Michael Phelps has retired, Ryan Lochte is banned, so Kosuke Hagino aspires to be the most versatile swimmer of the world and he has no intention to hide this goal of his at all. He aims at winning several gold medals at the 17th FINA World Championships in Budapest as well as at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Furthermore, he would like to break world records in 200 and 400 m individual medley.
We might as well conclude that Japanese swimmers all came out of Kitajima’s overcoat, since Kosuke Kitajima was the one who – through his achievements - opened the eyes of the Japanese and made swimming a popular sport on the island. Kitajima was the champion of breaststroke events in Athens 2004 and Beijing 2008, claimed altogether 4 Olympic gold medals. ‘I can never be another Kitajima, but to think kids could one day want to be like me is of course motivation’ insisted Kosuke Hagino.
However, his real role model was Michael Phelps: ‘I used to watch his races on TV, like when he won eight gold medals in Beijing. But when I get in the pool I just want to beat him. If I beat Phelps, I’ll still be miles behind him’ said Hagino before Rio Olympics.
Well, in Rio he did not beat Phelps. Although Hagino became Olympic champion in 400 m medley, but Phelps did not enter that event and in 200 m medley the American legend excelled, Hagino had to settle with silver.
But do not rush ahead. Kosuke Hagino got acquainted with the fundamentals of swimming or at least the water before turning one year old and he was never tempted to change to other sports later on, either. According to him he was not at all talented in ball sports. In swimming, however, he certainly was…
He broke into the international stage at the London Olympics in 2012. In 400 m individual medley he qualified for the final with the best time (Asian record as well) where he further improved his time and the Japanese swimmer claimed bronze only weeks before his 18th birthday. Who finished right after him? Michael Phelps, missing the podium –in this event at least.
At the World Championships in 2013 Hagino presented his full repertoire. Although he won only two silver medals in seven events, he was the only swimmer to enter six individual events (100 and 200 m freestyle, 100 and 200 m backstroke, 200 and 400 m medley).
In 2014 at the Pan Pacific Championships he won five medals in six events and in the Asian Games seven from seven. In the latter he claimed altogether 4 gold, 2 silver and 2 bronze medals and with this collection he was chosen as the MVP of the competition, then he became the first Japanese swimmer chosen as the World Swimmer of the Year (the former Japanese star, Kitajima was unlucky to compete exactly when Michael Phelps was in his top form and swept the voting in this period).
Hagino was preparing for a similarly stunning sweep at the World Championships in Kazan in 2015 as well, but one months prior to the event he broke his elbow in a bicycle accident.
Perhaps due to the missed World Championships opportunity or deriving from his personality he prepared with great determination and plans for Rio Olympics: he wanted to win the 200 and 400 m medley. What he lacks in size (he is only 175 cm tall in contrast with his American rivals of approximately 190cm height), he makes up for with his amazing technique and steely determination. ‘It will come down to mental toughness and squeezing every last drop out of your body’ he said before the Olympics.
In 400 m medley he managed to mobilize his reserves and excelling American Chase Kalisz’s final stroke he won the Olympics with his last drop (although his arm is shorter). At the same time he broke 24-year American dominancy in this event. As mentioned before, the world order was restored in the 200 m medley, Michael Phelps collected his last individual Olympic gold in his career, while the Japanese swimmer finished second by spurting ahead of his Chinese rival. Nevertheless, he could still be proud of himself, since in the longer medley event he was the first Japanese to win and in the shorter one an Asian swimmer could step on the podium for the first time.
Kosuke Hagino is on the right track to become Asia’s Michael Phelps, hence the most versatile swimmer of the continent. The next step of this path could be the 17th FINA World Championships in Budapest, where he intends to make up for his only shortcoming: he has never triumphed the World Championships. It is not yet known how many events he will enter in Hungary, but he will probably be protagonist in the final of two medley events (200 m medley – 27th July, 400 m medley – 30th July).
Born: 15 August, 1994, Oyama, Japan
Olympics: 1 gold (400 m medley – Rio), 1 silver (200 m medley – Rio), 2 bronze (400 m medley – London, 4x200 m freestyle relay – Rio)
World Championships: 2 silver (400 m freestyle, 200 m medley – Barcelona)