Arama They Didn't

5:46 pm - 07/31/2012

London Olympics 2012: Something Missing for Japan's Kitajima

Kosuke Kitajima is considered the greatest breaststroke swimmer in history. But the reigning world champion, Norway's Alexander Dale Oen was thought to be the gold-medal favorite in London.

But that changed on April 30 when Dale Oen died unexpectedly from cardiac arrest in Flagstaff, Ariz., where the Norwegian team was on a high-altitude training trip. He was 26 years old.

The swimming world lost one of its great champions barely in his prime. Kitajima lost a friend and his fiercest opponent in the water. When the 29-year-old competes in the 100-meter breaststroke on Saturday the biggest threat to his shot at Olympic history—the pursuit for a third consecutive Olympic title in the same event—won't be in the pool.

"I wanted to race against him here, and I miss him. I don't know if I'll be able to swim in his name but I hope to do the best I can," said Kitajima this week in London, according to Japan's Kyodo News service. Kitajima is chasing his third set of dual gold medals in the 100- and 200-meter breaststroke. How he fares in the 100-meter, considered his stronger event and scheduled before the longer course, could set the tone for his chances in the 200 meters.

Dale Oen was a source of motivation as well as nerves for Kitajima and other leading breaststrokers preparing for London. When he heard of Dale Oen's death Kitajima was in Los Angeles where he had relocated to train at the University of Southern California. "I can't stop crying," he said on Twitter at the time.

For a long time Kitajima was the force to be reckoned with in men's breaststroke. When Kitajima set a world record in the 100 meters at the last Olympics coming in just 0.29 seconds on his tail to take silver was Dale Oen.

Kitajima, contemplating retirement, took some time off from swimming after Beijing. When he picked it back up a year later, Dale Oen was among the swimmers in one of his first training sessions in Japan in Novemeber 2009. Dale Oen had asked to spend a couple days under the tutelage of Kitajima's mentor Norimasa Hirai, who coached Kitajima to Olympic success and is the current head coach of the Japanese swimming team. (Kitajima later decided to test a new training strategy and moved to Los Angeles.) The two elite swimmers emailed at times, messaged each other via Twitter and saw each other at meets, according to his manager Yuki Tanaka.

Three years after the Beijing Olympics, the pair met again at last year's world championships in Shanghai. Except that time Dale Oen swept the competition, winning in 58.71 seconds, while Kitajima fell out of the top three entirely.

After his disappointing fourth-place finish the Japanese swimmer tweeted "Dale Oen was really fast. I cannot beat him with what I have right now." Kitajima trailed over one second behind Dale Oen.

Nicknamed the "frog king" in Japan for his swift strokes, his signature ability to swim quickly with fewer strokes was the opposite of Dale Oen's high-stroke count technique. Kitajima began increasing his stroke count to match his rival's pace. It seemed clunky at first, said Shigehiro Takahashi, who won medals in the 1984 and 1988 Olympics in breaststroke, speaking about the first time Kitajima put his new, Dale Oen-esque style into practice at the 2010 Pan Pacific Swimming Championships. A string of injuries since Beijing exacerbated his struggle for a comeback. "But at this year's qualifications, the higher stroke count didn't seem so awkward, and I felt he had adjusted it to his graceful technique," he said.

Kitajima raced to the finish in the 100-meter event in 58.90 seconds, a new national record, at Japan's swimming trials in April.

From Yomiuri: [post-100m]

Kitajima seemed to have been able to overcome the sadness and sense of loss he felt over Dale Oen's death. However, the loss of his rival seemingly left a gaping hole that could not be filled.

Kitajima has not been satisfied with his recent performances. His fifth place in Sunday's final was a continuation of that. "I thought maybe I could give Dale Oen something like a farewell gift if I'd swum a bit better, but this was a miserable race," he said. "It's a real pity."

Sources: 1, 2

This article is couple days late, but I thought it'd be good to read how he feels. Cuz NBC does not offer that.
Ganbare on 200m, Kitajima~
ninomi 1st-Aug-2012 02:58 am (UTC)
I honestly wasn't expecting him to get the gold this time so no surprises there but I know that fifth place had to hurt for him, damn. Hopefully the 200 goes better for him, but judging by the semifinals I'm not so sure.
chibi_hime 1st-Aug-2012 03:04 am (UTC)
Totally rooting for Kitajima!! I love watching his interviews on News Zero.
Micheal Phelps who?

It's been years since I've watched NBC coverage of the Olympics.
Did they always suck? I can't even watch streaming...
asaphira_sachi 1st-Aug-2012 04:39 am (UTC)
Yeah I love how Sho's always such a total fanboy when it comes to Kitajima during NZ.

NBC's always been questionable...
megamisama_ann 1st-Aug-2012 04:54 am (UTC)
Kitajima's arm are rocks :3

katzsong 1st-Aug-2012 03:30 am (UTC)
I just read this few hours ago. It's kinda sad. I hope he can pick up the pace on 200 m. Ganbare, Kitajima-san :)
oresa 1st-Aug-2012 03:43 am (UTC)
I do not expect that Kitajima-san would get a gold.
We all are people, it's sad, but we get older. There is younger it's their time to get a gold.

But it's kinda sad not to get a bronze...

Still adore that man <3
asaphira_sachi 1st-Aug-2012 09:24 pm (UTC)
Yes, and I hope the media understands and focuses less on the failures and more on what's been accomplished.

I know! Still adore him so much~
stole_away 1st-Aug-2012 04:17 am (UTC)
this is sad, I hope he at least get a medal or something :(
brucelynn 1st-Aug-2012 04:22 am (UTC)
OMG Don't make me cry right now :( this article is breaking my heart.

I am a big fan of Kitajima and I didn't know that swimmer passed away :( and at such a young age too omg

asaphira_sachi 1st-Aug-2012 08:56 pm (UTC)
I'm sorry ;-;
fallblau_129 1st-Aug-2012 10:31 am (UTC)
such a sad article, i hope he does better in the 200m

this was shown in NHK...hmm, i think last weekend, where they mentioned about Dale Oen.
enorcsi 1st-Aug-2012 11:11 am (UTC)
IA, this article is sad. :(

But sorry Kitajima-san, I cannot route for you on 200, I have to side with Gyurta!
wasabisushi404 1st-Aug-2012 05:49 pm (UTC)
;_; *tearing*
Kitajima, I wish you the best of luck. And I agree about NBC...
yumett 1st-Aug-2012 08:41 pm (UTC)
:( sad story.
i watched him swim and, yeah, i guess it's life, we get old and younger and stronger ones take over the old ones...
when is 200m already ?? i'll watch it for sure.
asaphira_sachi 1st-Aug-2012 09:00 pm (UTC)
I wish the media was as understanding instead of keep saying "what went wrong?" when a veteran doesn't win.
The 200m just happened couple hrs ago, but I'll refrain from spoiling :)
yumett 1st-Aug-2012 09:07 pm (UTC)
oh lol i realized i actually saw it, but i arived when it was already over so i didn't know that was the 200m. alright 'k, well, it's not bad i'm happy with it.
and there's still the 4X100m on friday to see right. :)
asaphira_sachi 1st-Aug-2012 09:21 pm (UTC)
and there's still the 4X100m on friday to see right. :)

Yes! I wish him and the rest of the team best :)
captxfizz 2nd-Aug-2012 05:47 pm (UTC)
This is such a sad article especially since watching his 100m was heartbreaking :(
asweetsymphony 2nd-Aug-2012 07:18 pm (UTC)
This is really heart wrenching. I recognized him when I was watching the swimming finals... I thought he won at least one medal or maybe it was his other team mate? But it's alright, he has a lot to be proud of.
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