Irie Ryosuke, Matsumoto Katsuhiro flirt with Japan records at swimming nationals

Tokyo 2020 hopefuls look sharp in Games rehearsal as Hagino Kosuke labours on Day 2 of championships.

By Shintaro Kano ·

These Japan swimming national championships are being held under circumstances that are far from ideal, against the backdrop of a third wave of the coronavirus and during what is typically the offseason for the athletes.

But for the likes of Irie Ryosuke and Matsumoto Katsuhiro who have their sights firmly set on the podium of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, every competition counts - as they proved on Friday (4 December).

On an off night for comeback kid Hagino Kosuke, Irie swept to his seventh consecutive 100-meter backstroke title and Matsumoto to his third successive 200 freestyle crown.

Times have been relatively slow at the brand-new Tokyo Aquatics Centre through the second day of the championships with most swimmers not match-fit or fatigued from a month in Budapest.

Not Irie and Matsumoto, however. Both were on pace to break the Japan records they own in their respective races.

Irie finished in 53.04 seconds, 0.80 off the record and Matsumoto in 1:46.10, 0.88 off his mark.

"First and foremost, I'm happy I won", Irie said. "But I was shooting for 52 so time wise, leaves something to be desired.

"I'm still not where I want to be and feel like my work is cut out for me. For the Olympic trials that will also be held here in April, I want the best build-up possible so I can turn in the best performance possible".

"I expect myself to be in the 200 final at the Tokyo Olympics, right here in this pool. I swam this event visualising it, as if it were next year". - Matsumoto Katsuhiro

"I'm not in the greatest shape at the moment. The plan was to pad out as big of a lead as possible in the first half and hang on. That I think I managed to do.

"But I can't be competitive against the best swimmers in the world with a time like this".

Ohashi withdraws, Hagino winded

The day began with reigning world bronze medallist in the women's 400 individual medley, Ohashi Yui, pulling out of the heats. The reason for her withdrawal was not specified.

A day earlier, Hagino reclaimed the men's 400 IM championship for the first time in two years while meeting the Olympic qualifying standard.

But on Friday, he was a distant seventh to Matsumoto in the 200 free (1:49.53) and third to Irie in the 100 back (54.43).

Having only recently come out of quarantine and going all out on Thursday, Hagino was under no illusion as to what he was capable of on this day.

"Four races today off yesterday, I approached them like it was an intense practice session", said Hagino, who on Saturday will be in the 400 free versus Matsumoto and the 200 IM which he holds the national record in (1:55.07).

"I thought I might be able to push myself a bit more in the 200 free but I haven't trained for speed at all. I thought it showed in the first 50 and the first lap in the backstroke was really slow. I just need to pick up the pace from here, in every stroke.

"I’m not going to worry about my times tomorrow. The focus is on to milk myself to the last drop" - Hagino Kosuke.

In other finals, Shimizu Sakiko won the women's 400 IM title with Ohashi out (4:36.77) while Shirai Rio took the 200 freestyle in 1:58.12. Sakai Natsumi captured the 100 backstroke (59.54).

Takeda Shogo topped the men's 1,500 free in 8:00.65.