It was just this past January that 23-year-old Ippei Watanabe, former world record holder in the men’s 200m breaststroke, predicted he’d throw down something big at April’s Japan Swim.
“The aim is in the order of 2 minutes and 5 seconds,” is what Watanabe told the Asian press, with the breaststroke hoping to put pressure on his rivals heading into a home nation-host Olympic Games.
In 2017, Watanabe became the first-ever man under 2:07 by clocking a new World Record of 2:06.67. That was later eclipsed by Australia’s Matt Wilson before being lowered once again in the 2019 World Championships final to a new result of 2:06.12 by Russian Anton Chupkov.
Wilson finished with the silver in Gwangju in 2:06.68, while Watanabe touched .06 outside of that aforementioned former WR and previous lifetime best with a bronze medal-worthy time of 2:06.73. As such, Watanabe would need to drop at least .68 off of his best-ever effort to get under 2:06.
As with most international meets in the months of March, April, May and beyond, the Japan Swim wound up being cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic, while the 2020 Olympic Games themselves have been pushed out to 2021.
Having to change-up his game plan made Watanabe refocus on what falls under his domain and what does not when it comes to big meet preparation.
“I really felt that there are parts that I can control and parts that I can not control. The new coronavirus situation is the part that cannot be controlled.”
Speaking to the Asian press this week, Watanabe recalls having been in excellent shape heading into the aforementioned Trials, ready to strike a historic time. Upon returning to the water after about a 2-month lockdown, Watanabe said his first time back in the pool rendered him not feeling like his old self. “I felt like my body wasn’t my body. Like my hand wasn’t my own hand.”
Still, the Waseda graduate states now, “I don’t think my results will change significantly even if I extend for a year, so I think positively that I have more time to look back at myself and overcome my weaknesses.
“The goal of aiming for a gold medal by breaking the world record will remain unchanged.”