Women’s 50 Freestyle – FINALS
Among the greatest weaknesses in all of Japanese swimming is the women’s sprint freestyles; however, fortunately the federation continues to cut them some slack in qualifying standards, so four were under the mark required for the Pan Pac Championships (though a maximum of three can go).
That group was led by 18-year old Miki Uchida, who swam a 25.49 for the victory. That’s a little bit of redemption for her after last year’s championship, where she stumbled and inexplicably slid into the B-Final.
Last year’s champion Yayoi Matsumoto took 2nd in 25.51, followed by Misaki Yamaguchi in 25.74. 13-year old Rikako Ikee (yes, that’s born in the year 2000) took 4th in 25.80, which rounded out the group under the qualifying standard. That is not a Japanese age record for Ikee, but still a noteworthy time from a swimmer so young.
Men’s 50 Freestyle – FINALS
Men’s sprinting in Japan used to be in the same position as women’s sprinting, requiring especially slow qualifying standards to give competitors at least a nibble at qualifying for bigger meets.
In fact, a swimmer could qualify for the Pan Pacs team this year and not even be in the world’s top 40 (and it’s only April).
But those standards may have to start coming down following Sunday’s final. There, Shinri Shioura broke the National Record in the 50 free and became the first Japanese man under 22 seconds when he posted a 21.88 for the win.
That broke his own World Record set at Worlds in 22.02, and also broke the Asian Record set by China’s Ning Zetao last September at 21.91.
The swim also pushes Shioura into the top 5 in the world rankings.
To show how ‘out of place’ that swim really is in Japan: it would have placed no lower than 2nd at any short course Japanese Championship until this year’s. That’s short course, with an extra turn.
The whole of the Japanese men’s sprint group really stepped up in this final.
Kenta Ito, who is great in short course himself, took 2nd in 22.36, followed by Katsumi Nakamura in 22.38. All were well under the 22.76 mandated for Pan Pacs qualifying in the event.
The rest of the field was crowded with veterans on the wrong side of their 20’s, including 27-year old Yuuki Kawachi who took 4th in 22.62.
Women’s 200 Backstroke – FINALS
The women’s 200 backstroke field isn’t much better than their 100 backstroke field, however fortunately for the Japanese women the qualifying standard is just slightly more forgiving. That allowed 19-year old Marie Kammura slide under it, just barely, in 2:09.76 to earn her ticket to the Gold Coast.
That’s about two-and-a-half seconds faster than she was to place 4th at this meet last year, so a big improvement for her in a year.
Unfortunately, as she improved, the defending champion Sayaka Akase added about a second, and she took 2nd in 2:10.34 – short of the qualifying standard.
Anna Konishi was 3rd in 2:11.95.
Men’s 200 Backstroke – FINALS
There was a lot of buildup into this men’s 200 backstroke final, and the race didn’t fail to satisfy.
As expected, Ryosuke Irie went out hard and held over a second lead at the final turn. But Kosuke Hagino has fantastic endurance, and he made a big charge at the end, clawing back just shy of a nine-tenths of a second over the last 50 meters.
That gave the audience just enough to think about, but it left Hagino just short. Irie touched in 1:53.91 for the win, and Hagino took 2nd in 1:54.23.
Those are easily the world’s two fastest times in 2014; nobody else has been within a second of them this year.
The 3rd-place finisher Yuuki Shirai was also under the qualifying standard, and in fact into a thin world top 10 so far, with a 1:57.32. Hayate Matubara (1:57.65) and Masaki Kaneko (1:58.08) completed the top 5.
Women’s 100 Fly – FINALS
Natsumi Hoshi topped the women’s 50 fly with a back-half-heavy 58.81. Though at the final touch, she had more than a half-a-second cushion, it was not so for most of the way, as she actually turned 3rd (and half-a-second behind Tomoyo Fukuda).
Hoshi’s splits were 27.83 and 30.98.
Rino Hosada took 2nd in 59.40, and Fukuda faded to 3rd in 59.48. All three were under the Pan Pacs qualifying standard, as was the 4th-place finisher Suzuka Hasegawa (59.77).
Men’s 100 Fly – FINALS
While many of Japan’s ‘old guard’ has faded from the spotlight, the man bucking that trend is Takuro Fujii, who turns 29 in a week.
Fujii had a fantastic swim (much like Hoshi in the women’s race, he was half-a-second back at the turn) to win in 51.84. That made him the first man in the world under 52 seconds so far this year.
Joining him under that important, if arbitrary, barrier was Hirofumi Ikebata in 51.98. That improves him all the way up from 5th at last year’s championship.
3rd place went to 17-year old Takaya Yasue in 52.57.
Women’s 200 Breaststroke – FINALS
The swimmer-of-the-meet on the women’s side has to be 17-year old Kanako Watanabe. On Sunday, she picked up her 3rd individual win of the meet and broke her 2nd Junior National Record with a 2:21.09. That left her within four-tenths of the senior National Record in the event, that belongs to Rie Kaneto – the 2nd-place finisher in this final.
Kaneto swam a 2:21.58, and she and Watanabe will share the honor of favorite headed into both Pan Pacs and the Asian Games (almost regardless of where their real focus is).
Mio Motegi will join them on the summer tour after taking 3rd in 2:23.81.
Men’s 200 Breaststroke – FINALS
The men’s 200 breaststroke final wasn’t as much notable for who won it as it is for who didn’t win it.
But first, the just deserts to the winners: Kazuki Kohinata took the top spot in 2:09.67, followed by Yuuta Ohiskiri (2:10.23) and Yukihiro Takahashi (2:10.24).
This means that the World Record holder, Akihiro Yamaguchi, will be out of the summer’s championships after placing 4th in 2:10.33.
Yamaguchi has had a strange career arc since breaking the World Record in this race in 2012 just days after his 18th birthday. His speed was building into that meet, but ever since then has gone backward. He won the Japanese title last year, but was over two seconds away from his record, and this year added another second to miss the team altogether.
It seems like whether physical or psychological, there must be more to that story, but as of yet we don’t know what more might be.
Full meet results (in reverse order of swim) available here.