caught some by surprise. He struggled with his motivation immediately after the postponement of the Tokyo Games last year and it took him “about eight months” to resume full-scale training after the delay was announced.

Seto, who won bronze in the 400 IM at the Rio Games, said Wednesday that while he now understands the games needed to be pushed back due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it wasn’t as easy for him to push the reset button as some may have thought.

“The Olympics have a certain value because they happen once every four years and I thought pushing them back took some of that away,” Seto told reporters during an online interview. “There were some athletes who said it gave them more time to prepare and things like that. But I was like, ‘What are you talking about? I’ve been tuning up to have the games (in 2020).’”

While dealing with the fallout from the Olympic postponement, Seto also lost a number of sponsors, including All Nippon Airways, due to the aforementioned scandal. As a result, he was forced to form a private team in order to be eligible to swim in competitions, which likely extended his time away from the pool.

Seto didn’t give up swimming entirely during his layoff. But with no base to train in after the scandal, he was forced to move around to different pools.

While what Seto experienced might have caused another athlete to suffer a setback, that wasn’t the case for him.

He said he wasn’t afraid of stepping back into the public eye because he has “a stronger mentality than others.”

Seto was also confident he could get back into peak condition.

“I think I’m as competitive as anyone when I get serious and that’s one of my strengths,” said Seto, a four-time gold medalist at the world championships. “So I’m looking forward to seeing how much work I can put in during my training for the Olympics. Some athletes have been able to practice and some have not (because of the pandemic), and how they’ve been able to spend their time depends on the person.

“After seeing the reports (of the postponement last March), I couldn’t find a reason to continue training and didn’t practice,” he said.

“It was my choice and I don’t have regrets about how I spent my time. I believe I can win gold medals if I keep my concentration (in my training). So I’m excited about the challenge.”

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