The international breaststroking field is deeper than we’ve seen in a long time, with the 200m distance, in particular, drawing Olympic-worthy times during domestic competitions.
Already this year, now-19-year-old Japanese World Junior Championships silver medalist Shoma Sato bypassed the 2:08-target altogether, bringing his previous personal best of 2:09.21 down to a scorching 2:07.58 at January’s Kosuke Kitajima Cup. With him in the race was former World Record holder Ippei Watanabe, who also nailed a head-turning in-season effort of 2:07.86
22-year-old Watanabe has publicly said he is aiming for a time in the 2:05 range at Japan’s Olympic Trials, the Japan Swim, scheduled for the first week of April. Achieving that feat would not only ‘put pressure on his rivals’, as Watanabe indicated, but it would register a new World Record, diving under the 2:06.12 set by Russian Anton Chupkov en route to 2019 World Championships gold.
Watanabe isn’t the only man with time tunnel-vision, however, as Sato says he is aiming for a 2:06.
Aware that he is competing primarily against Watanabe (and the clock) come April, Sato said his plan is to ‘train myself to swim in the 1:04 range in the back half of the race without rushing the front half.’ (Tokushima Shimbun)
When Sato put up his PB of 2:07.58 last month, a time that ranks the teen #2 in the world this season, his splits were composed of 1:01.41/1:06.17. With his 1:04 back-half goal in mind, to hit a 2:06, as Sato said, he would need to go out fast enough to pace the field, but not zealously so where he would lose steam on the final stretch.
Sato is among those swimmers invited to this weekend’s Konami Open, the meet at which racers will be awarded a bonus of $275,000 for a new World Record and $50,000 for any new Japanese national record. The opportunity may give Sato the chance to try out a new race strategy before the Japan Swim with essentially nothing to lose and some sweet cash and confidence to gain.