For some swimmers, life after retirement doesn’t take them far from the water where they spent the majority of their lives training. We caught up with Ryosuke Imai, the first Japanese breaststroker to break the 1 minute barrier for the 100 metres breaststroke and the fastest breaststroker in history at University of Southern California, to find where his journey has taken him.
It was during 2001 that Imai experienced both his most memorable swimming experience, as well as one of his darkest times which ultimately resulted in his retirement. The high of representing Japan at the 2001 World Championships in his hometown of Fukuoka was overshadowed by the passing of Imai’s father shortly after the meet.
“After my father passed away I lost interest in pursuing my career because he was the one who pushed and encouraged me to strive for excellence in the pool. I needed to learn the basics to survive in the real world, the transition was not easy. The knowledge I had learned to succeed in the pool became useless all of a sudden.”
In the years prior to the World Championships, Imai had moved to the United States to further his study at USC becoming a four-time All American during his college career. With his decision made to move on from swimming and inspired by his 5 years in Los Angeles, Imai resolved to ‘pursue my American dream back home in Japan.’ He used his connections and publicity to start his own company called Wonder Years selling swimwear and swim accessories.
It’s what he continues to do and has recently taken on Australian labels Funky Trunks and Funkita to introduce to the Japanese market.
“Japanese people are into fashion, with Tokyo being one of the world’s fashion epicentres. I believe that Funkita and Funky Trunks are the brands that the Japanese have been waiting for with their vivid and unique designs. The quality of the swimsuits also meets the high expectations of the Japanese swimmers.”
Although swimming taught him disciple and commitment, he found business provided him a new perspective on collaborating with other people to achieve a goal.
“Swimming is an individual sport and you shape the art of your performance by yourself. Business, however, is conducted on a much larger scale and you cannot cover everything by yourself. I learnt to appreciate people along the way and listen to them when deciding something.”
Ryosuke Imai – Main events: 50m, 100m and 200m breaststroke
- First Japanese man to break a minute in the 100m breaststroke (short course)
- Fastest breaststroker in history at University of Southern California
- Four-time All-American
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