Japanese Gold Medalists In Gwangju Earn Auto Qualification For 2020 Olympics


  • All sports: Friday, July 12 – Sunday, July 28, 2019
  • Pool swimming: Sunday, July 21 – Sunday, July 28, 2019
  • The Nambu University Municipal Aquatics Center, Gwangju, Korea
  • Meet site
  • FinaTV Live Stream
  • Live results

The start of pool competition at the 2019 FINA World Aquatics Championships is just days away, with the world’s best swimmers ready to rumble in Gwangju, Korea. For the nation of Japan, however, taking the top spot on the podium carries extra significance, as these World Championships represent a qualifying opportunity for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.

With a chance to represent their home nation next year in Tokyo, Japanese swimmers will gain automatic Olympic qualification if they win an individual gold medal at these World Championships. That means the likes of Yui Ohashi, Daiya Seto, and Ippei Watanabe could rest a little easier with a gold medal around their necks, knowing that they will have at least etched their names onto the Japanese roster for 2020 in the event in which they took the top prize.

With everyone bringing their A-game to Gwangju, earning a spot on the podium, let alone a gold medal is an enormously tough task. However, with the aforementioned names in the Japanese arsenal, the nation is armed and ready to rise to the challenge.

It’s important to remember come the final medal tally in Gwangju, however, that 2 of Japan’s biggest stars are missing from the roster in Rikako Ikee and Kosuke Hagino. Ikee is battling leukemia, still hoping to compete in Tokyo, while Hagino has taken a mid-2018 break to deal with physical and mental issues before returning to the pool next month.

Still carrying a stock of talent into the World Championships, below are just a few of the key Japanese players ready to pounce and stake claim not only on Gwangju gold but on automatic Tokyo 2020 qualification.

Daiya Seto

Olympic bronze medalist Seto has proven he’s worthy and capable, powering his way to a new 200m fly World Record en route to taking the Short Course Worlds title last December.

He has also put up some super impressive performances already this year, including a big-time 4:07.95 in the 400m IM to render the 25-year-old #1 in the world and unafraid of taking on America’s Chase Kalisz.

Seto also holds the 4th fastest performance this year in the 200m fly at 1:54.44, as well as the 4th fastest performance in the 200m IM in a head-turning 1:56.69.

Yui Ohashi

Japan’s IM queen came less than a second away from gold in the women’s 200m IM at the last edition of the World Championships, so the 23-year-old multiple National Champion is hungry to upgrade her silver medal from Budapest.

She owns the 4th quickest mark in the world so far this season in the short IM event with a time of 2:09.14, but owns the fastest in the 400m IM with a huge 4:32.00 from last November.

Hungary’s Katinka Hosszu will no doubt be hunting Ohashi in Gwangju, sitting just .52 behind in the world rankings in the 400m IM, but with Tokyo qualification on the line, Ohashi may translate that extra incentive into a monster performance.

Ippei Watanabe

The recently-turned pro athlete made his historic mark on the sport via his 200m breast World Record time of 2:06.67 from back in 2017. His time rendered Watanabe the first man ever to dip under the 2:07 threshold in the event, entering new territory for 200m breaststrokers around the globe.

Since then, Watanabe has continued to produce, taking bronze in that event at the 2017 World Championships, followed by silver at last year’s Asian Games. Also last year, Watanabe came out on top in the 200m breast at the Pan Pacific Championships, hitting a strong 2:07.75 Championships Record in the process.

Watanabe currently ranks #2 in the world in the 200m breast with a time of 2:07.02, less than half a second away from his own WR.

Katsuhiro Matsumoto

A name with whom swim fans outside of Japan may not yet be familiar is Katsuhiro Matsumoto, the 22-year-old who took the 200m free title at this year’s Japan Swim back in April. With countryman Hagino out of the mix, Matsumoto had a clear path to gold, but he still fired off the best time of his career in a World Championships-qualifying 1:45.63.

That world-class outing ties British star Duncan Scott for the 4th fastest performance globally heading into Gwangju.

But Matsumoto indeed has international racing experience, reaping bronze in the 200m free event at last year’s Pan Pacific Championships, beating the likes of America’s Blake Pieroni, Brazil’s Fernando Scheffer and Australia’s Mack Horton in the process.

Suzuka Hasegawa

Another Japanese swimmer looking for automatic Tokyo qualification will be Hasegawa, the 200m fly specialist who currently ranks 6th in the world. Owning a personal best time of 2:07.21 from the Japan Swim this year, Hasegawa represents the 6th fastest Japanese performer in history and leads a 1-2 punch with teammate Hiroko Makino.

Hasegawa took bronze in this event both at the 2018 Pan Pacs, as well as at the Asian Games in Jakarta last year, so she’s looking to carry her momentum in this event right onto the podium in Gwangju.

Honorable MentionsRika Omoto in women’s 200m IM, Ryosuke Irie in men’s 200m back, Shinri Shioura in men’s 50m free, Katsumi Nakamura in men’s 100m free, Reona Aoki in women’s 100m breast

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1 year ago

Very interesting to say the least, as a lot could happen to athletes within a year—a good example from Japan would be Akihiro Yamaguchi. The only two swimmers I see having any shot at auto qualification would be Seto and Watanabe

Reply to  Quack
1 year ago

Its better than the double taper. US fixes it because its depth and high quality. If there was no 2 persons per country I think that the US easley would have 4 swimmers in the semifinals in almost every event.

Reply to  Per
1 year ago

I agree with Quack, a lot can happen in a year. Look at Ikee. I don’t think a double taper is problematic. A U.S. swimmer needs to put in so much just to make the team at arguably the most stressful meet of their career. I think most swimmers that make the team probably have some of the best training in the interim between trials and Olympics because the pressure is off.

I have seen this a lot in high school where swimmers are trying to make states, and they do and often times have another pb for their 2nd taper for the same reasons mentioned above

Reply to  Lpman
1 year ago

I think it is better to train a whole year with out pressure. The interim for US swimmers is just a couple of weeks. Hardly any time to improve.

Jim C
Reply to  Lpman
1 year ago

Swimmers on the bubble for making the Olympics are at a higher level than high school swimmers on the bubble for making state. I would imagine swimmers who have a lot of trouble handling pressure never come close to qualifying for the Olympics.

Reply to  Jim C
1 year ago

That’s weird, I happen to recall a swimmer named Missy Franklin who felt a lot of pressure (and other issues) at the 2016 trials and still earned a spot.

1 year ago

Have Japan released their qualifying times for the Olympics or are they using the same that they used for the World Champs (which were very fast to begin with).

1 year ago

Seto Seto Seto!!!

About Retta Race

Retta Race

After 16 years at a Fortune 1000 financial company, long-time swimmer Retta Race decided to change lanes and pursue her sporting passion. She currently is Coach for the Northern KY Swordfish Masters, a team she started up in December 2013, while also offering private coaching. Retta is also an MBA …

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