The Yomiuri Shimbun NAGOYA — The duel between the Olympic medalists was everything it was hyped up to be. This time, Daiya Seto got the better of Kosuke Hagino, although by the narrowest of margins.
Seto edged Hagino by .01 seconds in the men’s 400-meter individual medley on Thursday night, winning in 4 minutes 10.44 seconds on the opening day of the Japan Championships at Nippon Gaishi Arena in Nagoya.
With the win, Seto, the bronze medalist in the event at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics, secured a place on Japan’s team to the world championships, to be held in July in Budapest. Hagino, as the gold medalist in Rio, earned a ticket to Budapest simply by competing in Nagoya, as per criteria established by the Japan Swimming Federation.
Also making the team to Budapest were Rikako Ikee, who won the women’s 50 butterfly in 25.51, and Reona Aoki and Satomi Suzuki, the one-two finishers in the women’s 100 breaststroke. Aoki won the race in 1:06.77.
In the featured race of the day, Seto and Hagino could not be separated at the finish by the naked eye. But it was Seto who grabbed the glory and emerged from defending champion Hagino’s shadow.
The key to the race for Seto was the breaststroke, the third of the four legs. Seto knew that even if he led after the opening butterfly leg, he would lose the advantage to Hagino in his rival’s specialty, the backstroke.
“If I started to put on a spurt here, my freestyle would be flat [from fatigue],” Seto said.
While conserving his energy, Seto regained the lead during the breaststroke, setting off a fierce duel in the freestyle that had the spectators roaring and from which he just managed to emerge victorious.
Following his loss to Hagino in Rio, Seto made changes in his training style. He typically prepared with high-altitude training. Recently, though, he has chosen to enter more competitions and build up strength through more races. That strategy had paid off before, when he beat Hagino for the gold at the 2013 world championships in Barcelona.
“He himself said that he ‘exploded’ at Barcelona,” Seto’s coach Takayuki Umehara said. “He wanted to get back to that starting point.”
In Budapest, Seto will be aiming for a third straight world title.
“I’d like to have the one-two finish with Kosuke that we didn’t get in Rio,” Seto said. “Of course, with me being the ‘one’ to make it three straight titles.”
For Hagino, the meet was his first since becoming a full-fledged professional, and comes after he underwent elbow surgery following the Rio Olympics.