Former WR Holder Watanabe On Surprise Loss: “Swimming Can Be Cruel”

2021 JAPAN SWIM (OLYMPIC TRIALS)

Swim enthusiasts within the nation of Japan and beyond took pause tonight with the thought that anything can happen at any time in any race. Such was the case with 24-year-old Ippei Watanabe while competing in the men’s 200m breaststroke at the Japan Swim, the sole Olympic qualifying competition for the nation’s swimmers.

As a former world record holder and the bronze medalist in this 200m breast event from the 2019 FINA World Championships, expectations were high that Watanabe might pull out something special during tonight’s final on his home soil. The man is already ranked as the #3 swimmer in the world this season, having clocked a massive 2:07.08 from last December, already a mark less than half a second off his lifetime best and previous WR of 2:06.67 from 2017.

After 2016 Olympic finalist Yasuhiro Koseki dropped out of the 200m breast following a non-podium finish in the 100m breast earlier at these Trials, the discipline’s field was already narrowed down by one competitor with everyone’s eyes on Watanabe and 19-year-old young gun Shoma Sato.

Sato already claimed the #1 time in the world this season with a 2:06.74, ranking as the 2nd fastest Japanese racer ever behind Watanabe. He has been on the rise big-time, dropping from the 2:09’s to the 2:07’s to his 2:06 in a matter of a year.

Sato carried that momentum into tonight’s race, crushing a new national and Asian record of 2:06.40. Instead of Watanabe as the runner-up swimmer, however, it was 24-year-old Ryuya Mura who got his hand on the wall next in a huge personal best of 2:07.58. Mura’s unexpected upset swim left Watanabe in the 3rd place position, just as he was in the 100m breast, in a pedestrian (by his standards) time of 2:08.30.

Post-race, through tears, Watanabe had trouble putting into words what went wrong in the race that he had every chance of winning to earn the right to represent his nation this summer.

“I’ve done everything I can. Yesterday’s semi-finals were calm; but I can’t say anything about today’s swim. I’ve been working towards this for months…it should have been the best time of my life.”

He continued, “I gave it my all and this is the best I could do, so to get third with this time, it just shows that I wasn’t mentally ready,”

As a chilling reminder, Watanabe said that, although it’s fun to swim, ‘it can be a very cruel sport.’ (Yahoo Japan)