Hagino Regains Japan National Title as Olympic Swimming Venue Hosts 1st Meet

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Kosuke Hagino swims the breaststroke portion of the 400-meter individual medley on Thursday at the Tokyo Aquatics Center.

Olympic gold medalist Kosuke Hagino helped baptize the Tokyo Aquatics Center, the newly built venue for swimming at next summer’s Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics, by winning his first national title in two years on Thursday.

Hagino, who skipped last year’s Japan Swim championships, won the men’s 400-meter individual medley in 4 minutes 13.32 seconds on the opening day of the four-day meet. Tomoru Honda finished second in 4:14:68.

“It was as if I was one with the water,” said Hagino, who won the gold medal in the event at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics.

Hagino’s top rival, Daiya Seto, did not compete as he is currently under suspension.

In the race, Hagino took the lead for good in the backstroke, the second of the four strokes. “Right now, it’s feeling really good,” he said.

Although he was more than 7 seconds off his own Japan record and not yet near his peak, the smoothness of his race was a clear indication that he was back.

Last year, Hagino took a long layoff, and when he returned to competition, he was well off form.

“I could only concentrate on what was going on internally for me, and when I got onto the starting block, I had already lost,” he said.

With a string of poor performances, he tried to push himself harder, only to worsen his form. For Hagino, the postponement of the Tokyo Olympics was a blessing in disguise.

Looking ahead to 2021, he took a close look at his race, made the necessary tweaks and gradually worked the kinks out.

While his time cleared the qualifying standard for making Japan’s team to the Tokyo Olympics, Hagino knows he still has work to do.

“I don’t think this time will be good enough to make the Olympic team,” he said.

Still, the 26-year-old Hagino, once dubbed the “golden child of the water,” appears to have regained his outstanding sense in the pool.

“This race is a lead-up to the next one,” he said a number of times.

In other action, Kanako Watanabe won her first national title in four years when she came from behind to edge Reona Aoki in the women’s 100 breaststroke in 1:06.78.

Aoki, who finished fourth at last year’s world championships, placed second in 1:06.95.