In what most would argue is an unexpected turn of events for the Japanese roster for Rio, 33-year-old multiple Olympic gold medalist Kosuke Kitajima turned in the fastest time in the men’s 100m breaststroke at his nation’s trials.
While competing at the 2016 Japan Swim, which serves as the nation’s Olympic Trials, Kitajima first clocked a semi-final time of 59.62 to slide under the Japanese Olympic standard of 59.63 by just .01 of a second. Then, he followed that up with another solid sub-minute swim of 59.93 to ultimately take the silver medal in the event behind young gun Yasuhiro Koseki. However, Koseki failed to clock a time faster than the Japanese Olympic standard through any of his swims.
We originally reported that the fact that Kitajima was the only swimmer to have earned an Olympic-qualifying time, paired with the fact that he produced a top 2 finish, made it likely that he would be selected for his 5th Olympic Games.
However, NBC Olympics is reporting that the both the Kyodo News and Agence France-Presse have indicated that Kitajima’s swim was indeed not enough to secure a Rio spot.
“I’m speechless,” Kitajima said, according to Agence France-Presse. “It’s just so upsetting I couldn’t swim my usual race. I was thinking too much and swam a negative race. It’s my own problem, I’m gutted. I need to go and cool my head and come back ready for the 200 [breaststroke].”
Kitajima has already made history across the 2000 Sydney, 2004 Athens, 2008 Beijing and 2012 London Olympic 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 essentially came out of the woodwork to throw down the much-needed speed when it counted.
Until the Japanese Swimming Federation announces differently, it the nation will have no 100m breaststrokers in Rio.