Japan bank on Hagino, Ikee for world swimming charge
Tokyo, April 17: Olympic champion Kosuke Hagino and schoolgirl sensation Rikako Ikee will head Japan's charge at this summer's world swimming championships when both are likely to face very different types of pressure.
Hagino and Ikee were named among a team of 18 athletes Monday by the Japan Swimming Federation for the July 23-30 competition in Budapest.
Hagino, who ended 20 years of American supremacy in the men's 400 metres individual medley to win Olympic gold in Rio last year, will be a marked man despite still feeling his way back to full fitness after elbow surgery last September.
He faces a challenge from compatriot Daiya Seto, who will be looking to complete a world treble in the 400m individual medley in Hungary, having upset Hagino last week at the Japanese championships in Nagoya.
Hagino beat American Chase Kalisz into second with Seto taking bronze at the Rio Olympics and also took silver in the 200m behind Michael Phelps.
"I've never won a world title so I'll give everything I have," said Hagino, who hit back to beat Seto in the 200m IM at the weekend.
"Every race will be difficult but I'm going there to win them all," added the 22-year-old, who missed the 2015 competition in Kazan, Russia, after injuring his elbow in a fall from his bicycle.
Ikee, meanwhile, became the first woman to win five titles in the Japanese championships, which ended on Sunday.
The 16-year-old added gold medals in the 50m freestyle and 100m butterfly to the 100-200m freestyle double and 50m fly, meeting the world championship qualifying standard in all five events.
"It hasn't sunk in yet," Ikee told local media. "I was almost in tears before the butterfly final I was so nervous. But to come through so many tough races has been a good experience."
A double world junior champion, Ikee finished sixth in the 100m fly in Rio but moved up to fifth after China's Chen Xinyi subsequently failed a drugs test.
Japan's men will once again be a force in the breaststroke with 200m world record holder Ippei Watanabe and Yasuhiro Koseki, who completed a 100-200m double at the Japan nationals.
Koseki's time of two minutes, 7.18 seconds would have been fast enough to win gold in Rio ahead of Kazakhstan's Dmitriy Balandin, although Japanese breaststrokers have consistently failed to deliver since Japan great Kosuke Kitajima dominated the event between 2003-08.
"It shows we are in a good position looking forward to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics," said Koseki. "Hopefully we can prove our strength at the world championships."
Men: Katsumi Nakamura, Shinri Shioura, Ryosuke Irie, Kosuke Hagino, Yasuhiro Koseki, Ippei Watanabe, Masato Sakai, Daiya Seto, Yuki Kobori
Women: Rikako Ikee, Chihiro Igarashi, Reona Aoki, Satomi Suzuki, Suzuka Hasegawa, Hiroko Makino, Yui Ohashi, Runa Imai, Sakiko Shimizu
Head coach: Norimasa Hirai. �AFP