Japanese trio target Tokyo 2020 gold
Japanese swimmer Sakai highlights unique pressure of home Olympics in 2020
Swim stars Chad le Clos of South Africa, Jamaica's Alia Atkinson and Hungary's "Iron Lady" Katinka Hosszu fanned the excitement of more than 100 fans who turned up for a meet-and-greet session at the Kallang Wave Mall yesterday.
A trio of Japanese stars were also in the mix, walking out together, exhibiting that famous team spirit while greeting the crowd ahead of the Fina/airweave Swimming World Cup Singapore competition, which will take place today and tomorrow at the OCBC Aquatic Centre.
Kanako Watanabe will turn 20 on Nov 15. Countrymen Masato Sakai is 21 and Daiya Seto is a year older.
While they are all aiming to win in Singapore, their larger goal is to be at their peak in four years' time when Tokyo hosts the 2020 Olympics.
It will be the first time Japan hosts the Games since 1964, and in a country famous for their meticulous preparation, the athletes are already well into their programme for 2020.
Said Sakai: "The Olympic Games are going to be in our country and of course we want to do well.
"Especially in 2020, when the fans, the atmosphere and everything, is all going to be different, because we'll be at home.
"I think that takes more psychological and mental preparation as compared to physical training."
Sakai bagged the silver in the men's 200m butterfly at the Rio Olympics in August and could well be battling le Clos and Singapore's Joseph Schooling in the event in Tokyo.
He wants gold on home soil, and said yesterday the silver he won in Rio was no different from bronze.
All three Japanese swimmers sang from the same hymn sheet, stating their intent to win at the 2020 Olympics.
Seto won the bronze in the men's 400m individual medley in Brazil, but said: "The value of a silver and a gold medal is completely different. You feel the value when you win a gold medal."
Japanese swimmers returned home with two golds, two silvers and three bronze medals from this year's Olympics, and the 1.74m-tall Seto added: "We are definitely targeting more medals than what we received in Rio because the competition is going to be in our own country."
Watanabe struck gold in the women's 200m breaststroke and finished second in the women's 200m individual medley at last year's World Championships in Kazan, Russia.
She suffered at this year's Olympics, though.
She was deemed to have qualified for the 100m breaststroke semi-finals, only for the "live" television broadcast to indicate she had been disqualified.
After a protest from the Japanese Federation, Watanabe was reinstated but the damage was done and she failed to make the final.
"I really wasn't happy with the result from Rio, but I know the next few Olympics are equally important and I'm aiming to be the best," she said.
Seto will feature in the men's 100m and 400m individual medley and the men's 200m butterfly here, while Sakai will do battle in the men's 200m butterfly and 400m freestyle.
Watanabe will be going for gold in the women's 100m breaststroke.
Their training regimen have been structured to contend with larger-sized opponents and much work is going into endurance and technique.
Said Seto: "Technique and stamina are both key and we are working hard on both disciplines to better compete with the bigger-built swimmers."
*Morning heats will be held from 9am-12pm, while finals will be held from 6pm-8.30pm. Entrance to all morning heats are free. Daily access tickets for the finals are $25 for a day pass and $40 for a bundle package, which is valid for two sessions.