2021 Japanese Olympic Trials: A Synopsis


With several important Olympic Trials meets taking place concurrently over the next few weeks, it’s easy to miss key storylines that emerge from these high-intensity affairs. To help you take away the important points from each meet, we’ll be publishing our summary reviews to highlight all the Tokyo-impacting details as we move along through these jam-packed weeks.

First up is Japan, whose 2021 Japan Swim, the meet which represented the nation’s sole Olympic-qualifying opportunity, just wrapped up this past Saturday, April 10th. There were highs and lows, with expected results intermingled some surprises, all of which are characteristic of the drama surrounding Trials meets wherever they take place.

National Records

After a marathon of a meet which lasted 7 days, a total of 5 national records bit the dust, all on the men’s side of the house.

  • World Championships silver medalist Katsuo Matsumoto wreaked havoc on the 200m freestyle, topping the podium easily here in 1:44.65. That overtook the 1:45.13 he threw down earlier this year in January. Matsumoto represented the sole individual Olympic qualifier in this 2free event for the home-based Games.
  • Shui Kurokawa logged a new Japanese mark in the 800m free, posting 7:49.65 for the victory. Unfortunately for Kurokawa, a mark of 7:48.12 was deemed the minimum by the Japanese Swimming Federation (JASF) to qualify for the Olympic Games.
  • The men’s 200m breast saw 19-year-old Shoma Sato scorch a Japanese and Asian continental record of 2:06.40 to further solidify himself as a bonafide Olympic medal contender. This result positions the teen as the #2 performer all-time in this event, sitting only behind Russia’s Anton Chupkov who owns the World Record in 2:06.12.
  • Takeshi Kawamoto took down two national records, both in the butterfly discipline. He fired off a mark of 23.17 in the non-Olympic 50m fly while also matching the longstanding national standard of 51.00 in the 100m fly. Kawamoto hit that time in the semifinals, following that performance up with a slightly slower 51.25 to finish 2nd to Naoki Mizunuma‘s 51.03. Both men qualified for the Olympic squad with their results.

Expected Qualifiers

Many of the top Japanese swimmers who have reigned since the last Olympic Games were able to easily qualify for this postponed 2020 edition.

  • Yui Ohashi qualified for both the 200m IM and 400m IM, although she topped the podium in only the latter event.
  • The short course 200m fly world record holder Daiya Seto successfully added this 3rd event to his lineup, one that already included the 200m and 400m IM pre-qualifications from his 2019 World Championships titles.
  • Although Kosuke Hagino dropped the 400m IM event from his Trials lineup, he joined Seto as an Olympic qualifier in the men’s 200m IM and also scored a time good enough to be added to the 800m free relay.
  • Olympic icon Ryosuke Irie will represent Japan in both the 100m and 200m backstroke races and lead off the medley relay as a 31-year-old.
  • National record holder Katsumi Nakamura got it done for 100m free qualification, although he did miss out on the 50m free QT.

Surprising Swims

  • The biggest shock of the Japanese Olympic Trials came in the men’s 200m breaststroke, where former World Record holder Ippei Watanabe was shut out of the top 2 slots. Instead of Watanabe as the runner-up swimmer behind Sato’s aforementioned national record-setting swim, it was 24-year-old Ryuya Mura who got his hand on the wall next in a huge personal best of 2:07.58. Mura’s unexpected upset swim left Watanabe in the 3rd place position, just as he was in the 100m breast, in a pedestrian (by his standards) time of 2:08.30.
  • Rikako Ikee achieved what many, including herself, didn’t think was entirely possible just 7 months after a return to racing since recovering from leukemia. The 20-year-old inspirational athlete collected a remarkable 4 individual titles here, capturing the 50m fly, 100m fly, 50m free and 100m free gold medals. In doing so, Ikee qualified for the Olympic Games for both the medley and freestyle relays.
  • 26-year-old Miho Teramura put up the fastest 200m IM of her life to upset national record holder Yui Ohashi and qualify for the Olympic Games. Teramura turned it on to bust out a winning effort of 2:09.55, dropping .31 from her previous career-quickest in the process.
  • Yuki Ikari stepped up big-time in the men’s 400m IM to qualify behind Seto. Hitting the wall in 4:11.88, Ikari dropped over half a second off his previous lifetime best of 4:12.54 to snag silver. With his 4:11.88 time, Ikari remains Japan’s 5th fastest performer all-time and now an Olympic team member.

Young Guns Emerge

  • Tearing up the pool on her way to 2nd place in the women’s 400m IM race was high schooler Ageha Tanigawa, who seemingly came out of nowhere to upset Sakiko Shimizu as the 2nd Olympic qualifier. Entering this meet, Tanigawa’s personal best in this 4IM event rested at the 4:39.39 she posted in September 2019 as just a 16-year-old. Less than 2 years later, Tanigawa busted out an Olympic-qualifying time and one that would have rendered the teen as the 6th place finisher at the 2019 FINA World Championships. She became the 8th fastest woman in the world this season at just 18.
  • 17-year-old Konosuke Yanagimoto raced in the men’s 200m freestyle, snagging the silver in a time of 1:47.45. That was good enough to add the teen to the men’s 800m free relay lineup for Tokyo. Yanagimoto marks the youngest member of the Japanese Olympic swimming team since Hagino made the squad at the same age for the 2012 London Olympic Games.
  • We mentioned how Seto qualified for the men’s 200m fly, but it was actually 19-year-old Tomoru Honda who topped the podium in that event. Honda posted the first sub-1:55 time of his career in 1:54.93 for the gold and Olympic qualification.

Post-Meet Notes

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1 year ago

Thank you for this! It’s hard to keep up with what’s going on all over the world. Some very fast swimming in Japan.

About Retta Race

Retta Race

Former Masters swimmer and coach Loretta (Retta) thrives on a non-stop but productive schedule. Nowadays, that includes having just earned her MBA while working full-time in IT while owning French 75 Boutique while also providing swimming insight for BBC.

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