Japan's Hagino feeling focused ahead of Tokyo Olympics

Tokyo (AFP) –


Japanese swim star Kosuke Hagino insisted Thursday he has refound his mojo ahead of the Tokyo Olympics, admitting he almost quit the sport after winning gold at the Rio Games.

Hagino booked his place in the 200m individual medley at the coronavirus-delayed Tokyo Games, finishing second behind close friend Daiya Seto at Japan's Olympic trials.

Hagino won gold in the 400m IM and silver behind Michael Phelps in the 200m IM five years ago in Rio, but then lost his appetite for swimming and endured a lengthy slump.

He admitted Thursday "there was a time when I hated even getting in the water", but insisted his head is in the right place as he works towards this summer's Games.

"There was a time when I wanted to quit swimming, and I came through that," said the 26-year-old, who has opted not to defend his 400m IM title in order to concentrate on the 200m.

"Mentally, I haven't let my focus slip this week, and I've been able to do well in each race. I think I can use this experience at the Games this summer."

Hagino missed out on an individual place in the 200m freestyle earlier this week after finishing third and failing to meet the qualification time.

He secured a place in Japan's 4x200m relay team, but then dropped out of the 200m backstroke in order to focus on the 200m IM.

But he came close to beating world champion Seto -- clocking 1min 57.43sec 43 to Seto's 1:57.41 -- and relished the competition against his old sparring partner.

"Yesterday we were talking about how the race was going to be a tough scrap, and that's how it turned out," said Hagino.

"We both went for it in the final leg, and it's been a while since we had a race like that."

Seto had already qualified for the Olympic 200m IM as world champion.

He has also secured his place in the 400m IM and 200m butterfly.

Elsewhere at the Japanese trials, leukaemia survivor Rikako Ikee fell short of claiming an individual berth in the 100m freestyle.

Ikee, who qualified for Japan's medley relay team on Sunday, won the race in 53.98 but finished outside the qualifying time.

Her first place earned her a spot in Japan's 4x100m relay team.

"I wasn't aiming for an individual place at all, but I did want a better time," said Ikee, who was diagnosed with leukaemia in February 2019 and only returned to training in March last year.

"I didn't feel so good physically. I think the races I swam earlier have cost me a lot. I don't think I'm quite there yet physically."

Ryosuke Irie, who had already claimed a place in the 100m backstroke, made it a double by booking his Olympic spot in the 200m in a time of 1:55.52.

Irie, who will be appearing at his fourth straight Olympics, will be joined in the event by Keita Sunama, who finished second in 1:56.22.

Kanako Watanabe qualified for the women's 200m breaststroke in a time of 2:23.04.