Japan’s Incredible Depth In The Men’s 200 Breaststroke

During last week’s Japanese Olympic Trials, Shoma Sato amazed all of us with the best performance of the year so far in swimming. His 2:06.40 in the men’s 200 breaststroke is the second-fastest performance of all time, just three-tenths shy of Anton Chupkov‘s world record. The 19-year-old swimmer has been showing a lot of improvement lately, having swum in the 2:06s three times so far in 2021 alone. It seems he’s reaching his peak in the right time, a few months from the Olympic Games in his home country.

Seeing a Japanese swimmer among the fastest in the world in the men’s 200 breast is nothing new. A few weeks ago, before Sato’s 2:06.40, Instagram’s Swimming Stats page published the top 50 all time performers in the event. The first thing many people noticed was the four Japanese flags in the top 10. And some users pointed out that Japan has 11 swimmers inside the top 50.

Let’s look at the numbers to have a better idea of the incredible depth of Japan in the men’s 200 breast. It dates back from the 1920-1930s, when Japanese swimmers won the event at three Olympics in a row. In fact, no country has won the event more than Japan at the Olympics: six times.

In this century, three Japanese swimmers (Kosuke Kitajima, Akihiro Yamaguchi, and Ippei Watanabe) held the world record for almost 10 years, more than any other country. The biggest name, of course, is Kosuke Kitajima, back-to-back Olympic champion in 2004 and 2008.

Since 2001, Japanese swimmers has won eight medals in the event at the World Championships – again, more than any other country. In the last two editions, Yasuhiro Koseki won the silver medal in Budapest (2017), and Ippei Watanabe, the world record holder from 2017 to 2019, won the bronze medal in both Budapest and Gwangju (2019).

This is where we really see the power of Japan in the men’s 200 breast: neither Koseki nor Watanabe, two of the fastest men in the history in the event, managed to get a spot on Japan’s Olympic roster, since Sato and Ryuya Mura were the fastest two swimmers at the Trials.

There have been many amazing 200 breaststrokers from Hungary, the United States, Russia, Australia, Great Britain, and other countries. But, if there is an event in swimming owned by Japan, it is the men’s 200 breast. If the Japanese swimming fans had to choose one single event for a Japanese swimmer win the gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics, it would be no surprise to see them choose the men’s 200 breast.

In This Story

14
Leave a Reply

Subscribe
Notify of
14 Comments
oldest
newest most voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Khachaturian
29 days ago

If Sato doesn’t get injured we might be seeing a swimming legend who will be known for the 200 breast specifically, just like how Peaty is known for the 100, Michael in the 200 fly, or Thorpe in the 400.

Hswimmer
Reply to  Khachaturian
29 days ago

Michael wasn’t just 2 fly tho

Old Man Chalmers
Reply to  Khachaturian
29 days ago

phelps and thorpe weren’t specialists

Drama King
Reply to  Khachaturian
28 days ago

Just like Gyurta in 200 breast

McG
29 days ago

Since the Olympics are in Tokyo, I think Japan is going to have a one heck of a summer in swimming.

Time Keeper
Reply to  McG
29 days ago

New American Record this Summer. Licon or Fink. Or both as they did in the ISL

Arisuin
Reply to  Time Keeper
28 days ago

Honestly I don’t really see the American Record going down this Summer. No American has gone 2:07.50 or lower since Prenot got the American record back in 2016, with Andrew Wilson being the closest at 2:07.7 two years ago. While the US certainly has a strong breaststroke group, they seem to be weaker in the 200 than the 100.

I mean, it’s possible I’m wrong though. No one can say for sure what times they will go, and I do want to see faster times.

Last edited 28 days ago by Arisuin
Time Keeper
Reply to  Arisuin
28 days ago

Licon has been the fastest in recent years. 2:07.6 at Pan Ams.

Hswimmer
Reply to  Arisuin
28 days ago

Nic Fink or Will Licon or Andrew Wilson, even Cody Miller. Not putting a spot on any. The breaststroke events will be close.

tea rex
28 days ago

Shows the “2 swimmers per country per event” rule isn’t just limiting the USA anymore.

Also this got me thinking about Nagy saying the 200 br WR could be a 2:02. Based on FINA’s database, here’s how many swimmers have a best time in each one-second interval.

200 free:
1:42 – 2
1:43 – 2
1:44 – 10

200 back:
1:51 – 1
1:52 – 2
1:53 – 5
1:54 – 5

200 fly:
1:50 – 1
1:51 – 1
1:52 – 4
1:53 – 5

200 br:
2:06 – 5
2:07 – 21

There's no doubt that he's tightening up
Reply to  tea rex
28 days ago

Just to add another data point to your list

200 IM:

1:54 — 2
1:55 — 8
1:56 — 7

Sam B
Reply to  tea rex
28 days ago

the breast is a pretty amazing outlier but since it’s so different than the other strokes, it makes sense. You can swim a 2:07 with a fast first 100 or a slow one (like Gyurta) in so many ways, so many strategies. Also, you can win the breastroke with a height of 5’9″ which seems pretty average for the Japanese.

Samesame
Reply to  tea rex
28 days ago

The 2 swimmers per country per event has limited many countries in different events over the years. Women’s 100 free in Australia over the years for example. Remember when Libby Trickett, Alice Mills and Jodie Henry were the three fastest in the world?