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Japan's Kitajima defies height, champions breaststroke
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16:36, August 14, 2008

Stories of pool successes are always about strength and stamina, but with Kosuke Kitajima, it is only more true.

The Japanese swimmer has a disadvantageous height of 1.78 meters, while others usually go beyond 1.90. But for what he is lacking, he made up through tough training.

The 25-year-old has become the only swimmer who has won four Olympic breaststroke gold medals, two in Athens and two in Beijing.

On Monday, Kitajima went to the 100m breaststroke final much less favored than rival American Brendan Hansen, who held the event's world record at 59.13 seconds. Kitajima not only won, but also bettered Hansen's mark by 0.22 seconds, and became the only man in the world to swim within the 59-second mark.

"When I saw the screen, I could see the time as 59:90, I thought it was terribly slow, but I checked it again and it was 58," he said after the 100m race.

"My performance was perfect and ideal. I would have been baffled if you do not say that was perfect," the swimmer said.

After winning the 100m, Kitajima screamed like he had been freed from extremely heavy shackles.

Three days later, the Japanese again stood upon the deck for the 200m breaststroke, only more comfortable this time. Two months earlier, he set a new world record at 2:07.51.

Kitajima thrusted ahead with powerful strokes in the water. At some point, his strokes seemed to be not as frequent as others, but with his own pace, he started to distance himself away from those who trailed him.

"I'm so relieved. I'm glad that I won this race," he said after the four-lap event, "compared to the 100m race, I think I was more calm today."

"I was going to improve my time a bit more, but I guess that to win this race is more important than to set a good time," he said.

Having repeated his Athens success, Kitajima raised his right arm to affirm his victory, but that was it. Still tight-lipped and barely smiling, he appeared more calm than others who easily went off to wild celebrations.

"I was so calm that I think I could have seen each face in this venue. I enjoyed my race," he said.

With the new titles, the Tokyo native, who started swimming at the age of five, has become one of the most successful athletes in Japan.

After his victory in the 100m breaststroke, people in his hometown in Arakawa Ward, Tokyo, rushed to his father's butcher's shop to celebrate the win.

His achievement has given him a niche in an arena dominated by swimmers from the United States and Australians.

"For my Olympic Games, for everyone who supported me, I am very appreciative to them. I'm glad that I had a successful Olympics here in Beijing," Kitajima said.

The swimmer has to swim one more relay in the 4X100 medley on Friday before leaving Beijing.

"It will be very tough, but I'm going to say to other members that I want to spur them on to do their best, because I'm tired. I'm going to tell them I'll take it easy tomorrow," he said.


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