Hagino Kosuke spearheads field at Japan swimming nationals

Rio 2016 champion to compete in five events including signature 400 IM at championships starting Thursday in first meet at new Aquatics Centre.

By Shintaro Kano ·

Olympic champion Hagino Kosuke will continue on his comeback trail at the Japanese national swimming championships starting on Thursday (3rd December).

The meet was originally scheduled for April, doubling as qualifying for the Tokyo 2020 Games, but as with the Olympics it was postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Normally a week-long competition, these championships have been condensed into four days without spectators.

The nationals will also baptise the sparkling new Tokyo Aquatics Centre, the Games’ swimming venue, which will house its first meet.

Ikee Rikako, who has been mounting a comeback of her own from leukemia, has opted to pass on the nationals to improve her basic conditioning.

Hagino Kosuke will try to take another step on his comeback trail.

Hagino Kosuke on the comeback trail

Hagino, the men’s 400-meter individual medley gold medallist at Rio 2016, has thrown his hat into the ring in five events.

The 26-year-old is entered in the 200 and 400 IM, the 200 and 400 freestyle, and the 100 backstroke.

He is Japan's national record-holder in both IM races.

Hagino seemed destined for superstardom at Tokyo 2020 but fell out of form and battled depression in the years that followed his Rio success.

He was nowhere close to last year’s world championships and was in danger of missing out on Tokyo, had the Games taken place in 2020.

But the fact that Hagino is eyeing five events may speak volumes about his potential ascension.

Like several of his Japan teammates such as Irie Ryosuke, Matsumoto Katsuhiro, Ohashi Yui, and Imai Runa, Hagino will be coming out of two weeks of quarantine after returning from competing in Europe.

It was Hagino’s first meet abroad in two years.

Top swimmers back in pool after quarantine

How the isolation period will impact the swimmers remains to be seen.

Matsumoto has put up his hand in the 100, 200, and 400 free, as well as the 100 butterfly.

By winning silver at the 2019 worlds in the 200 free, Matsumoto became the first Japanese, male or female, to medal in the event at a worlds or an Olympic Games.

Former world record-holder Watanabe Ippei is in both breaststroke races, as is his rival Koseki Yasuhiro.

Ohashi, the Japanese women’s ace until Ikee recaptures full fitness, is in the two IMs plus the 200 breaststroke.

Reigning 200 and 400 IM world champion Seto Daiya is out until the end of the year, serving a suspension over ethics issues.