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Hirai Laments Barren Last Day In Tokyo

Apr 8, 2012  - Craig Lord

Japan Nationals, Tokyo, Day 7 Finals: 

The last day of the national championships was a barren one as far as London 2012 qualification was concerned, not a single swimmer meeting the target times in five finals.

Ahead of the London Games team announcement on Monday, Japan head coach Norimasa Hirai was not best pleased, telling Kyodo: "We couldn't have had a worse final day. Nothing went right. Looking ahead to the Olympics after a day like this, we'll need good results from the very first day to boost the morale of the team. If not, we'll have more days like this.

"If we changed everything we needed to change in our approach, our program, then this might be acceptable. After the Olympics, we're going to need to look at ourselves hard in the mirror and review how we do things around here, including myself. This is disappointing."

Japan produced 27 qualifying times during the seven-day championships, down from 35 in Beijing 2008, where the anion's fastest fish won five medals, two gold and three bronze.

Hirai refused to set a target for the team until he had spoken to swimmers and coaches to "gauge their level of motivation". A good start at London 2012 would be important, he added, noting the importance of the man he led to four Olympic gold medals, Kosuke Kitajima, who on the second day of the Games, assuming he makes the final of the 100m breaststroke, would race for a place in history as the first (assuming Michael Phelps does not enter and win the 400IM on day 1) man to join the triple Olympic champion's club of those who have won the same race at three Games.

Hirai said: "Usually, it's the federation's job to set goals or determine how many medals to shoot for. But this time, I want to speak to all the swimmers from the training camp starting tomorrow before announcing how many medals we'll try to win. In Athens as well as in Beijing, Kitajima got the team to settle by swimming well in the heats on the first day. The first day is crucial to the entire team."

Hirai looked back on a  good meet and cited Satomi Suzuki and Natsumi Hoshi as impressive in the 200m breaststroke and butterfly, noted that Kitajima, at 29, had become the oldest Japanese swimmer ever to qualify for the Olympics, and highlighted the games of high school teenagers Kosuke Hagino and Kanako Watanabe.

"Like Satomi Suzuki yesterday, or Natsumi Hoshi, some performed better than we initially expected, putting up very good times," Hirai told Kyodo. "We need to help those athletes win gold as a team. We're all part of one national team. We need to forget about our affiliations, like which club or school we swim for. We need to determine who's got a shot at gold of the 27 swimmers, and help them achieve it all for one, one for all. If we don't, I don't think we can expect good results."

Race reports:

Men's 100m butterfly

Takurou Fujii, who set a Japanese textile-suit best of 51.69 in the semi-finals at world titles last year, took the crown in 51.91, the sixth best of his career, every effort in textile. The silver went to 200m winner in a world-leading time this season, Takeshi Matsuda, in 52.37, the bronze to Hirofumi Ikebata in 52.43. The national record stands from a time of shiny suits in 2009 at 51.00 to Kohei Kawamoto.

Men's 1500m freestyle

Kohei Yamamoto took the lead at 700m on his way to a 15:01.13 victory 0.75sec ahead of Yohei Takiguchi.  Yamamoto set a best time by 0.59sec for victory, while Takiguchi raced inside his 15:07.04 best from 2011.

Yosuke Moyamoto, national record holder on 14:57.12 last year, started to feel the pace after having led for the first 700m of the race. By the 1000m mark, he had fallen back from the lead two and 150m later was caught by Ayatsugu Hirai, who went on to take bronze in 15:10.99. In the closing stages, Miyamoto was passed by two others, Ryuta Watanabe, 4th in 15:15.40, and Yuto Satou, on 15:17.40, 0.07sec ahead of the early leader by the close.

Men's 50m freestyle

Kenta Ito claimed the crown in 22.20 ahead of Yuki Kawachi and Shinri Shiouro, on 22.44 and 22.56 respectively.

Women's 50m freestyle

Haruka Ueda clocked 25.17 for victory just 0.03sec shy of the national record and ahead of Tayoi Matsumoto, on 25.37, and Miki Uchida, who set a national junior record of 25.48.

For Tomoko Hagiwara, fifth place marked the end of her comeback bid. Hagiwara, who came in fourth in the 200 backstroke and the 200 medley at the 2000 Olympics and turns 32 next week, retired after missing the cut for Athens 2004. She came out of retirement in June 2009 but spent much of last year recovering from an operation she had in April to treat endometriosis and an ovarian cyst.

"I gave it 100 per cent," Hagiwara told Kyodo. "More than the time, the result, this past week has been so rewarding. I loved the intensity here, soaked it all up. I'm glad I didn't give up. It was nice to know so many people believed in me all the way to the end. I want to become a mom now. If I feel like swimming again, I'll come back and swim again."

Women's 200m backstroke

Shiho Sakai claimed the national title in 2:09.59 ahead of respective efforts of 2:10.44 and 2:10.69 from 17-year-olds Marie Kamimura and Miyu Ohtsuka.