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Musical Irie Tunes Into His Talent

Jun 5, 2009  - Craig Lord

When Ryosuke Irie takes another crack at the world 100m and 200m backstroke records at the Japan Open over the next three days, his musical mind plays a part in finding the right tempo, says the Japanese swimmer. 

The 19-year-old, who is reported by AFP's Japan service as having "started swimming just months after he was born", took up piano lessons as a young child and now plays in his spare time in an effort to find balance, "kill time or calm myself". The Osaka university law student stands 177sm tall (5ft 10) and weighs just 62kg (137lbs) also like to cook and has drawn the attention of his national media in the past because he sometimes cries when he is defeated.

The controversy over the Descente Aquaforce suit in which he axed 1sec off the world 200m back record is said to have affected the mood and training of this sensitive swimmer. The suit was never approved by FINA but the Japan federation allowed its entire national team to wear the suit this season. 

Irie is now said to be back on track. Fifth in the 200m backstroke in the Beijing Olympic final in only his second international outing, the teenager has improved his dolphin kicking out of start and turn since last summer and aims to prove that he is capable of getting beyond the previous world record set by Ryan Lochte, Olympic champion for the US in China, even without the assistance of a suit that failed to make it through independent suit tests on the basis that it may trap air and therefore buoy performance.

Irie's best times are 52.58 and 1:52.86. Where those fit in terms of the assistance rendered by suits will not truly be known until January 1, 2010, by which time FINA aims to have delivered rules that insist on the use of permeable, textile suits.

"If I set a world record in an approved swimsuit, it will calm the swimsuit dispute at once," said Irie. That will depend on what he wears. If he does it in a 2007 model suit of any kind, there will be no need for anyone to question anything.

Japan head coach Norimasa Hirai believes that the very talented Irie, who in common with many of the world's best backstroke specialist is a master of the art of balancing a battle on his forehead when honing balance and position in water, has yet to reach his full potential. 

As is the case with Lochte and Aaron Peirsol, Olympic champion and world record holder in the 100m, Irie will be a tremendous force to reckon with, fast suit or no fast suit. "I must care about how to fight such veterans as Lochte and Peirsol and how aggressively I can swim my race," said Irie, who in 2007 showed great promise with a 1:57.30 effort to win the 200m backstroke at the Chiba International. 

Irie leads the list of Japanese swimmers being touted at home as the "next Kosuke Kitajima". If Irie wins a backstroke title in London, he would be the first Japanese swimmer to do so since Daichi Suzuki beat American David Berkoff at his own game of submarinery in a final that saw some swim backstroke and others dolphin kick their way through a loophole that was subsequently closed by the imposition of a 10m and then 15m limit on underwater action out of starts and turns.

Irie is not only looking at London. "I will aim to medal in London and also seven years later when the Olympics possibly comes to Tokyo," said Irie, with a nod to Japan's bid to host the 2016 Summer Games. I will be 26 in Tokyo but age won't matter. I think it's possible as the average age of swimmers is rising."