The Japanese Swimming Federation has just released the selection criteria for the 2020 Summer Olympic Games set to be hosted in Tokyo and the qualifying times are indeed tough.
As with the 2016 Olympic qualifying standards, the federation incorporated what it took to final in the previous year’s World Championships (2019) when determining its Olympic minimum time requirements, which means the standards are truly meant to select those Japanese swimmers most likely to final in each event, as opposed to just representing the nation by getting up on the blocks in the Olympics.
Exceptions to the aforementioned practice are the women’s 200m fly and 400m IM events, which saw the FINA A cut used as the QT as opposed to the time needed to make the top 8 in Gwangju. This is because just 4:38.93 was needed to final in the women’s 400m IM at this year’s World Championships, while a time of 2:09.06 made it into the women’s 200m fly final. Both of those marks are slower than the respective FINA A time standards for the Olympics of 4:38.53 and 2:08.43.
As with 2016, there is one sole qualifying meet for swimmers to obtain these cuts, which is represented by the Japan Swim scheduled for April next year. The top 2 swimmers achieving, at minimum, the ‘dispatch II’ standard seen below (3rd column are men’s times; 6th column are women’s times) will be considered for selection.
Reviewing the time minimums set forth below, there are a few especially challenging marks for the Japanese swimmers. For instance, the QT of 7:48.12 in the men’s 800m free is quicker than the long-standing Japanese National Record of 7:49.65 Olympian Takeshi Matsuda put on the books way back in 2009.
Also, the men’s 50m free time standard of 21.77 sits just .10 away from Shinri Shioura‘s National Record time of 21.67 notched at the Japan Swim in April of this year. Further, the 200m free QT of 1:45.76 is positioned just .54 outside the 1:45.22 Katsuhiro Matsumoto put up for silver at this year’s World Championships.
For the women, in Rikako Ikee‘s absence, the sprint free events may potentially pose a risk of non-individual qualifiers. Only 3 Japanese women have ever broken the 25-second barrier in the 50m freestyle, with Ikee holding the NR at 24.21 and Miki Uchida nailing 24.95 back in 2015. Rika Omoto is an up-and-comer who has made some waves, but her 24.97 career-fastest from this year still sits over half a second away from the 24.46 QT.
The 100m free is potentially even more of a challenge, with the Japanese Federation-mandated qualifying time of 53.31 a tall order for the nation that has only ever seen 2 swimmers enter sub-54 second territory in the event. One again, Ikee holds the national standard in the women’s 100m free at 53.03, while Uchida swam as fast as 53.88 in her career.
The nation does hold promise in the likes of Omoto, Aya Sato, Tomomi Aoki, and Rio Shirai, however, with each of these young sprinters stepping up as of late. Although the top time among the group is 54.18, which entails a huge leap to the 53.31 QT, all have put up their career-quickest in 2019 as a good indicator of their trajectory.
As a reminder, Daiya Seto has already qualified for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games in both the 200m IM and 400m IM by nature of his gold medals in Gwangju at the World Championships. As reported, any Japanese swimmer who collected individual gold at Worlds earned automatic qualification in the same event at the Olympic Games.
However, Seto is still required to compete at next year’s Japan Swim, where he’ll most likely also contest the 200m fly to attempt qualification. The QT of 1:56.25 is a feat Seto should easily obtain, having already taken bronze in Gwangju in a scorching 1:53.86.
As for relays, the Japanese women’s 4x100m freestyle squad finished 7th in Gwangju, while the medley relay placed 6th, both of which dipped under the QT listed below. With a top 10 finish at Worlds, these two relays should appear in Tokyo.
However, even though the women’s 4x200m free relay indeed placed 8th in Gwangju, the time of 7:56.31 was well off the 7:52.50 QT listed below. We’ll have to see what the Japanese Federation does in terms of qualification should the women still not hit the mark with collective individual efforts next April.
For the men, the medley relay came in 4th at this year’s World Championships, while the 4x100m free relay finished 9th. Both relays finished in the top 10 and also within the Japanese QT below. The 4x200m free relay, however, falls into the same boat as the women, with the 9th placed squad’s time of 7:09.23 falling short of the 7:08.31 QT.