INCHEON South Korea (Reuters) - Showing no sign of fatigue or weariness after his grueling schedule, Japan’s Kosuke Hagino provided another glimpse on Wednesday of why he could be the man to take over from Michael Phelps as swimming’s ultimate ironman.
Hagino captured his fourth gold medal at the Asian Games by winning one of Phelps’ signature events, the men’s 400 meters individual medley, in the same dominating fashion as his American idol.
The 20-year-old university student only qualified second fastest for the final and looked to be in trouble after the penultimate leg of breaststroke when he dropped back to fourth place.
But he was just toying with his rivals, that included reigning world champion Daiya Seto.
As soon as he tumble turned for the last length of freestyle, Hagino ignited the afterburners, ferociously kicking his legs to quickly open up a big lead.
He sailed to victory in a time of four minutes 07.75 seconds, slashing almost six seconds off the Asian Games record, and collecting his sixth medal in Incheon, with one more event still to go.
“For qualification races, I didn’t swim well so I was a little worried about how I should swim in the final,” he said.
“But today, my freestyle was very good and effective. My strategy was to bring the very best potential in me for the last 100m and it worked well. The record is not bad either.”
Hagino also won the 200m individual medley and the 200m freestyle and a gold in the 4x200m freestyle, the same events that Phelps won as part of his historic eight gold medals at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
Inspired by Phelps, Hagino has modeled his own program and training on the American, competing in the toughest, lung-sapping events that drain every ounce of energy from him.
“From last year I tried to swim multi-events and a couple of times I made mistakes,” he said.
“Although not all races I swam last year and this year were satisfactory, I am sure I am improving race by race, step by step.”
Hagino handed Phelps a rare defeat at last month’s Pan Pacific championships, beating him by a fingertip in a dogged battle in Australia, and has his sights set on the ultimate prize.
“My dream is to win several medals at the Olympics... and that’s why I am challenging myself as a multiple swimmer,” he said.
“I am aiming for not just in Rio but also 2020 Tokyo. I hope I will win many medals in 2020.”
Additional reporting by Narae Kim; Editing by Sudipto Ganguly