RIO DE JANEIRO • Japan's Kosuke Hagino exorcised the demons of an injury-plagued 2015 season, as he romped to Olympic gold in the men's 400m individual medley on Saturday, an event American swimmers have owned for decades.
The Asian champion, who pipped Michael Phelps to take bronze behind gold medallist Ryan Lochte of the United States in London four years ago, dominated the Rio final a year after missing the world championships with an elbow injury. The 21-year-old won in 4min 6.05sec after holding off late pressure from American Chase Kalisz, celebrating by slapping the pool wall with both hands and letting out a roar of delight.
"A lot of things were going on in my head after the heats," he told reporters, after recording the third-fastest time in history behind American world record-holder Phelps and Lochte. "I was thinking about a lot of stuff but decided not to over-analyse and just go for it."
Hagino became the first non-American winner since Hungary's Tamas Darnyi at the 1992 Barcelona Games. Phelps opted out of the gruelling event he has dubbed "swimming's decathlon", while Lochte failed to qualify at the American trials.
Hagino had only qualified third fastest for the final but caught his compatriot Daiya Seto at the end of the first lap of the backstroke before accelerating away.
Number of Olympics since Atlanta 1996, that the United States has won the 400m individual medley. Kosuke Hagino broke the streak on Saturday.
"I can still go faster," he said with a grin. "It wasn't perfect but it was enough to win the gold medal and that's a fantastic result."
Kalisz smiled as widely as Hagino after offering late resistance.
"He's a world-class freestyler and freestyle is not my best stroke," he said, after clocking 4:06.75. "I tried to keep as close as possible and went an incredible time. It wasn't enough but I'm at peace with myself. I don't think I could have gone any faster."
Seto, who won last year's world title in Hagino's absence, took the bronze in 4:09.71.
Cheered on by former Olympic breaststroke champion Kosuke Kitajima, the man he has now well and truly replaced as Japan's swim king, Hagino said his nightmare 2015 fuelled his Olympic win.
"A lot happened last year and obviously I had to overcome some problems," said Hagino. "But if I didn't have that injury I wouldn't be standing here with a gold medal."
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS