Itou Record Concludes Quality Japan Meet
Apr 23, 2006 - Craig Lord
Quality and depth were everywhere at the Japanese national championships, which concluded in Tokyo today with national records of 2:09.15 for Hanae Itou over 200m backstroke, 7:55.11 over 800m free for Takeshi Matsuda (also an Asian record), and victory at last for double Olympic champion Kosuke Kitajima.
Itou stayed a touch head of rival Reiko Nakamura throughout the four laps, turning in 1:03.36 before taking the title in 2:09.15 to 2:10.05. Itou's time is the ninth fastest ever. At the world championships last summer, Nakamura took the bronze in 2:10.41, with Itou fourth on 2:10.98. Nakamura had held the record at 2:09.88 since the Olympic Games in Athens, 2004.
Kitajima, after finishing outside the medals over 200m and being beaten over 50 metres, triumphed over 100m breaststroke in what for him was a solid but relatively unspectacular 1:00.71, 0.35sec ahead of Makoto Yamashita. Four men raced inside 1:02, with last home in the final on 1:02.78. It was a pattern seen throughout the meet, one that not only reflected depth of quality and the strength of work clearly going on in Japan.
Where else in the world will you find 22 women in the 1,500m freestyle these days? The US, Australia, perhaps. Any others? Not many, if any. Sachiko Yamada took the title in 16:10.62, ahead of 17-year-old Yurie Yano, on 16:20.57, with Olympic 800m champion Ai Shibata third on 16:26.16. Behind them, fifth place took 16:37.32, 12 seconds faster than the winner in Durban at the South African nationals.
Tomomi Morita made it a clean-sweep on backstroke, with a 1:58.79 triumph over 200 metres, 0.53sec ahead of 15-year-old Ryosuke Irie whose 1:59.32 was the fastest by a Japanese junior and one of the swiftest swims by a 15-year-old ever. The final was stacked with quality: four inside 2 mins, 2:01 for seventh and last home a 2:02.47.
Takashi Yamamoto, coming back from a long break after Athens, won the 100m butterfly title in 52.53, just 0.06sec ahead of Ryo Takatasu, with Ryuichi Shibata third on 53.03. Three others raced inside 54sec, last home a 54.26.
Yuuko Nakanishi turned third at the half-way point of the 100 metres butterfly but came home strongest and was the only finalist to dip below 59sec, victory hers in 58.93. Ayako Doi, 59.33, and Yuka Katou, 59.70, also swam inside the minute, with all other finalists below 1:01.
Yoshimi Miwa, in 1:08.72, finished at the helm of a 100m breaststroke final in which five women raced inside 1:10, with Mina Matsushima, 14, and Yuumi Murakami, 15, the last two home on 1:10.62 and 1:10.79 respectively.
Despite the quality, Japan has set high standards for its swimmers, and so far just four men and six women have qualified for the world championships, to be staged in Melbourne next March. They have another selection chance at the Pan Pacific Championships in Vancouver this summer.
RESULTS FROM TOKYO