Masato Sakai is a Japanese butterfly specialist. In his Olympic debut, he narrowly missed beating his idol, Michael Phelps to the top spot in the 200 meter butterfly. He trains at Waseda University where he studies Sports Science.
Sakai made his international debut for Japan at the 2013 Junior World Championships where he won a silver medal in the 200 meter butterfly. Over the next year, Sakai made huge improvements, dropping his time from 1:56.78 to 1:55.15 over the year. At his first senior international at 19 years old, Sakai finished just outside the medals at the 2014 Pan Pacific Championships. He finished 4th in the 200 meter butterfly in 1:56.64. His Japan teammate, Daiya Seto, took the gold medal.
2015 FINA World Championships
At the Japanese Championships, Sakai beat Japan’s 200 meter butterfly record holder, Takeshi Matsuda, for the second spot to qualify for his first World Championships. In Kazan, Sakai finished just off the podium again with another fourth place finish in the 200 meter butterfly. He lowered his best time to 1:54.24, missing out on the bronze by 0.14.
2016 Rio Olympics
Going head to head with his idol, Michael Phelps, for the first time, Sakai made a blistering comeback on the final 50 of the 200 meter butterfly almost taking the gold from Phelps. Sakai was in a packed field, going up against Phelps, the greatest of all time, Laszlo Cseh, the current World Champion and Chad le Clos, the defending Olympic Champion.
At the halfway mark, Sakai turned sixth but as he turned on the burners the final 100 meters, he picked them off one by one until there was just Phelps left. He had a monstrous last 50 split of 29.67, a second faster than Phelps’ final lap. Phelps had done just enough and got to the wall 4 hundredths ahead of Sakai. The young Hungarian swimmer Tamás Kenderesi went with Sakai on the final 100 too, finishing third.
2017 World Championships
In his signature event, 200 meter butterfly, Sakai finished 6th in 1:55.04.