Olympic Swimming Preview: Japanese Swimmers Continue to Excel on the Way to London

Another day of competition is complete at Japan's Olympic Swimming Trials in Tokyo. Day 5 of the meet on Friday, April 6, produced more super-fast individual times, but no surprises otherwise.

In the day's most anticipated event, Olympic great Kosuke Kitajima took the men's 200-meter breaststroke in exactly 2:08.0, which is an awesome time so early in the year. His main rival, Ryo Tateishi, clocked 2:08.17 in touching the wall in second place. Both men will compete in the Olympic 100-meter and 200-meter breaststroke races.

Kitajima commented after his win: "My time was not so bad. I think it was a good stepping stone to the Olympics. People expect me to win the gold medal again. I'll do my best to live up to their expectations."

Tateishi added that "the breaststroke is a race that we can medal in. But it is difficult with my time, so I must try harder."

One other final of note with possible implications for an Olympic medal was the men's 200-meter butterfly. Takeshi Matsuda cruised to victory in 1:54.01, which is the fastest time in the world so far in 2012.

Matsuda later said: "I was disappointed because I wanted to swim in a better time and put pressure on other top swimmers in the world. I'm going to do what I must do to accomplish my goal."

From this week's results in Japan, it would appear that the country is on track for a significant haul of swimming medals in London. But from my observations of Japan's best swimmers over the years, I have to wonder if many of them are not going to peak too soon in this Olympic year.

There is always pressure on Japanese athletes "to do their best," perhaps to an extent that non-Japanese cannot understand. And I think this has been magnified due to tougher Olympic qualifying standards instituted by the Japan Swimming Federation. It will be interesting to see how Japan's Olympic swimmers perform at the London Games.

Patrick Hattman lived in Japan for more than a decade and continues to closely follow the country's best athletes and team sports.

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Updated Saturday, Apr 7, 2012