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Swimmer Breaks Two World Records on his Way to Gold (August 27, 2003)

Kitajima Kosuke
Kitajima Kosuke (Jiji)
At the July 2003 FINA World Swimming Championships in Barcelona, Spain, Kitajima Kosuke set two new world records in winning both the 100-meters and 200-meters men's breaststroke events. In doing so, Kitajima, 20, became the first Japanese swimmer to win two individual gold medals in a single Olympic or world championship competition. Back home, Japanese fans rejoiced over the accomplishment of the third-year university student, who also helped Japan claim a bronze in the men's 400-meters medley relay.

A Man of His Word
Kitajima, who grew up in Tokyo, began swimming at age five. Though like his swimming school peers he trained in all swim styles, he settled on the breaststroke because it was his fastest event. Kitajima prides himself on turning his promises into reality. As an elementary school student, he once wrote, "In the future I'm going to be in the Olympics." He delivered on that prediction by competing in the 2000 Sydney Olympics at age 17 while still in high school. There, he narrowly missed out on a medal, finishing fourth in the 100-meters breaststroke, but won a bronze the following year in the 200-meters at the 2001 FINA World Championships in Fukuoka. At the autumn 2002 Asian Games in Busan, South Korea, Kitajima broke a world mark in the 200-meters breaststroke that had stood for 10 years. And prior to the 2003 World Championships, he declared, "On top of a victory, I'm going for a world record."

True to his word, he started off by establishing a new world record of 59.78 seconds in the 100-meters event. He then followed that up by setting another world mark of 2:09.42 in the 200-meters. One Japanese swim-team coach was blown away by Kitajima's performance, proclaiming, "To put it in grandiose terms, this is an historic day." Even Japanese Prime Minister Koizumi Junichiro had praise for the athlete, saying, "That's an incredible feat. It's something to be proud of."

Speed Through Science
There is a reason for all the fanfare. In the breaststroke, the 100-meters and 200-meters are considered to be as different from one another as sprint and middle-distance running events. Only two swimmers in the world had ever won both events at the world championships before, and the fact that both of his wins were accompanied by world records makes Kitajima's feat all the more remarkable.

Kitajima originally specialized in the 100-meters. But by combining cutting-edge scientific methodology, such as film analysis, with strenuous training, he added new technique and endurance to his naturally strong swim stroke and quickly improved his time in his second event as well. Said one official from the Japan Swimming Federation, amazed by the extent of Kitajima's ability to absorb so much, "His ability to put into practice what he is told is genius. I've never seen anyone like him."

Onward to Athens
Even upon his triumphant return, Kitajima was already looking ahead to the Athens Olympics in August 2004. "I feel proud of what I accomplished in Barcelona. But the real test will be at the Olympics next year in Athens. I've been working toward the goal of winning a gold medal at the Olympics. This event is a stepping stone," he said.

Inspired by Kitajima, other Japanese swimmers also shone at the world championships. Yamamoto Takashi and Nakanishi Yuko earned silver and bronze medals in the men's and women's 200-meters butterfly, respectively, Inada Noriko took home a bronze in the women's 50-meters backstroke, and the Japanese team won a bronze in the men's 400-meters medley relay - all in new Japanese record times. Japan's swimmers won six medals, more than in any previous championship competition, and nine counting medals earned in synchronized swimming events. This superb performance at the championships is certain to help spur Japanese swimmers onward to success at the Athens Olympics.

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Copyright (c) 2004 Web Japan. Edited by Japan Echo Inc. based on domestic Japanese news sources. Articles presented here are offered for reference purposes and do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Japanese Government.

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