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TOKYO, Jan 15 (Reuters) - Japan have unveiled 17-year-old swimmer Akihiro Yamaguchi, labelling him the ‘next Kosuke Kitajima’ and predicting he could make a big splash at this year’s London Olympics.
The raw teen, who has won a world junior title in the 200 metres breaststroke, has even bolder targets for London, telling the Nikkan Sports newspaper on Sunday: “I plan to win gold.”
Like his hero Kitajima, who stormed to the 100 and 200 breaststroke double at the 2004 Athens Olympics and the 2008 Beijing Games, Yamaguchi is not short of self-belief.
Japan coach Norimasa Hirai, who mentored Kitajima, believes the youngster could spring a shock in London.
“I haven’t seen anything like him since Kosuke so it’s exciting,” said Hirai. “Kosuke is more about pure speed but (Yamaguchi) has real spring and incredible stamina.”
Hirai added: “You just never know what he could go at the Olympics.”
Yamaguchi scoffed when asked if the 2016 Olympics in Rio would not be more realistic.
“I have targets,” said the schoolboy from Japan’s southwestern Kagoshima island, whose best time in the 200 is some three seconds outside Kitajima’s former world best.
Kitajima reclaimed his 200 world record in two minutes, 7.51 seconds in 2008 before losing it to Australia’s Christian Sprenger, who clocked 2:07.31 a year later.
”People tell me ‘Good luck in Rio’ but that’s too long to wait,“ said Yamaguchi. ”Mr. Hirai said London is too close for (me to win) the 200.
“But I‘m in a good position to challenge for the 100. I‘m also going to break 2:09 in the 200.”
Yamaguchi said watching Kitajima’s astonishing gold medal performances in Beijing, after a difficult period of injury for Asia’s top swimmer, had inspired him to swim in the Olympics.
He has already trained with Kitajima but gave away one of the worst-kept secrets in Japanese sport.
“It was fun. Kosuke-san isn’t good at training,” said Yamaguchi, careful to use the honorific Japanese. “I’ve even beaten him.”
Warming to the subject, Yamaguchi let slip his real aim was to “win the 200 metres in under 2:08.”
(Reporting by Alastair Himmer; Editing by Peter Rutherford. To query or comment on this story email email@example.com) Double-click on the newslinks: for more swimming stories