Japan’s Katsuhiro Matsumoto made history at the 2019 FINA World Aquatic Championships, becoming his nation’s first-ever 200m freestyle medalist at a Worlds or Olympic Games.
The 23-year-old, whom his friends call Katsuo, punched a powerful time of 1:45.22 to snag the silver medal in Gwangju, just .29 away from gold medalist Sun Yang’s podium-topping 1:44.93. With his effort there, Matsumoto overtook the Japanese national record, lowering the previous mark of 1:45.23 that Kosuke Hagino put on the books back in 2014.
Matsumoto’s rise among the elite freestyle ranks was gearing the Central Sports-trained athlete up for possible podium placement at the 2020 Olympic Games in front of his home crowd in Tokyo. Paired with countryman Daiya Seto, double world champion from Gwangju, the duo could have really given the host nation something to cheer about at the Olympic Aquatic Center.
As such, with the postponement of the Olympic Games to July of 2021, the culmination of their momentum would not come to fruition as planned. That’s a fact which left Seto admittedly devastated, while Matsumoto also now reveals how he had trouble dealing with the reality of the coronavirus pandemic’s impact.
“After all I had done this just couldn’t happen,” Matsumoto said of the delay, according to The Japan Times.
Matsumoto can’t help but think how his aforementioned Gwangju performance coupled with his subsequent 1:45.82 clocking at January’s Kosuke Kitajima Cup put him on the path for greatness.
He had been fueling his fortitude with high-altitude training in Mexico from February to March. Per The Japan Times, the national teamer put up a 200m free time trial of 1:45.44, a mark that still would have beaten co-bronze medalists at last year’s World Championships, Duncan Scott of Great Britain and Martin Malyutin of Russia (tied at 1:45.63).
“It showed I have the ability to swim 1:44,” said Matsumoto of his one-man training race. “I was going to push toward the 43-second level at an altitude training camp in June.”
Highlighting the competitiveness worldwide of the men’s 200m freestyle, Matsumoto’s coach Yoji Suzuki says it’s going to take something super special to take gold in Tokyo. “Someone is definitely going to swim 1:43 at the Olympics,” he said.
Until that time, Matsumoto is doing what the rest of the world is at the moment, which is doing the best with what he has to work with. He took some time off and resumed training mid-April, charged with another year of pushing himself to new heights with potential Olympic glory on the line.