2016 ASIA FEMALE SWIMMER OF THE YEAR: RIE KANETO
There are late bloomers and then there are swimmers like Rie Kaneto, the Japanese breaststroker who scorched records en route to Olympic gold this year at the age of 27.
Her fairy tale 2016 journey kicked off in February when competing as part of the Japanese contingency in Perth at the 2016 Aquatic Super Series. The veteran Japanese athlete rocked a brand new All Comers Record, as well as a shiny new Japanese National Record in the women’s 200m breaststroke in Perth, Australia, throwing down a personal best time of 2:20.04. The mark lit fire to her old national record of 2:20.72 set all the way back in 2009 (aka, the rubber suit era) as well as checked in as the new Asian Continental Record.
But the 2014 Short Course World Championships and Pan Pacific Championships silver medalist wasn’t content with a sub-2:21-second outing. She willed her way to an even lower mark at the Japanese National Championships in April, the meet which doubled as her nation’s Olympic Trials. Beating the next closest competitor by almost 4 solid seconds, Kaneto broke a new barrier, becoming the first Japanese woman in history to clock a sub-2:20 200m breaststroke time. She took gold and claimed an Olympic berth in a stunning time of 2:19.65. That inserts Kaneto into the 7th spot on the list of fastest performances ever in the 200m breaststroke event.
Capping off her stellar year, Kaneto clocked the gold medal-winning mark in Rio, clinching the 200m breaststroke title in a time of 2:20.30. Although off her national record, the effort was enough to hold off Russian Yulia Efimova and become Japan’s first gold medalist in the event since 1992.
In no particular order
- Natsumi Hoshi, Japan – The 200m butterfly bronze medalist in London repeated her Olympic performance this past summer in Rio. Hoshi nabbed bronze once again to end her career with a 2nd Olympic medal. The 2015 World Champion in the event suffers from Graves’ disease, which resulted in her thyroid gland having been removed in 2014, but the athlete fought through the illness throughout her career. She announced her retirement from competitive swimming this past November. Of her announcement, Hoshi said, “The biggest [reason for retirement] is that I gave my all at the Rio Olympics. I watched my race a number of times, but I didn’t get the feeling of frustration like before. I gave everything I had and am satisfied.”
- Fu Yuanhui, China – The gold medalist in the 50m backstroke at the 2015 FINA World Championships surged to the wall for bronze in the 100m event in Rio, tying Canada’s Kylie Masse in 58.76. That notched a new Chinese National Record for the 20-year-old. Perhaps even more famous than her performance in the pool, however, was the energetic swimmer’s reaction afterwards. In an on-camera interview, we see Fu move from disappointed to happy to elated as the reporter clues Fu in to her bronze medal finish. Her on-camera antics scored the Swammy for Best Viral Video.