In the past, Asia as a continent wasn’t really known for its swimmers. But that has started to change, and at the 2012 London Olympics, the whole world will see that the pool isn’t the exclusive preserve of Americans, Australians and Europeans.
Japan, China and South Korea won four golds between them in Beijing – and they are keen for more in England.
Many eyes will be on Kosuke Kitajima. Now 29, the Japanese star won gold at the 100 and 200 meter breaststroke in Athens in 2004 and in Beijing four years later.
“The Frog King” is going for an amazing hat-trick this summer, and was impressive in April as he defeated rivals in Japan to book his place in the team.
“The fact that I could demonstrate what I had under such pressure has helped me remove fears about going to the world,” Kitajima said last month. “I am confident of overcoming such pressure on the basis of my experience I think I will just prepare myself to be able to stand on the starting block with my head held high.”
Expectations are high. “I think the chance of him getting gold is very high,” said former coach Norimasa Hirai. “Kitajima is strong at the Olympics. Everybody feels pressure at the Olympics, but he has a tendency to set records under that kind of pressure. Competing and winning against the world’s best is something I think he looks forward to.”
South Korea’s Park Tae-hwan took the 400 meters freestyle in Beijing in 2008. He’s hoping to take on the mighty Michael Phelps, who has 14 gold medals in his cabinet at home, before he heads to England in an attempt to reach peak form at the right time.
The 22-year old, nicknamed “Marine Boy” in his homeland, is now in Australia before heading to the United States and the Santa Clara International Grand Prix. Last year, Park beat Phelps in the 100.
“Although it is not decided whether Phelps will take part in the event, it will be good experience to race with him and even better if I defeat him,” said Park.
“I need to work most on a fast start, and it will help in the 200 meters. Skills for turns are important in the 400 meters. To vie with high-profile swimmers like Ryan Lochte and Phelps, I need to improve my starts and turns,” he said.
For China, Jiao Liuyang is a gold medal hope in the 100 meters butterfly, after taking silver behind compatriot Liu Zige in 2008.