Hagino Kosuke bests good friend Seto Daiya in 200 IM at Japan Open

Rio 2016 gold medallist gets the better of world champion in preview of Tokyo 2020 Olympic trials in April.

By Shintaro Kano ·

Round two of the Seto Daiya-Hagino Kosuke swim battle went to the Rio 2016 Olympic champion Hagino.

He comfortably won the 200 metre individual medley at the Japan Open in 1 minute, 58.14 seconds on Saturday (6 February) as Seto flamed out to finish dead-last.

Seto had swam in the 200 butterfly about 20 minutes earlier, when he placed third (1:56.32).

Hagino got payback for being outclassed by his good friend in the 400 IM on Thursday but refused to put too much stock in his victory.

After all, Seto is competing for the first time since September having served a non-swimming suspension.

Not to mention the fact that he has already qualified for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games through his IM double win at the 2019 world championships in Gwangju, South Korea.

"He already has a spot on the team, I don’t," Hagino said. "As a fellow athlete and his friend, it means a lot to be able to compete with him and hopefully we have that opportunity at the Olympics.

"He had a tough day whereas I had just one race. He was much faster than me in the 400 and I think that says everything about the playing field right now.

"But we have eight weeks until the trials and I hope I can get him there. It was nice to be swimming in the lane next to him, though."

Don't think, swim

Hagino said in the 400, he was in his head too much and as a result, trailed Seto by almost four seconds.

So, he spent the past two days changing his habits, from the way he trained to his warm up - anything to alter the rhythm.

Minutes prior to Saturday's race, he had a heart-to-heart with Japan head coach Hirai Norimasa who told Hagino one thing: Don't think about the race or your stroke, go all out.

"Just before the race, he pulled me aside and told me not to think about anything," Hagino said.

"There are times you have to pay attention to details and think about the race plan. But there are also times when you need to stop thinking and just swim.

"I wasn’t worried about my time today. The important thing is I kept my focus and won."

Seto, meanwhile, said he liked his chances after topping the heats in both races in the morning.

But then in the afternoon, the reality of not having competed in five months struck like a ton of bricks.

While Seto managed a face-saving third in the butterfly, in the IM, he came home in 2:03.89 - more than three seconds behind seventh-place Uchiyama Takumi.

But he understands there's only one way back to championship form - practice, practice, practice.

"I was completely spent. I barely finished the race," he said.

"I wanted to win them both today but it's in moments like these the work you put in shows - and I simply haven't had enough of it recently.

"It's a fresh start for me and I need to make each and every single day count going forward."

The Japan Open is the final tuneup at Tokyo Aquatics Centre, the Games swimming venue, before the national championships in April which doubles as the Olympic trials.