Ryosuke Irie is a Japanese backstroke specialist and Olympian from Osaka, Japan. Born Jan. 24, 1990 Irie was born in Tennoji-ku, Osaka, the city that he attended Kindai University in. Irie was training in Brisbane in the run up to the Rio Olympics, hoping that would give him the best opportunity for an Olympic gold medal after his silver and bronze in 2012. But in his second Olympic games, his managed 5th, 7th and 8th places.
In his earlier years Irie hated swimming — there’s a tale that his mother would have to carry him to the pool in tears, because he dreaded the pool so much. He started to focus on swimming in his junior high school years after joining the elite Itoman Toshin team in Osaka. His older brother was already an elite swimmer, which was one of the only reasons Irie joined the team.
Infamous backstroke technique
Since Irie is of a shorter stature, standing 5’10”, so he relies on a perfect form and technique in order to compete. It’s been said that Irie has one of the most beautiful and efficient strokes worldwide, which was developed in his junior high years. He was initially a freestyler, but he was scrawny with little endurance, and his transition to backstroke fit his body type and fitness better.
Irie’s backstroke reminds many swimming fans of Roland Matthes, who in his day, was described as the Rolls-Royce of swimming.
In junior high school in Japan Irie began winning national competitions when he made his transition to being a backstroke specialist. In 2005 Irie was swimming at the high school level in Japan, and at the national high school championships that year he won the 200m backstroke. In 2006 Irie broke the high school student record at the Japanese National Championships, and nearly missed qualifying for the World Championships.
World Record controversy
In 2009, after just a few years on the international scene, Irie competed at the Japan-Australia swimming contest in Canberra. He competed in the 200m backstroke, and he broke Ryan Lochte’s World Record. The time was rejected by FINA, because he wasn’t wearing an approved technical suit.
Although FINA declared the time invalid, since the suit gave an unfair advantage, Japan approved the record time — the suit in question was made from a Japanese company, which was called Descente. In the same swim meet, he was .02 seconds from breaking the World Record in the 100m backstroke.
Irie moved from national to international competitions by 2007. That first year in senior competitions, he beat his second high school record in the 200m backstroke. After his controversy in 2009, Irie swam at the 2009 World Championships in Rome later in the year. With an approved racing suit, Irie won silver in the 200m backstroke, setting a new Asian Record and swimming the second-fastest time in history.
He qualified for his first Olympic Games in 2012, where he swam in both backstroke events. In London Irie won a silver medal in the 200m backstroke, narrowly missing gold, and a bronze in the 100m distance.
At the Asian Games in 2014, Irie set himself apart from the rest of the field when he broke his own Asian Games Record and set the second fastest textile suit swim in history. During this swim, he took his race out quick, and by the 100m mark he was already more than one second ahead of the field. In 2014 he was extremely consistent with his swims in the 200m backstroke — he constantly swam fast times in the event, erasing any doubt that his swims were a one-time thing.
In Apr. 2015 Irie posted the world’s fastest 100m backstroke of the year at that point in time. His time broke the 53-second mark, being the first to do so in 2015. Irie was named Male Swimmer of the Meet after dominating the backstroke events at the 2015 BHP Billiton Aquatic Super Series in Berth, Austrlia.
2015 World Championships
Irie qualified for the 2015 World Championships in Kazan, along with 24 other Japanese teammates. He took on the 100-meter back, finishing 4th in the semi-finals and advancing to the championship final. Even though Irie actually swam faster in the finals, he dropped two places, finishing 6th overall.
In the 200-meter back Irie once again advanced to the championship after posting the 6th fastest time in the semi-final. In the final Irie took out the first 100 meters strong, and commanded the lead until the 150-meter mark and fell off in the last 50 meters. Irie finished in 4th place, after touching in 2nd at the 150-meter mark.
2016 Rio Olympic Games
Hoping to secure a gold medal after a narrow miss four years earlier, Irie took to the Olympic stage in both backstroke events and the 400 meter medley relay. Irie’s best finish came in the relay where he lead off on the backstroke leg to help Japan finish 5th in the final. In his individual events, he managed a 7th and 8th finish in the 100 and 200 meter backstroke respectively.
2017 World Championships
In Budapest Irie finished 4th in the 100 meter backstroke final in 53.03. In the 200 meter backstroke he finished 7th in 1:56.35.
2018 Pan Pacific Championships
Leading off Japan’s 400 mixed medley relay on day 1, Irie split 52.83 to help Japan secure silver, marking Irie’s first major international medal since 2014. On day 2, Irie won his first individual medal since 2014, touching for another silver in the men’s 100 backstroke (52.78). On day 4, Irie earned a pair of silvers, first touching 2nd in the 200 back in a time of 1:55.12. He finished off his pan pacs performance with a silver in the men’s 4×100 medley relay, leading off for Japan in a field best time of 52.61.
2018 Asian Games
Irie continued his streak of silvers in Jakarta, adding 4 more silver medals to the summer. He finished 2nd behind Chinese backstroke ace Xu Jiayu in all 3 backstroke distances, 50-200. By touching 2nd in the 200 backstroke, this was the first time that Irie hadn’t been crowned Asian champion in that event in the last 4 Asian Games, dating back to 2006. Irie also helped Japan to a silver medal in the 4×100 medley relay, leading off in a time of 52.53, and the mixed 4×100 medley relay.