Olympic great Kitajima to head new Swim League team in 2020

Las Vegas (AFP) –


Four-time Olympic gold medallist Kosuke Kitajima will head a new Tokyo-based International Swimming League team that will join the fledgling series in 2020.

The Tokyo club, which has yet to be named, was unveiled on Saturday in Las Vegas, Nevada, where the ISL capped its inaugural season with a glitzy finale at the Mandalay Bay event center.

The Japanese outfit and a new club in Toronto will expand the ISL's number of teams to 10 for the 2020-2021 season.

"I'm very happy to be given this chance to be part of a big opportunity for swimming in general," said Kitajima, who said he felt a little left out when he wasn't approached before the start of the first season.

After watching the two-day final, he said he was impressed not only by the energy of the event but also by the smiles of the swimmers themselves.

"I hope that a lot of Japanese swimmers will be able to participate in this ISL next season," said Kitajima, who retired in 2016 after a groundbreaking Olympic career that included double breaststroke golds in the 2004 and 2008 Games.

ISL, brainchild of Ukrainian billionaire Konstantin Grigorishin, launched in October with eight teams: Aqua Centurions, Energy Standard, Iron and London Roar in Europe and Cali Condors, DC Trident, LA Current and NY Breakers in the United States.

Daiya Seto became the first Japanese swimmer to test the ISL waters when he made his debut for Energy Standard at Las Vegas, where he roared to a short course world record of 3:54.81 in winning the 400m individual medley on Friday.

Regardless of where they are based, the teams draw talent from around the globe, with ISL rosters in the first season featuring more than 100 Olympians. That included swimmers who garnered a total of 41 gold medals at the 2016 Rio Olympics.

While the ISL is not under the umbrella of swimming's international governing body FINA and the Olympic movement, Grigorshin said it was fitting to add a Japanese team in 2020 -- when the Tokyo Olympics will make the city the focus of world sport.

"The International Swimming League must be a truly global one but our development needs to be sustainable, so we are delighted that we are able to announce that one of our two new clubs for next season will be in Tokyo -- the global capital of sport in 2020," he said in a statement.

- Swim dream now real -

After an inaugural season that featured seven matches -- including the top four teams in the points standings competing in the finale -- officials announced a 27-match 2020-21 campaign to run from September through April and including regular season, playoffs and the Grand Final.

Further details on the schedule are to be announced early next year but ISL executive Andrea Di Nino said the series would take a break in December, to accommodate the FINA short course world championships in Abu Dhabi, and another one in March, when some countries will hold trials for the 2021 long course world championships.

The expanded season, with the 10 teams divided into two groups -- a Euro-Asia group and an American group -- will see the ISL deliver on it's promise to make swimming "a new sport," Di Nino said.

"What 10 weeks ago was probably a dream for us, now is a reality," he said.

But there's room for change, with potential format and rule tweaks on the table based on feedback from swimmers and coaches.

Salary caps and prize money will rise, Di Nino said, saying that was a must since swimmers will be racing in more events.

"We need to put always the swimmer on the top," he said.