Wicked-Fast Talent On Tap For Japanese Olympic Trials (Preview)

2016 Japan Swim (Japanese Olympic Trials)

Japanese swimming has Rio medal threats on both the men’s and women’s side across multiple events, as we’re about to see transpire in Tokyo at the Japanese Olympic Trials set to begin on Monday, April 4th. The nation’s major players, as well as up and coming talents will take to the pool vying for coveted spots on the Japanese roster for the 2016 Games.

We’ll be covering the event with live recaps of both prelims and finals once competition is underway, but first let’s get a grip on just how significant of talent is about to set the Tatsumi International Swimming Center pool aflame. Although perhaps not as deep within each event as other nations, such as the United States, the talent sprinkled among the Japanese team is utterly fierce and will most definitely be in the mix for medals in Rio.

Women To Watch At Japanese Olympic Trials

Natsumi Hoshi – 200 Fly
Hoshi made history last summer by becoming the first Japanese woman ever to earn a World Championships title, taking the women’s 200m butterfly event win in a time of 2:05.56. Prior to that, Hoshi rocked a bronze medal finish at the 2012 Olympic Games in London, so she’ll no doubt be looking to put together a mega swim in Tokyo to get on her nation’s roster in the hopes of improving on her 2012 result. Hoshi will also be swimming the 100m butterfly race at Trials, an event in which she recently clocked a result of 58.86 at the Konami Open this past February.

Rikako Ikee – Sprint Freestyle/100 Fly

In addition to the Campbell sisters of Australia and Sarah Sjostrom of Sweden, Ikee has simply been lighting up the sprinting scene as of late. Last October, Ikee, at just 15 years old, cranked out a new Japanese National Record in the 100 butterfly, winning the race at the 2015 World Cup in Tokyo in a time of 57.56. That outing crushed her previous best time of 58.28, a mark which won the 2015 World Junior Championship title.

Ikee clocked a new Japanese National Record in the 100m freestyle this January, touching in 53.99 to become the first female of her nation to go sub-54. Ikee followed that up with another National Record in the 50m freestyle in February at the Konami Cup, registering a wicked-fast time of 24.74. That performance also garnered Ikee a shiny new World Junior Record.

Look for the teenager to contest the 50m/100m/200m freestyle events, as well as the 100m butterfly in Tokyo.

Miki Uchida – Sprint Freestyle

Meeting Ikee in 2 of those sprint races will be her in-country rival, Miki Uchida, who has made a name for herself across the 50m and 100m freestyle events. Uchida led off her squad’s 400m freestyle relay with an impressive 54.25 split at the World Championships in Kazan, then followed that up with a 54.22 individual performance in the event to finish 12th out of semi-finals.

In the current world rankings, Uchida is positioned 18th in the 100m freestyle with her mark of 54.24 from the FINA World Cup in Tokyo last fall. Also, Uchida was the owner of the Japanese National Record in the 50m freestyle at 24.53 from just last September before Ikee snatched it with her sub-25 outing.

As such, look for Uchida and Ikee to push themselves towards a possible new national record in either the 50m free, 100m free or even both as they compete for Rio roster spots.

Kanako Watanabe & Rie Kaneto – 200 Breaststroke

With Russia’s breaststroking ace Ylulia Efimova’s future in limbo due to a positive doping test, the Japanese duo of Rie Kaneto and Kanako Watanabe hold the world’s #1 and #2 times in the 200m breaststroke event, setting themselves up for a possible Japanese multiple medal outcome in Rio.

For Watanabe, the 18-year-old who failed to even qualify for the 2013 World Championships burst onto the international scene with a gold medal at the 2015 edition of the event. Watanabe owned the race in Kazan, touching in 2:21.15 to stand atop the podium, giving Japan just its 2nd women’s world title in history. She followed that up with another stellar time of 2:22.41 at the Japanese Intercollegiate Championships last September, proving her break-out swim wasn’t a fluke.

Watanabe is also a very viable threat in the 200m IM event. In Kazan, she finished with a silver medal behind Hungary’s Iron Lady, Katinka Hosszu and she recently threw down a solid 2:11.92 in the event at the NSW State Championships earlier this month.

For her part, Kaneto wowed the world by rocking a brand new All Comers Record and Japanese National Record in the 200m breast event while competing at the 2016 Aquatic Super Series in Perth. At 27 years old, Kaneto threw down a personal best time of 2:20.04 to obliterate the previous All Comers mark of 2:20.54 held by Australian Hall of Famer, Leisel Jones, since 2006. Kaneto’s performance still stands as the top time in the world headed into Trials season and actually would have earned the silver medal in London.

Men To Watch At Japanese Olympic Trials

Kosuke Hagino – 200 free, IM events

An incredibly talented swimmer who poses a threat on multiple levels, Hagino has narrowed down his Trials schedule to include the 200m freestyle, 200m IM and 400m IM, the latter of which he earned a bronze medal in London behind America’s Ryan Lochte and Brazil’s Thiago Pereira.

We unfortunately didn’t get a chance to see a pre-Rio preview in the form of Hagino competing in Kazan, as the 21-year-old suffered a freak bike accident at his staging camp which resulted in a broken elbow. Hagino has been throwing down some super fast swims since then, however, including a 1:46.14 200m freestyle at last month’s Konami Open. The time sits as the 3rd-fastest in the world and within a half of a second of leader Sun Yang’s (CHN) 1:45.79 from Chinese fall Nationals. Hagino’s best time to date in the 2free is 1:45.82 from 2015, so we should see him finish at least in the 1:45-territory in Tokyo.

As far as the IM’s go, Hagino is king of the 400, owning the world’s fastest time of the season in 4:09.06, a mark which would have garnered him the silver medal in Kazan. Hagino is also a monster in the shorter IM distance where he collected a super quick time of 1:57.73 at the Kosuke Kitajima Cup in January, signifying Hagino as a major play in both events both at his domestic Trials and most likely in Rio. For perspective, in London, Hagino finished 5th in the 200m IM in 1:57.35.

Hagino’s potential nemesis in the 200m IM and 400m events sits in his own backyard, as his 21-year-old teammate Daiya Seto has proven to be a completely credible threat in both events. In fact, Seto holds a faster seed time than Hagino in the shorter IM, albeit by just .01 of a second, with the 1:57.72 from last September’s Intercollegiate Championships. He is positioned as 3rd-fastest in the world heading into his nation’s Trials.
Not quite having the breakout meet he could have in light of Hagino’s absence, Seto did claim one individual World Championship title last summer, that of the 400m IM. Seto clocked a freaky-fast time of 4:08.50 to take the event by more than a second in Kazan. That time would have earned the silver medal in London. Seto’s fastest since is the 4:12.10 he scored in September that currently sits 2nd only to Hagino in the world rankings.
Seto has the potential to be dangerous in the 200m butterfly event as well, where he holds the world’s 2nd fastest time at the moment in 1:55.33. He was one of two Japanese men to make the 200 fly final in Kazan, so Seto will face countryman Masato Sakai at Trials. Sakai actually finished just out of the medals at Worlds, touching in a time of 1:54.24 for 4th, where Seto fell off to a 1:55.16 for 6th place in the event.
Ryosuke Irie – backstroke events
If there is a man who can throw a wrench in Australian Mitch Larkin’s plans for worldwide backstroke domination, it quite possibly could be the ever-consistent Ryosuke Irie. Veteran Irie will be looking to punch is Rio ticket in the 100m and 200m back events where he’ll try to improve upon his 2012 finishes of bronze and silver, respectively, from London.
Irie is the most dominant Japanese backstroker at the moment and should qualify for his nation’s Olympic roster with relative ease, barring a catastrophe. His path is even more clear now that Kosuke Hagino, who once considered the 200 back as an individual Olympic event, has since decided to drop the race from his Rio repertoire.

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Slight correction, Hagino’s best time in the 200 free is 1:45.23 from the Asian Games in 2014. However people normally swim faster in the Asian Games since the heats for that meet are totally non-competitive, plus there are no semi-finals.

Also, I think the fastest time in the world this year isn’t Sun Yang’s 1:45.79 from Sep 2015. Its Velimir Stjepanovic in 1:46.10.

Thanks for this great article!


Loretta – Hagino’s best time in the 200 free is actually 1:45.23, when he won the Asian crown in 2014, defeating Park and Sun in the process.

He was less tapered for Japanese Nationals last year when he swam the 1:45.82 you mentioned, and was probably on track to challenge James Guy for the gold in Kazan before he fell off his bike in France. We should see a really solid time this year.


I’m hoping for Kaneto to win the 200 breast in Rio. She’s been very fast for a long time and has never really been able to put it together on the biggest stages. I hope that 2:20.0 gives her the confidence to post a monster time at Japanese Trials and then follow it up with a gold medal performance in Rio to close out her career.

Rikako Ikee will be a major star in Tokyo 2020 if she maintains her trajectory.

About Retta Race

Retta Race

After 16 years at a Fortune 1000 financial company, long-time swimmer Retta Race decided to change lanes and pursue her sporting passion. She currently is Coach for the Northern KY Swordfish Masters, a team she started up in December 2013, while also offering private coaching. Retta is also an MBA …

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