Hagino ready to con­test Phelps’ dom­i­nance in the pool

The Myanmar Times - - Olympics -

DON’T be fooled by Ko­suke Hagino’s quiet de­meanour and toothy grin – the Ja­pan swim­ming sen­sa­tion plans to usher boy­hood hero Michael Phelps into re­tire­ment at the Rio Olympics.

The 21-year-old, who pipped Phelps to take bronze in the 400-me­tre-in­di­vid­ual med­ley be­hind gold medal­list Ryan Lochte in Lon­don four years ago, is tar­get­ing dou­ble gold in Brazil.

“I was lucky to [win a] medal in Lon­don,” Hagino told AFP. “But this time there will be no luck in­volved.”

Ten years younger than Phelps and Lochte, Hagino has his sights set on a 200m and 400m in­di­vid­ual med­ley dou­ble. Phelps com­pleted an as­ton­ish­ing hat-trick in the 200m med­ley in 2012, de­fend­ing the ti­tle he won in Athens and Beijing.

But the Ja­panese gold medal hope has posted this year’s quick­est time in the event and the Amer­i­can su­per­stars will be ab­sent from the 400m.

“It’s a to­tally dif­fer­ent feel­ing to four years ago,” said the 2014 swim­mer of the year. “The aim will be to win gold in the 200m and 400m med­ley, no ques­tion.”

Hagino, poised to emerge from the shadow of coun­try­man Ko­suke Ki­ta­jima af­ter the former Olympic cham­pion failed to qual­ify for Rio, will also be a de­cent bet to win a medal in the 200m freestyle and the 4x200m freestyle re­lay.

His 200m freestyle vic­tory over Chi­nese gi­ant Sun Yang was one of the high­lights of the 2014 Asian Games, where he won four gold medals, only for his mo­men­tum to be halted af­ter he fell off a bi­cy­cle and broke his el­bow.

Hagino missed last year’s world cham­pi­onships as a re­sult but he in­sisted there will be “no excuses” if he comes up short in Rio.

But while he ad­mits there will be no room for sen­ti­men­tal­ity, Hagino makes no se­cret of his gush­ing ad­mi­ra­tion for Phelps – the most dec­o­rated Olympic ath­lete of all time with 22 medals from three Games, 18 of them gold.

“It’s just a real priv­i­lege to com­pete against him,” said Hagino, who also has a pair of sil­ver medals from the world cham­pi­onships in 2013.

“I watched him on TV when he won eight gold medals in Beijing. Even if I beat him, I’ll never be like Phelps.”

Brazil­ian Thi­ago Pereira, who edged Hagino for sil­ver be­hind Lochte in the 400m med­ley in Lon­don, will also be a threat at his home Olympics.

But in celebrity-ob­sessed Ja­pan, the Olympic swim­ming com­pe­ti­tion is al­ready be­ing billed as Hagino ver­sus Phelps.

Dwarfed by 6-foot­ers Phelps and Lochte, Hagino stands at just 5 feet, 9 inches (1.75m).

But what he lacks in size, the Ja­panese makes up for with su­perb tech­nique and steely de­ter­mi­na­tion.

“It will come down to men­tal tough­ness and squeez­ing ev­ery last drop out of your body,” said Hagino. “To hang in there over the last 15 me­tres.

“Phelps and Lochte have longer arms than me,” he added. “Hope­fully with my lit­tle body I can be a head in front at that point.” –

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