High school swimmer Kosuke Hagino recently put himself in some pretty impressive company.
The 200- and 400-meter individual medley swimmer set a national record in the 400 at the national championships on April 2, with a time of 4 minutes and 10.26 seconds, and, in the process, booked himself a spot in this summer’s London Olympics.
Hagino, 17, will become just the third high school swimmer to represent Japan at the Olympics, following former men’s 400 individual medley swimmer Jiro Miki and Beijing and Athens Olympic gold-medal breaststroker Kosuke Kitajima.
At the national championships, Hagino beat last year’s World Championships bronze-medalist Yuya Horihata. Hagino also won the 200-meter individual medley event with a time of 1 minute and 58.01 seconds, and earned the right to represent Japan in that event as well.
Hagino repeatedly set age-bracket records when he was in elementary school. He had knee surgery in the winter of his second year of junior high school and had to take six weeks off from training. But within a week of returning to competition, he set a Japanese junior high school record.
“I’ve never felt pressured by the attention,” Hagino says. “I can use that attention and turn it into positive energy. That’s one of my strengths.”
Last year was a tough one for the promising teen. He skipped selection meets for major international races due to poor conditioning. Team Japan head coach Norimasa Hirai had to step in and tell Hagino that he was falling behind rival Daiya Seto, who is the same age as Hagino. Before the National Athletic Meet, Hagino seemed to be lacking confidence, telling one coach prior to a race that he didn’t feel as though he could set a record.
The turning point came at the World Cup last fall.
“I didn’t think too much about it,” Hagino says. “I went in without any real expectations.”
That relaxed mental approach seems to have worked. Hagino set Japanese high school records at World Cup competitions held in Singapore and Beijing. At the meet held in Tokyo, he established a new Japanese record.
“I was able to improve the way I mentally prepare for a meet,” he says. “Last year’s experiences led to improved performances this year.”
At the London Olympics, the 400-meter IM will be the first swimming event to stage a final. That means Hagino has the responsibility of producing good results to build momentum for Team Japan.
“I won’t be able to win a medal unless I improve my time,” Hagino says. “I want to go into the Olympics as a serious medal contender.”
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