At last weekend’s Japanese Short Course National Championships, a pair of Senior National Records went down, and a large handful of Junior National Records did as well in Kanagawa. This meet, which by FINA technically counts as a part of the 2013 season, saw many times that would have placed high at December’s Short course World Championships, though Japan didn’t send a very deep squad to that meet.
The first mark to go down was the 100 IM at the hands of 16-year old Kanako Watanabe. She swam a 59.34, which knocked four tenths off of her own record from December. She was one of the few among the Japanese superstars who raced in Istanbul. Wananabe didn’t take her race out all that hard, turning in 27.69, but even over just 25 meters, her huge breaststroke leg can make up a lot of ground on any record.
She was also the runner-up in the 200 breaststroke, missing another title by .01 seconds to Miho Takahashi. Neither swimmer was close to the national record in that race, but Watanabe’s swim did break the national Junior Record.
The other senior record to go down, also on the women’s side, was the 50 backstroke at the hands of Aya Terakawa. She won the race in 26.05, which trimmed just a little bit off of her own 26.13 national record and won the race by more than a second. Terakawa was about half-a-second off of countrymate Shiko Sakai’s World Record in the 100 at this meet, going a 55.76.
When she dropped the 200 back from her Olympic schedule last year, many scratched their heads as the 28-year old was ranked among the top-5 in the world headed into the summer in that event. The positive effect it has had on her sprinting, though, is hard to deny. That 100 time, if swum in Istanbul, would’ve easily won gold.
In the freestyle races, where Japan’s women’s team has struggled mightly, continued to show improvement at this meet from a good young core of speed. That included junior records in the 100 free (Miki Uchida– 53.61), 200 free (Maho Takiguchi – 1:55.95) and 400 freeestyles (Chihiro Igrashi – 4:03.80) at this meet. The 17-year old Uchida also swam a 24.64 in the 50 free to just miss (by .06) her own senior National Record in that race as well. There’s still not a ton of depth in the freestyles, but that will hopefully follow these improvements in the top-end.
On the men’s side of the pool, no big records fell, but there were again impressive performances from their freestylers: just like the women. Shinri Shioura swept the 50 and 100 freestyles in 21.28 and 47.23, respectively; that 50 time would’ve left him just outside of the world’s top 10 in 2011 (tied with American Josh Schneider for 11th, to be exact). At 21-years old, Japan needs him to have a breakout summer in long course; his success is a key to the success of the medley relays; the freestyle leg, where they put butterflier Takuro Fujii last year, was the one spot where the Japanese gave up a lot of ground to the Americans en route to the Olympic silver medal last season. The Japanese have an opportunity to be leading this race headed into the final exchange in Barcelona with Michael Phelps retired.
Fujii, meanwhile, didn’t even swim the 100 fly at this meet, though he did win the 100 IM in 52.46 – just a tenth from the all-time best Japanese result in that event.
Breaststroker Akihiro Yamaguchi, who came from nowhere last year to break the long course World Record in the 200 breast, took the win in that event here in 2:03.56. That just beat out Yukihiro Takahashi, much more experienced even at just 20, who was 2nd in 2:03.70. Yamaguchi was 4th in this race at Worlds, going about half-a-second faster, showing that he still has work to do to make his short course as good as his long course.
In the shorter 100 breast, Naoya Tomita (57.91) beat out Yamaguchi (58.16); neither of those guys swam the final, but in that race sprint specialist Yuuki Okajima won in 26.67 – missing the National record by the tiniest .01 seconds.
Other big winners on the meet included Yuuki Shirai, who won both the 100 (50.78) and 200 (1:50.15) backstrokes. The latter was about half-a-second slower than his record-breaking time from the Tokyo World Cup stop in November.
One other breakout swim came on the men’s side: Hirai Ayatsugu won the men’s 1500 in 14:38.13. Besides being a victory by five seconds for the teenager in what ended up being a very fast field, it was a lifetime best for him by 7 seconds. He’s steadily dropped about that much every year, and this time would’ve placed him 5th in the world in 2012.
Full meet results (in English) available here.