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  • Big Night for Asian Swimming Stars


    (ATR) Medal hopefuls at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics competing at the 2018 Asian Games set four Games’ records in a night full of golden performances.

    Rikako Ikee winning the 50m butterfly (ATR)
    In the night’s highlight 18-year-old Japanese swimmer Rikako Ikee set Asian Games records in the 50m butterfly and 100m backstroke. She swam both events in quick succession after a quirk in the competition schedule.

    Organizers had scheduled a medal event after the 50m butterfly, but instead there was a short delay, which allowed Ikee to warm up for the 100m freestyle.

    “I'm so happy to win two gold medals at individual races that I aimed [for],” Ikee said after the day’s events. “During the [time in between] I was so happy and enjoying winning a medal, so I relaxed and was looking forward to just swimming.”

    Ikee now has three gold medals from the three events she has competed in so far at the Asian Games. The night prio she won and set another Asian Games record at the 4x100m freestyle relay. Earlier this month, Ikee won four medals at the 2018 Pan Pacific Championships in Tokyo. She is considered to be a hometown favorite to win big at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.

    “I had a lot of international races and I want to go step by step and I will go to more international competition and I get pride in my swims,” Ikee said to Around the Rings. “Then I think ‘I can do it’ and I can get medals [at Tokyo 2020].”

    Chinese swimmer Sun Yang dominated the men’s 800m in Jakarta setting a Games’ record and opening up speculation he could race the event in Tokyo. Yang has an ambitious program in Jakarta racing the 200m, 400m, 800m, 1500m freestyle, and the 4x200m freestyle relay. He won the 200m freestyle yesterday before winning the 800m today.

    Sun Yang being interviewed by Chinese TV (ATR)
    Yang is training to race both the 1500m and 800m in Tokyo, though what races he will enter is up for consideration. The six-time Olympic medalist surprisingly won the 200m in Rio de Janeiro, but finished 16th in the 1500m. The men’s 800m freestyle will make its Olympic debut in Tokyo.

    “I was saving some energy for tonight's relay,” Yang said to reporters after his first event. “The plan was to pick up the pace over the last 200 meters and it went well. That will give me confidence for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics."

    China finished second in the 4x200 relay behind Japan, which set another Asian Games record. Swimming the third leg for Japan was Kosuke Hagino who finished second in the 200m individual medley earlier in the evening.

    Hagino won gold in the 400m medley at Rio 2016 and silver in the 200m medley race behind Michael Phelps. With Phelps retired, Hagino is a name floated as a potential star of the Japanese swimming team in Tokyo.

    “The last 50m freestyle was bad [in the 200m medley]; I swam with confidence but I don't have a base to win the gold medal yet,” Hagino said. “Swimming times were not good, but I was giving my all ability so I feel that I am in [the path] to Tokyo 2020.”

    Finishing third in the 4x200m freestyle relay was Singapore, giving Rio 2016 standout Joseph Schooling his first Asian Games medal in Jakarta. Four years ago at the Incheon Asian Games Schooling won the 100m butterfly. He used that victory as a springboard to shock Phelps in the same event at Rio 2016 to win Singapore’s first ever Olympic gold medal.

    Schooling is swimming a larger program at Jakarta 2018 than he did in Incheon, beyond just butterfly events. After the race, he said he “can’t ask for anything more” after setting a national record in the relay and winning a bronze medal in the event.

    With so many races left to swim Schooling was not thinking about the next Olympics, but hoping to capitalize and dominate the current meet before going for larger goals. He said before the Asian Games he hoped to swim at a high level through the 2024 Olympics.

    “It’s my fastest split [in this event], and that’s awesome; it is exactly how I want to start a meet,” Schooling said to ATR. “I’m very excited for the next four days. This is the longest event. I’m happy to get it out of the way; it shows where my fitness level is at.

    “I’m pumped.”

    Written by Aaron Bauer in Jakarta

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