In a somewhat surprising turn of events during the first evening session of the Japanese Olympic Trials, breaststroking legend Kosuke Kitajima led the semi-final field, scoring a time of 59.62 to slide under the Japanese Olympic standard of 59.63 by just .01 of a second.
Kitajima ranked as the only sub-minute swimmer of the evening’s field and his effort now positions him as the 4th-fastest man in the world this season with a finals swim yet to go.
Of his swim tonight in Tokyo, Kitajima said, “I wanted a slightly quicker time, but it’s been a while since I swam 59-something. I feel this is a reward for all the hard work I’ve put in. I’d still like to set a personal best again in the final.” A personal best for this beastly legend would be in the range of 58.90, the current Japanese National Record he set at trials way back in 2012.
Assuming Kitajima’s time in tonight’s meet is enough to position him on the roster for Rio, the 33-year-old would be embarking on his 5th Olympic adventure, having already made history across the 2000 Sydney, 2004 Athens, 2008 Beijing and 2012 London Olmpic Games. Coming in 4th in the 100m breaststroke in Sydney, Kitajima struck back about 2 years later, when, in October of 2002, he set a new World Record in the 200m breaststroke event.
Kitajima went on to sweep the breaststroke events at the 2003 World Championships in Barcelona before heading into the 2004 Olympic Games as a favorite. At those Games, Kitajima struck gold and swept the breaststrokes and would do the same in 2008, making him only the swimmer to ever sweep the breaststroke events at 2 consecutive Olympics.
Having scored a relay-only spot on Japan’s World Championships team in 2015 paired with the fact that his previous season bests from 2014 and 2015 were 1:00.58 and 1:00.18, respectively, Kitajima certainly turned some heads when he topped the field tonight. A field which included young gun Yasuhiro Koseki, who owned Japan’s fastest time entering the meet with his 59.67 from earlier this year.
Finals of the men’s 100m breaststroke in Tokyo will be contested tomorrow night, April 5th, where we’ll see if Kitajima’s 33-year-old body can keep its momentum going.