Japan teammates Ryosuke Irie, Kosuke Hagino and Aya Terakawa set the pace for the rest of the world at the helm of the first quarter 2013 rankings with impressive early season efforts at NSW titles in Sydney today.
Irie and Hagino drove each other to the helm of the global ranks in 1:54.72 and 1:55.12 in the 200m backstroke, Ashley Delaney, on 1:58.81. Irie led from start to finish, with Hagino never more than 0.8 away, their comparative splits:
A measure of the quality: both Japanese men swam inside Delaney's Aussie record of 1:55.82; the helm of the 2013 world ranks had belonged to Olympic champion Tyler Clary (USA), on 1:57.85 last month.
Irie's medal-winning 1:53.78 at London 2012 is his fastest ever in a textile suit, while Hagino celebrated a lifetime best today, his previous mark a 1:55.81 established last August back home in the wake of the Olympic Games.
Hagino, Olympic bronze medallist in the 400m medley at London 2012, was not done yet: later in the session he took the 200m medley in 1:57.68 to go to the top of the first-quarter world ranks and keep the top two Aussies, Daniel Tranter and world cup winner Kenneth To at bay, on 1:59.18 and 1:59.52 respectively. Those were the first three sub-2-minute efforts of the year worldwide.
Terakawa leap to the lead on the ranks in 59.18 leading japan's medley relay to victory yesterday. A day later, she shaved 0.02sec off that pace to win the solo 100m final in 59.16 (29.14) ahead of Olympic silver medallist Emily Seebohm, 1:00.64, and Belinda Hocking, 1:00.69. Olympic champion Missy Franklin (USA) set the pace on the world ranks at 59.34 in January.
In other action, Alicia Coutts, five-times Olympic medal winners at London 2012, held off Ellen Gandy in the 100m butterfly 58.00 (26.99) to 58.30 (27.35), after the two had gone 58.56 and 58.84 respectively in morning heats. Third in the final was Japan's Yuka Kato in 59.47, with Yolane Kukla and Jemma Schlicht, just 15, both inside the minute, on 59.78 and 59.83 respectively. Coutts was back later for a 25.37 win in the 50m free ahead of Mel Mitchell's 25.44 and a 25.58 from Ellen O'Rourke in a final that saw 0.5sec split nine women.
In the battle of Japanese giants of breaststroke, world 200m record holder Akihiro Yamaguchi clocked 1:01.45 to take the 100m final ahead of quadruple Olympic champion of 2004 and 2008 Kosuke Kitajima, on 1:02.49. Third place went to Max Ireland in 1:02.84.
With the Japan team in great form, there was still room for plenty of home wins. In the 400m freestyle, Bronte Barratt and Kylie Palmer continued their domestic head-to-head: they swam stroke for stroke until Barratt stopped the clock in 4:08.51, 0.01sec ahead of Palmer, with Katie Goldman, leader by a whisker at half-way, third in 4:09.61.
Sally Foster edged past 15-year-old Jemma Strauch on the last lap of the 200m breaststroke for a 2:27.93 to 2:28.14 victory, Japan's Reona Aoki third in 2:28.94.
Thomas Fraser-Holmes and Cameron McEvoy went 1:47.64 and 1:47.74 respectively at the helm of the 200m free final, 200 'fly ace Takeshi Matsuda (JPN) on 1:48.64 for third ahead of four other Aussies inside 1:50.
The 4x200m free relays had Nunawading way out front. The women clocked 8:17.41, Ellen Gandy first in on 2:01.34, while the men clocked 7:32.46.