Japanese Olympian Junya Koga‘s ban was lifted as of May 14th of this year, meaning the 32-year-old backstroker is eligible to try for a spot on his nation’s team for the 2020 Games hosted in Tokyo.
Koga served a 2-year ban after having tested positive for Ligandrol in March of 2018. The 2017 World Championships silver medalist’s 4-year ban was reduced down to 2 years due to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) concluding that contamination of supplements unknowingly ingested by Koga was most likely the cause for his positive test.
As he continues to overcome his past and look to the future, Koga recently spoke with Japanese media regarding his positive test ordeal and how it has impacted him on both a competitive and personal level.
Mentally, Koga expresses that, “At the time, I felt there was no future for me and everything was shutting down on me…then the idea of suicide started crawling up in my head.
“I repeated waking up to just sit down on my couch, stare at TV and realize night had come. I then thought…’balcony is just right there…all will go away if I just jump from there.
“I could not even go out because I knew everyone knew about me…and was afraid to go out. I had lost 8kg in one week because I could no eat at all.”
Koga also spoke about how there is a lack of support and understanding in Japan regarding situations where athletes have ingested illegal substances unintentionally.
“I did not have anyone to talk to…It is basically ‘drop everything and climb up the wall to find out without any help or advice. I wish there was an organization or group who can advise and support the athletes who fall in a situation like mine.
“From approximately one month before I tested positive, I was on the nutrition program including supplements created by the experts who advised me to take the right supplements at the right timing. I trusted the experts who would choose the safe brands.”
Koga traveled to the United States in 2012 to train under coach Mike Bottom at Club Wolverine Elite and returned to Japan after the 2016 Olympic Games. Koga says he started supplementing in earnest when he came to the U.S. after seeing how readily available products are over the counter.
But, he acknowledges that, “There is no 100% safe supplement. There is a possibility contamination can happen during the manufacturing process. I hear lab technology has advanced and they can detect a very small amount of substance. In my case, I believe a small amount was detected -probably due to my body condition, what I ate, the timing of taking my supplements…
“You just have to be careful by looking for the verification label on the products and always checking the update of the supplements to see if there is no positive test report, and taking the right amount-not overdose them.
“You would want to discuss with your physician and take lectures about supplements. This would help reduce taking any illegal supplements. When you are careful and resourceful, you will be able to prove you are not taking those supplements intentionally and did your best to avoid prohibited substances if you happen to test positive.”
With the postponement of the Games, however, Koga has new competitive life.
As we reported, with the ban off his shoulders, Koga says has a personal mission to establish a new World Record in his best non-Olympic event of the 50m backstroke.
“After my sanction was over, I was going to set my goal for FINA World in Fukuoka, Japan in 2021, but this is now postponed until 2022. In 2018, I could not complete in Asian Games due to my sanction. I would like to earn another gold medal after eight years.”
Koga is the world’s 6th fastest performer all-time in the 50m backstroke event, owning the Japanese national record time of 24.24 produced at the 2009 World Championships. More recently, he posted a time of 24.51 to snag silver at the 2017 World Championships. He is also the man who took 50m back gold at the 2016 Short Course World Championships.
“I know it is very hard to go back to the level I left two years ago. I know there are criticism and questions on what happened to me, but I want to tell my story once I get back there. A big flip from the elite swimmer, I have lost my income because I left my company and lost my sponsors.
“I also spent my saving for my legal fee for the FINA hearing and living cost. Meanwhile I am living hand to mouth with
my income from jewelry designs. There is a story only I can tell- if you fall, you can get up again. I had some other interest besides
swimming, which was an encouragement to me.
“If it was denied again and my suspension was four years still, I would have quit swimming.”
You can read the original HuffPost article in its entirety here.
SwimSwam thanks Rebecca Nishikawa- Roy for her generous translation assistance.