German breaststroker Marco Koch has cleared his first key hurdle of 2020. Earlier this week in Shenzhen, China at the FINA Champions Series, where he was the only German swimmer in attendance, he became the first swimmer from his country to clear the time standard for qualification to the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. This comes in spite of fighting through back pain the day before the swim. Tokyo will be his 3rd Olympic Games.
The qualification period officially began on New Year’s Day (January 1st) and ends with the German Championships that will be held in Berlin from April 30th-May 3rd.
Koch swam a 2:09.81 in the 200 meter breaststroke (LCM) on Wednesday, which placed him 2nd in the race at the all-star gathering in China. That effort, his only swim of the meet, earned him $8,000. His 2:09.81 was easily under the FINA “A” Qualifying Time, but slid just-under the faster German-mandated 2:09.90 Olympic Time.
German 2020 Olympic Qualifying Times:
|OQT/A||DSV Olympic Standard||400m freestyle||DSV Olympic Standard||OQT/A|
|0: 24.77||0: 24.75||50m freestyle||0: 21.95||0: 22.01|
|0: 54.38||0: 54.10||100m freestyle||0: 48.50||0: 48.57|
|1: 57.28||1: 57.20||200m freestyle||1: 46.70||1: 47.02|
|4: 07.90||4: 07,50||400m freestyle||3: 46,40||3: 46.78|
|8: 33.36||8: 30,00||800m freestyle||7: 50,30||7: 54.31|
|16: 32.04||16: 16.00||1500m freestyle||14: 59.00||15: 00.99|
|1: 07.07||1: 07.00||100m breast||0: 59.80||0: 59.93|
|2: 25.52||2: 24.90||200m breast||2: 09.90||2: 10.35|
|1: 00.25||1: 00.00||100m back||0: 53.70||0: 53.85|
|2: 10.39||2: 09.50||200m back||1: 57.00||1: 57.50|
|0: 57.92||0: 57.90||100m butterfly||0: 51.80||0: 51.96|
|2: 08.43||2: 08.20||200m butterfly||1: 56.30||1: 56.48|
|2: 12.56||2: 11.90||200m IM||1: 59.40||1: 59.67|
|4: 38.53||4: 38.40||400m IM||4: 15.00||4: 15.84|
This early qualification gives Koch essentially a full 7 months to settle into a rhythm with his new coach Dirk Lange. Koch announced in the waning days of 2019 that he would break from Henning Lambertz and and return to Lange, with whom he trained between 2012 and 2015, specifically to help improve his front-end speed.
“I am very happy that it worked right the first time and that I can now experience the Olympics for the third time,” said Koch, who had had severe back pain the day before the race. “My goal is to deliver a race in the summer that I’m really 100 percent satisfied with – and of course I hope to place as high as possible,” said Koch in China.
Koch says that he does not want to change anything even after early qualification. In the next few weeks he will compete further in both Antwerp and Luxembourg. “We will be competing in a lot of races throughout the season in order to simulate certain aspects for the Olympics again and again and thus gain the necessary security,” Koch said of his plan forward. “And of course I want to improve my time a little. I am sure that it will be much faster.”
Koch was previously the World Record holder in the 200 breaststroke in short course meters, swimming a 2:00.44 in November of 2016. That mark stood until Russia’s Kirill Prigoda broke it at the 2018 World Short Course Championships in 2:00.16. Koch was the 2015 World Champion in long course in the 200 breaststroke, and the 2016 World Champion in short course in both the 100 and 200 breaststrokes He also has 4 European championships. Coming out of his World Championship season, though, Koch finished in just 7th place in his specialty race, the 200 breaststroke, at the 2016 Summer Olympics.
Koch got within a second of his best time at last December’s World Short Course Championships, swimming 2:01.42 for a bronze medal. He had some positive scoring results, but struggled time-wise in his inaugural International Swimming League season for the New York Breakers. His ISL season best came in the American Derby meet in College Park where he went 2:03.79 – slower than he was at that stage in prior years. He won the 200 breaststroke in the Budapest meet in 2:04.27, which again was slower than he had been at that time of year in prior seasons.
He also struggled with speed, which he says is one of his focuses. He was 7th in his last meet of the ISL season in the 100 breaststroke, for example, and a full second behind 6th place. He was last in the 50 breaststroke at that meet.
Koch was 5th in the 200 breaststroke, his only race, at the 2019 World Championships in 2:07.60. That time was .13 seconds slower than his German Record from 2014.