Flashback to 2012 and one of the biggest swimming stories of that year was the new World Record set in the men’s 200m breaststroke by a seemingly-out-of-nowhere Japanese swimmer Akhiro Yamaguchi.
Just 17 at the time, Yamaguchi had taken Junior Pan Pacific Championships gold in the 200m breast event in August 2012, clocking a time of 2:08.03 before crushing his lifetime best and new WR mark of 2:07.01 just a month later.
Since then, Yamaguchi has seen his record lowered on multiple occasions as follows:
- 2:07.01, Yamaguchi, 2012
- 2:06.67, Ippei Watanabe (JPN), 2017
- 206.67, Matthew Wilson (AUS), 2019
- 2:06.12, Anton Chupkov (RUS), 2019
Yamaguchi himself hasn’t been able to capture the same magic that fueled his historic swim, however. He notched just 2:12.33 to place 11th at the 2015 FINA World Aquatic Championships and was rendered just 19th at Japan’s Olympic Trials in 2016, off the team for Rio. He missed the 2017 and 2019 World Championships as well.
Yamaguchi went to Toyo University after graduating from high school, but the results did not follow. He told Yahoo! Japan this week, “I’d been trying hard, but when I went from high school to college, I couldn’t keep up with my body. In terms of practice, the distance for one week increased by 4 to 5 times, and the training time was about 3 times higher than when I was in high school.”
Now 25 and seeing the likes of Yasuhiro Koseki, Ippei Watanabe and, more recently, teenaged Shoma Sato surging to the top of the men’s 200m breaststroke field domestically, Yamaguchi has contemplated retirement. In fact, according to Yahoo! Japan, the man who was once dubbed ‘Kitajima II”, had originally intended to retire at the end of this year, after the home-based Olympic Games in Tokyo.
However, with the Games being postponed to July 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic, Yamaguchi is rethinking his retirement plans, stating, “I can’t stop yet.”
Yamaguchi’s contract with Itoman Swimming has expired. “I’m really worried about what I should do in the future. It is difficult to continue without any affiliation. It’s an athlete’s dream to get out there. I will have to rebuild my body again for the next round of the selection process in April next year.”
The lack of a contract also means that Yamaguchi and his wife and child are suffering financially.
“I thought that if the Olympics were held this summer, I would retire in the fall and start working from there. But since there was no income, the Olympics were postponed, I am worried about my money. It depends on the location of the training camp abroad and the period, but it costs about 700,000 to 800,000 yen per month. Nowadays, I’m living down my savings.”
The swimmer says that, through it all, his wife has been a pillar of support. “There is a part of my wife that allows me to be selfish. ‘I want you to go for it’, she tells him. That kind of thinking has saved me a lot.”
It’s not a done deal, but Yamaguchi is leaning towards hanging on one more year to race to Olympic glory on home soil.