Retirements: Japan’s Olympic Medalist Masato Sakai & World Champion Kanako Watanabe

The 2024 Olympic Games are fewer than 50 days away with nations finalizing their rosters for this summer’s biggest aquatic competition.

Japan was one of the first countries to hold its Olympic Trials, with their qualifying competition taking place in March. Since then, multiple swimmers who missed selection have contemplated their next moves, including some making the decision to retire.

The latest round of Japanese retirement announcements includes 2016 Olympic medalist Masato Sakai and 2015 world champion Kanako Watanabe.

First for 29-year-old Sakai, the 200m fly silver medalist from Rio revealed his retirement decision on Instagram this week, saying, “Today, I will retire. I’m sorry for this sudden announcement. Thank you very much to everyone who supported me.

“I started swimming at the age of 3 and have been competing for 25 years. I have a lot of thoughts and a lot of things I want to write. It’s not good for me to say it myself, but I think I really did my best.

“In the future, I hope to be involved in work related to swimming or apparel.

“I want to write a lot of thoughts, but the one thing I can say is that I have never regretted swimming. I really loved swimming. It was fun! Thank you very much to everyone.”

Sakai’s career pinnacle came in Rio where he placed 2nd in the men’s 200m fly, just .04 behind American icon Michael Phelps.

5 years later at the Japanese Olympic Trials for Tokyo, however, Sakai placed 19th in the event, falling well off the pace to make a home-based Games.

He underwent surgery to address a Ganglion cyst affecting one of his shoulders in August 2018, with his rehabilitation rendering the man off of that year’s Pan Pacific Championships and Asian Games rosters. He also missed the 2019 World Championships roster, finishing 4th in the 200m fly in Japan’s Trials.

27-year-old Watanabe also had trouble rekindling the magic that saw her top the women’s 200m breaststroke podium at the 2015 World Championships.

Prior to that she competed for Japan at the 2012 Olympic Games as just a 15-year-old. In Rio, she placed 13th in the 200m breast but was unable to qualify for Tokyo 5 years later.

Per her social media post, Watanabe said, “I’ve decided to retire from racing. [It’s been] 23 years since I started swimming.

“Swimming has been the center of my life. There is some bitterness, but as a competitor, there is no regrets.

“I’ve had a lot of happy things and hard and painful days.

“I still feel like I’ve worked this hard because of the cheer and support of many people.

“What I gained by keeping on swimming wasn’t just the result, but something much bigger that is priceless to me.

“I’m slowly thinking about things to come, but I also want to do activities that can give back to swimming.”

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1 month ago

Ooh..Kanako Watanabe.

She had such a massive potentials I really thought she was gonna be the next Leisel Jones.

I don’t know what happened and I suspected JASF didn’t provide enough support to nurture her.

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Retta Race

Former Masters swimmer and coach Loretta (Retta) thrives on a non-stop but productive schedule. Nowadays, that includes having just earned her MBA while working full-time in IT while owning French 75 Boutique while also providing swimming insight for BBC.

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