The 2015 Japan Open is set to take place this weekend, with heats, semifinals and finals taking place Friday, May 22nd through Sunday, May 24th at the Tatsumi International Pool in Tokyo. The usual major players on Team Japan will be present, ready to defend their 2014 Open titles, but some foreign talent will also be in the mix, with visits from both a solid Australian contingent, as well as a lone American.
Ryosuke Irie won a trifecta of events last year at this meet, racking up wins in the 100m back (52.69), 200m back (1:54.63) and 200m IM events (1:59.81) and he will be racing in those same contests this weekend. On the backstroke front, Irie has been his usual on-fire self, currently holding the number one and number two spots in the world rankings in the 100 and 200 backstrokes, respectively. His 1:54.62 was clocked at the Aquatic Super Series back in January, but still remains almost a second ahead of the rest of the world. His 52.99 100m backstroke from April’s Japanese Nationals sits only 11/100 behind that of Thomas Walker-Hebborn’s feat of 52.88 at British Nationals.
Also ready to rock in Tokyo are two world-leading multi-event swimmers on the men’s side for Team Japan; Daiya Seto and Kosuke Hagino. Although Seto leads the world with his 1:54.63 200m butterfly title-winning time at last month’s national championships, he fell just short in his two other events, the 200m IM and 400m IM, with Hagino topping the podium in both. Just half a second separated the two in the 200 IM event, with Hagino touching the wall first in 1:56.30 over Seto’s 1:56.82. The 400m IM saw further separation, however, with Hagino clocking a the world’s first sub-4:10 for 2015 (4:08.54) and Seto finishing in 4:10.97. Thus, Hagino and Seto sit atop the world rankings’ throne in the number one and two spots, respectively in both IM events and look to continue the fierce battle this weekend.
The sprint freestyle events look to the West, however, as American Anthony Ervin, is scheduled to make an appearance in the men’s 50m and 100m freestyle events. Last year’s winners in these races were Japanese swimmer Kenta Ito, who claimed gold in the 50m freestyle in 22.36 and Reo Sakata, who nabbed first place in the 100m distance in 49.53. Ervin has already been faster in the 50m free thus far this year, having gone 22.58 at the Arena Pro Swim Series in Charlotte just a few days ago and he also clocked a sub-50-second (49.91) in the 100m distance at the same Charlotte meet. This bodes well against a field of sprinters not known for generating the same kind of speed seen on the world stage.
The bulk of the Japanese women’s action will come in the tight breaststroke, butterfly and IM fields, led by Kanako Watanabe. Watanabe currently holds 3 top ten world rankings, with her top time in the 200m breaststroke of 2:20.90, her 3rd-ranked swim of 1:06.45 in the 100m breaststroke, as well as her 2:09.81 clocking in the 200m IM, which also ranks 3rd. All swims were conducted at Japan’s National Championships, so she will be meeting essentially the same field on this go-around. That includes teammate Rie Kaneto, who finished just behind Watanabe in a time of 2:21.90 to capture runner-up status in the 200m breaststroke at nationals, but still ranks 3rd in the world.
Natsumi Hoshi will try to move her way up in the world rankings in the women’s 200m butterfly event. Hoshi currently sits in 4th position in the world, with her time of 2:06.66, only behind Australia’s Madeline Groves, Spain’s Maria Belmonte and Australia’s Brianna Throssell. Sakiko Shimizu will try to do the same in her specialty, the 400m IM, where she ranks 3rd in the world with her time of 4:36.12 from nationals last month.
The key Australians, siblings Emma and David McKeon each are scheduled to compete in several events this weekend as well. Emma is slated to swim the 100m butterfly and 100m freestyle events, where she is very likely to win both. Emma currently ranks 3rd in the world in the 100m butterfly with her time of 57.31 and is 7th in the world in the 100m free with a time of 53.68.
For his part, David will take on the primarily Japanese field in the 100m, 200m and 400m freestyles, of which his 400 freestyle has been strongest thus far this season. McKeon threw down an impressive 3:44.28 to earn him runner-up status to phenom Mack Horton at Australia’s National Championships in April, but the time is good enough to still sit as 3rd-fastest in the world coming into this Japan Open.