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Irie Halts Hagino's Gold Rush

Apr 14, 2013  - Craig Lord

Ryosuke Irie, the king of backstroke aesthetics, called a halt to Kosuke Hagino's gold rush in the last session of Japan nationals with a 1:55.50 to 1:56.11 victory in the 200m backstroke in Niigata today. 

The last day of the meet produced a 22.03sec national record from Shinri Shioura, 21, in the 50m freestyle final. His time took the crown ahead of 22.21 and 22.39 respective efforts from Kenta Ito and Yuki Kawachi and was 0.02sec inside Ito's Japanese standard from last September. On that same uni champs occasion, Shioura took silver in 22.11, his best until today.

The women's race of the day unfolded in the 200m breaststroke and not because Rie Kaneto defeated world-championships pre-selected Olympic silver medallist Satomi Suzuki 2:23.11 to 2:24.80. The bronze went to 12-year-old Runa Imai in 2:25.14. Kaneto was 0.2sec down on Suzuki at half-way, on 1:09.98 but by the last turn had the race in her grip, on 1:46.35 to Suzuki's 1:47.43. Imai was on the Olympic medallist shoulder all the way but could not get past today.

Even as records fell and 12-year-old rose elsewhere, all eyes were on Hagino, Olympic 400IM bronze medallist in London, at the end of a stellar week in which the 18-year-old claimed the long medley crown in an Asian record of 4:07.61, took the 200m and 400m free titles in big personal bests that rattled the best there has been in Japan, and added insult ti injury with a 53.10 victory over Irie and 2009 world champion Junya Koga in the 100m backstroke. 

Yesterday, Hagino topped the lot with a 1:55.74 Asian mark in the 200m medley that took him inside the pace of Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte at the same age and to the helm of the world rankings so far this season in a second event.

All Hagino's efforts have been world-class and that didn't change today, 1:56.11 shy of the lifetime best of 1:55.12 he clocked in Australia earlier this year. 

However, Olympic medallist Irie refused to let the teenager past, his eye on the edge as the two flowed through battle as follows:

  • 27.37; 56.81; 1:26.52; 1:55.50
  • 27.70; 57.14; 1:26.62; 1:56.11

The bronze went to Hayate Matubara in 1:57.81, 0.04sec ahead of Yuki Shirai, the top eight all home within 1:59.71, six men inside 1:59. 

"My time was so slow. I think Hagino was not satisfied with it as well, but my real competition is this summer. Since I couldn't do well in the 100 metres, everybody told me to do well in the 200. That motivated me," said Irie, for whom victory marked his 7th 200m national l/c crown.

Irie's time was good for a 7th Japanese l/c crown over 200m even though it was not among his best: Irie boats the best 24 performances all-time in Japan, ranging from a shiny suit record of 1:52.51 in 2009, through his textile best of 1:53.78 (his 4th best), to 1:55.11 and the point at which Hagino joins the all-time list.

Hagino's take: "My time was not so fast at all. I'm not satisfied. I had thought it would not be so hard to swim six races, but I was tired and this is the result. I learned a lot this week. It's a joy to swim.

In other action, the men's 800m free morning declared-winner time trial at the end of the heats produced a tight tussle for gold, Kohei Yamamoto holding off Ayatsugu Hirai 7:54.59 to 7:54.84 in what from 250m onwards was a stroke-for-stroke fight that took the top two inside 8mins for the first time.

The national record stands to Takeshi Matsuda on 7:49.65, his textile best of 7:50 also the best ever by a Japanese man, while Yamamoto, 8th best in his country all-time before today on 8:00.31, and Hira, 13th best all-time before today on 8:03.12, are now No2 and 3 best ever in Japan. The bronze in Niigatas went to Fumiya Hidaka in 7:58.29, fourth to Yuto Sato in 7:59.01. Hidaka and Sato also broke 8mins for the first time, Hidaka, 18, a newcomer to the world rankings, Sato on a best of 8:04.73 before this morning.

Olympic medallist Natsumi Hoshi, on 58.53 in the 100m butterfly for gold ahead of Yuka Kato, on 58.98, the bronze going to Nao Kobayashi in 59.42. The first seven were home within 59.95. Fujii Takuro led from go to gold in 52.23 in the men's 100m butterfly, holding off fast-finishing Yuki Kobori, second in 52.38, the bronze to Masayu Umemoto in 52.66.

In timed finals at the end of the morning session, Maiko Fujino took the 1500m freestyle in 16:26.32 ahead of a 16:30.64 effort from Ayano Koguchi, Yukimi Moriyama third in 16:44.23. At the other end of the spectrum, the women's freestyle dash went to Yaoi Matsumoto in 25.46, Haruka Ueda and Misaki Ago taking the minor spoils in 25.54 and 25.59. Sayaka Akase took the 200m backstroke crown in 2:09.37, no others inside 2:11.

The 200m, meanwhile, went to Akihiro Yamaguchi, 18, the man who assumed a part of Kitajima's mantle last year when he set a world record of 2:07.01 after London 2012 had passed. Today, a 2:09.31 sufficed for victory, selection in the lap of the blazers. The minor spoils went to Kazuki Kohinata and Yukihiro Takahashi in 2:11.27 and 2:11.55 respectively, with three others inside 2:12 in the hunt for the podium. 

Yamaguchi said "It was the first time for me to take part in the national championships and I felt it was tough. I lost to Kosuke (Kitajima) by three hundredths of a second in the 100m and my time was so bad. I didn't know if I would do well today, but I cut the 2:10.00 for the first time in a long time. Japanese swimmers have done very well in this category, so I must follow them."

While some must wait to see whether they have a thumbs up or down from selectors, those who made the podium at London 2012 will be at Barcelona 2013 world titles. Takeshi Matsuda knows it and tweeted in Japanese: "I got home! Sorry not to have put in a good result this time. I work hard to light the fire again for the summer".