Double Olympic champion Kosuke Kitajima (JPN) has torn rival Brendan Hansen's 200m breaststroke world record apart with a 2:07.51 at the Japan Open in Tokyo. Wearing the Speedo LZR to test how it compared with his national-team-sponsored suit, Kitajima's message to his federation was clear: let me wear the suit I want to in Beijing and I can join compatriot Yoshiyuki Tsuruta in what has so far been a club of one member, the club of men who have retained an Olympic breaststroke crown.
The 25-year-old's time swept him 0.99sec inside the 2006 mark of Hansen (USA) and 1.35 inside his own previous best. Kitajima now boasts four of the best seven performances of all time, with Hansen accounting for three: Kitajima has numbers 1, 4, 6 and 7; Hansen has 2, 3 and 5.
Their bests compared:
It was the first time that Kitajima had worn the LZR. Hansen is quoted as saying that he will try a few suits, including the LZR and the newest TYR suit after having been given permission to do so by sponsor Nike.
Japanese Olympic swimmers are obliged to wear products supplied by one of three Japanese firms - Mizuno, Asics and Descente. Will the federation now change its mind? Perhaps a look back in history will convince them. At a time when Japan was at its strongest in Olympic waters - 1932 onwards, with that blip of shame and exclusion caused by the nation's status as an aggressor in the Second World War - it looked everywhere it could for an edge: first to use oxygen before races, first to wear silk suits, first to win by exploiting loopholes on breaststroke by racing underwater (Tsuruta, 1928, 1932; Mararu Furukawa, 1956) and the first to win by exploiting a backstroke loophole (Daichi Suzuki, 1988). Will the guardians of Japanese swimming live up to their past? The Japanese federation will decide on Tuesday whether to allow its team a choice of suits.
The new all-time Top 10:
Kitajima punched the air with delight after breaking the record, according to agency reports. He emerged to say: 'I feel like crying. I owe the world record to my ability, while the swimsuit also played a good role. I was confident of setting a record before racing today. I thank the Japanese swimwear maker and the swimming federation for giving me an opportunity to test the Speedo swimsuit.'
In Tokyo, Kitajima has worn a t-shirt proclaiming in English, Japanese and Chinese: 'I am the swimmer'. In other words - I have a right to choose because I am the one who has to deliver.
Kitajima added: 'I will forget about the world record for now ahead of the Olympics and will go out fighting as if I am a challenger. For the Olympics, I only have the gold medals on my mind. I won't come home if I don't get them.'
Kitajima's time put into context the series of 2:09 performances witnessed at the European Championships in March. Podium hopefuls will need to be thinking at least a second quicker.
Kitajima's best 10 times ever:
A footnote to comparing performances so far this year: The different effects of morning finals on different individuals is yet to unfold, of course, but comparison of results at meets this year indicate that, at least for some, there will be a price to pay for NBC and the IOC's dash for the dollars.
Meantime, Takurou Rujii clocked 1:59.28 for a national record in the 200m medley; Shiho Sakai and Reiko Nakamura shared the Japanese record in the 50m backstroke, dead-heating on 28.25; Junichi Miyashita set a new standard of 25.26 in the 50m backstroke; and in 51.77 Kouhei Kawamoto claimed the 100m butterfly national record. Natsumi Hoshi clocked 2:07.04 in the 200m butterfly; and Megumi Taneda's 2:23.96 was yet another swift performance at the Japan Open.