TOKYO: Swimmer Kosuke Kitajima wants to be Japans version of Ian Thorpe.
Those are big shoes to fill but the 20-year-old Kitajima is on his way, having set two world records at the World Swimming Championships last month in Barcelona.
I want to be like Ian Thorpe, Kitajima told reporters yesterday at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Japan.
Hes an athlete who always improves on his personal best and has the admiration of an entire country. Im amazed by his achievements and really admire him.
Australias Thorpe, who won six gold medals at the last World Championships in Fukuoka, Japan, was considered the worlds top swimmer until being upstaged by American Michael Phelps, who won three gold medals, two silvers and set five world records in Barcelona.
At the World Championships, Kitajima smashed the world record for the mens 100m breaststroke, hitting 59.78 seconds to break the previous record of 59.94 held by Russias Roman Sloudnov.
Four days later he bagged his second gold and his second world mark of the event when he clocked 2:09.42 in the 200m breaststroke, eclipsing the previous world record of 2:09.52 set by Dmitri Komornikov of Russia also in Barcelona.
Japan have a history of producing fine breaststroke swimmers, principally because it is a discipline which relies heavily on technique rather than stature and physique, analysts say.
Kitajima, who has been swimming since he was five years old, was fourth in the 100m breaststroke at both the 2000 Olympics and 2001 worlds.
At the Asian Games last fall in Busan, South Korea, he broke the oldest record in mens swimming, finishing the 200m breaststroke in 2:09.97. American Mike Barrowman set the previous mark in Barcelona a decade ago.
Kitajima said his next goal is to win gold in Athens but was at a loss to say why it has taken 30 years for a Japanese man to win Olympic gold in swimming. Japanese men last won gold at the Olympics in 1972 with Nobutaka Taguchi.
I really dont know the reason for that, said Kitajima. It probably has something to do with the fact that the world level has improved so much over the years and Japan wasnt able to keep up.
In addition to breaking records, Kitajima also has a dry sense of humour and showed glimpses of that yesterday before the foreign media.
My next goal is to win gold in Athens and to be able to answer all your questions in English, said Kitajima. Its a lot easier being in the water than being here.
If he isnt already a national hero in Japan, Kitajima is getting close. He recently signed a deal with the same promotion company that handles football star Hidetoshi Nakata.
I hope this will lead to increased opportunities overseas, said Kitajima. I want to become a more recognisable athlete and expand my activities.
Kitajima said his only rivals in the pool are his own records.
My goal is always to improve on my personal best, said Kitajima. Ive been working hard towards that.'' AP