Japanese swim star Sato targets Olympic gold and record

Tokyo (AFP) –


Japanese swim star Shoma Sato clocked the second-fastest 200m breaststroke time ever on Wednesday -- then set his sights on claiming the world record and the gold at the Tokyo Olympics.

Sato blazed home in 2min 6.40sec at Japan's Olympic trials to book his spot at this summer's coronavirus-postponed Games, setting a new national record in the process.

His time was just 0.28 off the world mark of 2:06.12 set by Russia's Anton Chupkov at the 2019 world championships.

Sato believes he can claim the record when he makes his Olympic debut this summer, but the 20-year-old's first priority is winning gold in the same Tokyo pool.

"I got a glimpse of the world record, and I want to keep aiming for that," said Sato, adding that there is "no point" in thinking too much about his rivalry with Chupkov.

"But the most important thing is to win the gold medal at the Games," he said. "I want to do that regardless of what time I get."

Sato qualified along with Ryuya Mura, who finished second in a time of 2:07.58.

Sato missed out on a place in the Olympic 100m breaststroke earlier this week after failing to make the qualifying time.

But a big performance was always on the cards in the 200m, after he served notice of his talent by clocking the world's fourth-fastest time ever in January.

"I was feeling good in the afternoon, so I thought I might get a fast time," he said.

- 'I gave it my all' -

Sato and Mura finished ahead of former world record holder Ippei Watanabe, who clocked 2:08.30 and missed out on an Olympic berth.

Watanabe held the record until it was broken by Australian Matt Wilson -- one day before Chupkov took it from him.

"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," said a visibly disappointed Watanabe.

Leukaemia survivor Rikako Ikee stepped up her hunt for an individual place at the Games by reaching the final of the 100m freestyle, and can also make Japan's 4x100m freestyle relay team if she finishes in the top four.

Ikee, who qualified for a place in Japan's medley relay team after winning the 100m butterfly on Sunday, finished in 54.36 -- the fastest overall time of the semis.

She can book her place in the individual event if she finishes the final in the top two and beats the qualification time.

"I'm going into the race wondering if I can meet the qualifying time or not," said Ikee, who only resumed training a year ago after being diagnosed with leukaemia in February 2019.

"Quite honestly, I'd be quite happy to scrape home in fourth," she said. "I'm just looking forward to it without worrying too much."