Japan’s Ohashi steers choppy waters to seal Tokyo pool double

Sports Tokyo 2020

Tokyo, Japan | AFP

by Neil SANDS

Japan’s Yui Ohashi secured an unprecedented golden double for the Olympic hosts with a win in the women’s 200m individual medley Wednesday, less than two years after she considered quitting swimming because of depression.

The unheralded Ohashi produced a strong finishing freestyle leg to touch the wall in 2min 08.52sec, ahead of Americans Alex Walsh on 2:08.65 and Kate Douglass in 2:09.04.

It added to her triumph in the 400m medley on Sunday, making her the first Japanese woman to win two gold medals at a summer Games.

“I swam believing in myself. I really did not think of winning the gold,” she said.

“I swam the last part of the race thinking win or lose, I want to be able to say I have no regrets. I made it somehow.”

Such self-belief was hard-won for Ohashi, who entered the Games ranked 17th in the 200m IM and sixth in the 400 IM after battling two health crises that threatened her career.

The first was when she suffered extreme fatigue before being diagnosed with anaemia in 2015, forcing an overhaul of her diet and training regime.

The second was in 2019, when she faced anxiety and depression problems believing her performance had peaked after placing third in the 400m IM at the world championships.

Such issues are prominent at the Tokyo Olympics after gymnast Simone Biles pulled out of two events over mental health problems, and Japanese tennis star Naomi Osaka returned to action after a break for similar problems.

‘I wanted to give up’

Ohashi regained confidence with help from her from her parents and coach, saying before the Games that she felt she had matured. 

“I had times when I wanted to give up swimming but I learned to accept it and turn it into a strength,” she told reporters after her second win at the Tokyo Aquatic Centre.

“For me, it being the first time in history is something hasn’t sunk in at all,” she said.

“It feels like a dream, it doesn’t feel real.”

After flying under the radar for years, Ohashi appears set to become a star for a Japanese public desperate for Olympic success after Osaka’s early exit in the tennis and high-profile swimmer’s Daiya Seto’s struggles in the Tokyo pool.

Her rise in fortunes contrasted with Hungary’s Katinka Hosszu, who claimed the same 200m and 400m IM double in Rio, as well as holding the world record and multiple world titles in the event.

The 32-year-old, dubbed the ‘Iron Lady’, had a disappointing campaign in Japan, placing seventh in the 200m and fifth in the 400m.

Hosszu said she had been unable to prepare properly and regroup to look at what went wrong.

“I’m already an Olympic champion, obviously it would have been ia different story if this was the Olympics where I was trying to grab a (first) gold,” she said.

The Hungarian ruled out retirement, setting her sights on the Paris Olympics.

“Hopefully,” she replied, when asked about competing in France in 2024. 

“For me, this is not going to be the end. I can’t finish this way.”


© Agence France-Presse

Tokyo 2020 AFP Swimming