OLYMPICS/ SWIMMING: Japan fails to strike gold but medal haul points to bright future

August 14, 2012

By ATSUSHI AKUTSU/ Staff Writer

Team Japan won 11 swimming medals in London, second only to the United States -- something to celebrate, but don't get too carried away--none of the 11 were gold.

Heading into the Summer Games, Japan head swimming coach Norimasa Hirai was hoping for eight medals. Although Japan exceeded that mark, Hirai considers Japan's three silvers and eight bronze medals as falling short of the mark with the absence of gold.

It was the first time in three Olympic Games in which Japan failed to win any swimming gold medals.

Japan captured 12 swimming medals at the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics and 11 at the 1936 Berlin Games. That means the London Games produced the most swimming medals in the post-World War II era, with 11 of 27 competitors taking the podium.

Japan's swimmers in Britain were led by team captain Takeshi Matsuda, who won bronze in the men's 200-meter butterfly event at the Beijing and London Olympics, and shared the silver medal in the 400-m medley relay at the London Games.

Veterans on the team were key in encouraging the younger swimmers to do their best. Twenty-nine-year-old multiple gold medalist Kosuke Kitajima was often found poolside at practices on days when he was not competing, giving advice to younger swimmers.

And the London Olympics showcased the strengths of Japan's new swimming talent. Three first-time Olympians went on to win medals in individual events: Satomi Suzuki won the silver medal in the women's 200-m breaststroke and bronze in the 100; Ryo Tateishi took the bronze medal in the men's 200-m breaststroke; while Kosuke Hagino captured the bronze medal in the men's 400-m individual medley.

Hagino, just 17 years old, became a role model for the seven teenage swimmers on Team Japan, including three who are still high school students.

During the pre-Olympic training period, Team Japan was based at the Japan Institute of Sports Sciences in Tokyo's Kita Ward. Athletes, coaches and experts shared information on motion analysis, nutritional science and other data. Joint efforts on this front also contributed to the high medal count.

Hirai, who took his current post after the 2008 Beijing Olympics, will be step down as Olympic coach after London to coach the Toyo University swimming team starting next spring.

But with young swimmers, who also include London medalists Natsumi Hoshi, (bronze, women's 200-m butterfly) and Ryosuke Irie (silver, men's 200-m backstroke; bronze, 100; and silver, 400-m medley), Japan will take aim at gold at 2016 Rio de Janeiro.

By ATSUSHI AKUTSU/ Staff Writer
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Day 1 of swimming events: Kosuke Hagino wins the bronze medal in the men’s 400-meter individual medley. (Teruo Kashiyama)

Day 1 of swimming events: Kosuke Hagino wins the bronze medal in the men’s 400-meter individual medley. (Teruo Kashiyama)

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  • Day 1 of swimming events: Kosuke Hagino wins the bronze medal in the men’s 400-meter individual medley. (Teruo Kashiyama)
  • Day 3: Aya Terakawa captures bronze in the women's 100-meter backstroke. (Teruo Kashiyama)
  • Day 4: Takeshi Matsuda takes bronze in the men’s 200-meter butterfly. (Takaharu Yagi)
  • Day 5: Natsumi Hoshi wins bronze in the women's 200-meter butterfly. (Teruo Kashiyama)
  • Day 6: Satomi Suzuki grabs silver in the women's 200-meter breaststroke. (Toshiyuki Hayashi)
  • Final Day: Kosuke Kitajima and three teammates win silver in the men’s 400-meter medley relay. (Teruo Kashiyama)

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