Join the club: Sato Shoma becomes 4th ever to break 2:07 barrier in 200 breaststroke

Rising 19yo Japanese star hits 2:06.78 after being on pace to rewrite Anton Chupkov's world record with 15m to go.

By Shintaro Kano
Picture by 2019 Getty Images

Not too many Japanese swimmers can steal the spotlight from Olympic champion Hagino Kosuke.

Sato Shoma just became one.

Sato joined some exclusive swimming company on Sunday (24 January), becoming one of only four in the sport's history to break the 2:07 barrier in the men's 200-metre breaststroke.

The 19-year-old Sato, a second-year student at Keio University, clocked 2 minutes, 6.78 seconds at the Kosuke Kitajima Cup in Tokyo for the world's fourth fastest time ever.

Anton Chupkov holds the world record at 2:06.12, which the Russian marked at the 2019 world championships in Gwangju, South Korea.

Sato's compatriot Watanabe Ippei and Matthew Wilson of Australia share the next best mark with a 2:06.67.

Sato was gutted he didn't at least pass Watanabe on the list as he was on pace to break Chupkov's record with less than 15m to go.

Watanabe did not enter this meet, choosing to focus on the Japan Open two weeks away.

"I was only a tenth of a second away from the Japan record. I should have had it so I'm disappointed", said Sato, who put more than three seconds on runner-up Fukazawa Yamato, a fellow Keio sophomore.

"Being honest, I didn't think I could produce a 2:06 this time but I did. I have the feeling I'm improving a lot faster than I ever expected.

"It's always in the last 50 when I can't keep up with Chupkov's time. I have to do a better job of closing out the race from hereon".

The man who the competition is named after, a certain two-time double Olympic breaststroke champion, was gushing about the teenager, saying he doesn't take a backseat to anyone in the world now.

"I watch his last 50 and he seems relaxed," said Kitajima, who provided colour commentary for the broadcast.

"As he said himself, his best race is still ahead of him. Your time tends to be up and down in the 200 so for him to post a 2:06 in January speaks a lot about his upside.

"Watanabe Ippei didn't compete here but I think we now have two who can compete at the highest level in the world. A one-two at the Olympics is not out of reality". - Two-time double Olympic breaststroke champion Kitajima Kosuke

Eyes on the prize

On a day when Hagino coasted to the 200 individual medley title (1:58.62) to further underline his reprisal, Sato had topped the heats in 2:08.25 and his winning the final was not in question.

But for him to threaten Chupkov's mark, not just break 2:07, so early in the Games year was nothing short of a pleasant surprise though the writing may have been on the wall.

A year ago, Sato's fastest time was a 2:07.58. In October, he knocked it down to a 2:07.02 which was his previous personal best and also happens to be sixth on the world's all-time list.

With his time Sunday, all eyes now - even Chupkov's, perhaps - will be on the Sato-Watanabe showdown at the Japan Open.

And that's before the national championships in April which doubles as the Tokyo 2020 Olympic trials for Japan.

"I'm starting to understand what it takes to be world class", Sato said.

"I'm at 2:06.7 now. I want to break the Japan record at the Japan Open and then the world record at the Olympic trials in April".

In other races, Ohashi Yui captured the women's 200 IM in a meet record of 2:09.86. Shioura Shinri took the men's 50 freestyle in 22.25.