Yesterday marked the 4th prelims session of the 2016 Japanese Olympic Trials. One of the events contested was the men’s 100m freestyle, which produced some results worth noting. Known more for its breaststroke and IM prowess, the nation of Japan is slowly emerging as a possible sprinting hotbed in its extreme infancy.
In the 100m freestyle prelims in Tokyo yesterday morning, an incredible 12 individual swimmers raced their way to a 49-point time. Out of 48 competitors total in the event, that means 25% of the Japanese athletes went sub-50 for their morning swims. Looking back at this same ‘Japan Swim’ meet in the past, the numbers are much more humble.
In the 2012 edition of this meet, also serving as that year’s Olympic Trials, just 2 out of 41, or roughly 4.9% of prelims swimmers came away with a sub-50-second time. Flash forward to 2014 and the meet saw 6 prelims swimmers rock a 49-point 100m freestyle mark. With 35 swimmers contesting the event that year, the percentage jumped to 17.1.
For comparison, these figures aren’t entirely that far off from what we see at U.S.-based meets. Last year’s USA Swimming summer Nationals saw 12 out of 65 swimmers score a sub-50-point freestyle time out of prelims, rendering an 18.46% rate. However, several of those 12 swimmers were not American, such as Roland Schoeman and James Disney-May, so the percentage of just Americans who scored sub-50 outings was even less.
At Winter Nationals, still just the top 12 prelim swimmers dipped beneath the 50-point threshold in the men’s 100m freestyle, but this time there were 102 swimmers, so just 11.8% went sub-50.
Right now, the highest-positioned Japanese 100m freestyler in the world rankings is its national record holder, Katsumi Nakamura, with his time of 48.55. Indeed Nakamura’s mark is well off the world’s top time of 47.56 held by Australia’s Cameron McEvoy, but there was a time when there were no Japanese men at all within the 100m freestyle world rankings.
Bottom line, they still have a ways to go to combat the likes of the traditional sprinting powerhouses of America, France and Australia, but Japan is becoming the little engine that could and chipping away at the gap between its sprinting arsenal and that of its rivals.