Imura return boosts Japan's synchro hopes

Mon Feb 15, 2016 3:27am EST
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By Elaine Lies and Megumi Lim

TOKYO (Reuters) - The return of Masayo Imura, known as the "mother" of Japanese synchronized swimming, has bolstered the country's hopes ahead of this year's Olympic Games to such an extent the team will be considered "failures" if they return from Rio without a medal.

Japan won bronze when the team event was added to the program at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, and took silver in Sydney and in Athens four years later. They also won duet bronze from 1984 to 1992 and silver in 2000 and 2004.

At the Beijing Games in 2008, Japan took bronze in the duet but failed to medal in the team event, while China, under Imura's guidance, finished third.

The Chinese then went one better in London with silver while Japan failed to make the podium in either category.

Imura's role in China's success prompted scathing criticism on social media for her "betrayal" of her homeland.

However, Imura returned home to take over as head coach in 2014 and the switch reaped immediate dividends. The Japanese took bronze at the World Championships in both team and duet events last year -- success which captain Yukiko Inui said had jacked up expectations for Rio.

"Now we're in a position where if we don't take a medal, we've failed," Inui told reporters poolside after a recent practice session.

"So we're under a lot of pressure. The Olympics will be even tougher."   Continued...

Masayo Imura (forground), the coach of Japan's synchronised swimming team, reviews a training video with her swimmers at a pool at the Japan Institute of Sport Science in Tokyo, Japan,  February 12, 2016. REUTERS/Thomas Peter