TOKYO (AFP) - Former Olympic champion Kosuke Kitajima has urged Japan's young swimmers to step up after a collective flop at the national championships left him wondering if he needs to postpone his retirement.
The "Frog King" won double breaststroke gold at both the 2004 and 2008 Olympics but at 31, and expecting his first child with his pop star wife, he is getting ever closer to hanging up his goggles.
However, he may have to remain in competition for a while yet after nobody went inside Japan's 100m and 200m breaststroke selection times for this year's Pan Pacific Championships and Asian Games.
The results left two berths in each distance for the Pan Pacifics, in Australia in August, and the Asian Games in South Korea in September, to be chosen at the Japan Open in June. "I really wanted them to decide the berths here," Kitajima said of his younger rivals at last week's meet in Tokyo.
"Now I may have no choice but to consider competing in June and it will be very tough.
"I will take a long, hard look because I need to motivate myself to feel like going to the Pan-Pacs or the Asian Games."
Kitajima underwent just one month of intensive training for the national championships and he placed seventh in an unsuccessful 100m title defence, and failed to make the 200m final. After the 100m, Kitajima told the younger swimmers to work harder because "I need a reason to retire."
Yasuhiro Koseki, 22, won in 1min 00.07sec, 0.03 short of the selection standard. Kitajima's time was 1:00.67.
"Koseki should time in 59 seconds at least. The world's level is rising. He will be left behind," warned Kitajima, whose 58.90sec at the 2012 nationals remains the Asian record.
Kitajima has three world gold medals, and his last individual international titles were in the 100m and 200m breaststroke at the 2010 Pan Pacifics in California.
He was also part of Japan's victorious 4x100m medley relay team at the 2010 Guangzhou Asian Games, the last of his seven titles at the regional competition.
At the last Olympics in London, Kitajima finished fifth in the 100m and fourth in the 200m but took home a silver as part of Japan's 4x100m medley relay team.
A month after Kitajima's London failure, Akihiro Yamaguchi, then 18, set a new 200m world record of 2:07.01 at a domestic meet. But he finished fourth in 2:10.33 on Sunday.
The new generation's failure to emerge keeps the onus on Kitajima to remain as the leader Japan's challenge, even as he tries to step away from the sport. And the veteran campaigner said he scarcely felt ready to take on the heavy burden of training for international competition.
"Honestly, this is how I feel," he confessed.
But with his first child, a daughter, expected in May, Kitajima also feels a new responsibility. He married Chisa Maekawa, from J-pop trio Girl Next Door, last September and said he is motivated to show his child the virtues of hard work. "If I continue being a competitor, I must show my child a bit of my attitude to work hard," he said.