The Japanese swimming trials for the Tokyo Olympics in 2021 got underway on Saturday (3 April), when three punched their ticket to this summer's Games on opening day of the national championships.
The 2019 world silver medallist Ohashi Yui and 17-year-old Tanigawa Ageha are headed to their first Games in the women's 400-metre individual medley and, with defending Olympic champion Hagino Kosuke declining to enter in the men's 400 IM, Yukari Yuki booked his place on the team after finishing second to Seto Daiya.
Seto had qualified ahead of the meet in the two IMs through his world championships two years ago in Gwangju, South Korea. He is eyeing a third race at Tokyo 2020 in the 200 butterfly here.
In order to qualify through the eight-day nationals at Tokyo Aquatics Centre, the Games' swimming venue, one must finish in the top two plus top the Olympic qualifying standard set by the Japan Swimming Federation.
Seto longed for Hagino rivalry
Seto admitted he would have liked to seen his good friend Hagino at least enter the 400 IM.
In the race at Rio 2016, Seto took bronze to Hagino's gold. Hagino will focus on the 200 IM, freestyle and backstroke at this competition.
"I'm up to my neck worrying about myself right now. But being completely honest, I wanted to compete against him", Seto said.
"I lost to him in Rio and wanted to get him back at the Games. I really wanted him to enter. But Kosuke has to do what's best for Kosuke.
"My job is to win a gold medal this summer and that's what's important".
Seto's winning time of 4 minutes, 9.02 seconds was almost three seconds off Hagino's Japan record.
Yet it was vastly improved compared to the 4:12.57 he posted in February in his first start since serving a non-swimming suspension last year.
"I'm only 70 per cent fit and I'm pretty happy with a 4:09 given the shape I'm in", Seto said.
"I know what I had to do going into the race and know what I have to do next coming out of it.
"I didn't feel pressed one bit. I just need to take it one step at a time".
Ikee through to 100 fly final
In the day's semifinals, Ikee Rikako reached Sunday's 100 butterfly final by winning her heat in 58.48 - good for third fastest overall.
Ikee, the national record-holder in the race with a 56.08 prior to her bout with leukemia, needs a 57.10 in the final to secure a place for the Games.
The 20-year-old did not speak to the media on this day but later issued comments saying she should be more relaxed on Sunday after shaking off the nerves on this night.
Ikee swam the fly competitively on Feb. 20 for the first time since being diagnosed with cancer in February 2019 (59.44). In a little over a month, she has almost shaved a full second off her time.
"I'm feeling it at the moment but when I swam the fly for the first time since coming back, I actually felt better the next day", she said.
"Today was the first day so I think I'll be better tomorrow".