2016 ASIAN MALE SWIMMER OF THE YEAR: KOSUKE HAGINO
Despite being dealt a big blow in 2015 where a biking accident resulted in a broken elbow and Japanese swimmer Kosuke Hagino out of the 2015 FINA World Championships, the 22-year-old fierce competitor dedicated himself to a mindful and measured recovery. Hagino took his time, opting out of competition for the remainder of 2015 then quietly returned to the pool in January 2016.
Immediately upon his return, Hagino was up to form, racing his way to gold in the 200m IM and 400m IM events at the 2016 Kitajima Cup. His respective times of 1:57.73 and 4:11.38 held up within the top 3 in the world at the time, firing off a warning shot to IM competitors everywhere that his Olympic campaign kicked off on the right foot.
With American stalwarts Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte out of the path of a possible 400m IM Olympic victory in Rio, Hagino took full advantage. He owned the grueling race from start to finish, ultimately notching the win in a time of 4:06.05, a new Asian Record. The monstrous swim broke Hagino’s previous record of 4:07.61 set at the 2013 Japanese Championships and marked the stealthy athlete’s first individual win at either an Olympics or World Championships.
His impressive outing was followed by another battle in the sprint IM event, with Hagino chasing Phelps for the gold in the 200m. Phelps ran away with the gold, but Hagino scored the silver medal, producing a huge 1:56.61. With that performance, Hagino became the 7th fastest performer of all time in the event.
Although Hagino couldn’t make the magic happen in the enormously stacked men’s 200m freestyle final where he settled for 7th in 1:45.90, his lead-off on the Japanese 4x200m freestyle relay helped give them the edge for bronze in Rio. Hagino threw down an opening split of 1:45.34 to come in as 2nd fastest only behind USA’s Conor Dwyer.
Hagino underwent endoscopic surgery for his elbow and would be out of the water for a month beginning in September. He plans to return to competition in April 2016 at the Japanese National Championships.
In no particular order
- Joseph Schooling, Singapore – Schooling had maybe the splashiest single win in all of the Olympics when upended the back-and-forth between Michael Phelps and Chad le Clos with a 100 fly gold medal. Before that, he broke the U.S. Open and NCAA Records in the 100 and 200 fly in the American collegiate ranks. Schooling now has two paths forward to grow his star globally (though he’s as hot as hot can be in Singapore): either add a second event in long course, or continue to pound down his time in the 100 fly and chase the World Record. His current best, from Rio, is a 50.39. Phelps’ World Record, from 2009, is a 49.82.
- Dimitriy Balandin, Kazakhstan – Balandin made history at the 2016 Olympic Games by becoming his nation’s first-ever Olympic medalist in swimming. He soared to the top of the podium in the men’s 200m breaststroke event, winning gold in a time of 2:07.46. That checks Balandin in as the 9th fastest performer of all-time in the event.
- Sun Yang, China – Although Sun Yang was beaten by Australian rival Mack Horton in the men’s 400m freestyle event to kick-off his 2016 Olympics campaign, Sun fired back big time in the men’s 200m free event. Among the likes of World Champion James Guy, multiple medalist Chad Le Clos and the aforementioned Hagino, Sun Yang held his own and touched in 1:44.65 for the gold with the only sub-1:45-second time of the studly set of swimmers.
- Wang Shun, China – 22-year-old Wang Shun broke through in 2016, taking the bronze behind Phelps and Hagino in the 200m IM in Rio. That was a successful follow-up to the bronze he earned in the same event in Kazan. Not resting on his laurels after this summer’s Olympics, Wang threw down a 200m IM time of 1:56.66 while competing at the Asian Swimming Championships this past November. That time would have beaten the 1:57.05 he produced in Rio and registers Wang as the 7th-fastest performer of all-time.