Michael Phelps, Kosuke Hagino

Kosuke Hagino: I’m trying to become like Michael Phelps

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Michael Phelps was the world’s greatest swimmer for much of this century. Ryan Lochte, too, has held that crown. There is little doubt that the title now belongs to Japan’s Kosuke Hagino.

And Hagino, who just turned 20 and is short of 6 feet, has his sights set pretty high.

“Michael Phelps is my role model, and I’m trying to become like him,” Hagino told Agence France-Presse after winning the 200m freestyle at the Asian Games in Incheon, South Korea, on Sunday. “I want to catch up with Phelps someday. But I have to put up the results, and this is a big step. First I will try to win as many medals as I can at these Games.”

Hagino backed it up, winning the 200m individual medley and leading Japan to 4x200m freestyle gold on Monday, giving him three gold medals in two days against the top swimmers from China, Japan and South Korea, among other Asian nations.

In the 200m free, Hagino beat the reigning Swimming World Swimmer of the Year, China’s Sun Yang, and South Korea’s biggest star, Park Tae-hwan, who won 2008 and 2012 Olympic silver in the event.

Hagino won silver in the 200m free at the Pan Pacific Championships in August, over the likes of Lochte. He swam .85 faster at the Asian Games than at Pan Pacs for the second-fastest time in the world this year.

Hagino’s winning time in the 200m IM, a better event for him, was the fastest in the world this year by .68. Remember, Hagino beat Phelps in the 200m IM at Pan Pacs by .02.

“My purpose was to do my best, however I believe Michael Phelps is not in the best condition right now,” Hagino said after beating the on-a-comeback Phelps that night, according to the Gold Coast Bulletin in Australia.

Phelps is nine years older than Hagino, who seems to be getting faster and faster. Hagino keeps bettering his personal best in the 200m IM, but he is still more than one second off Lochte’s world record.

“The gap [with Lochte] is slowly closing,” Hagino told the Japan News before the Asian Games.

Hagino’s split in the 4x200m free relay on Monday was 1:44.97. That’s .6 faster than anybody’s split from the same race at Pan Pacs, including Lochte and Phelps.

Hagino is also the reigning World champion in the 400m IM, with the fastest time in the world this year by more than one second.

He is the world’s greatest swimmer in the 200m free, 200m IM and 400m IM, three of the five individual events Phelps won at the Beijing Olympics.

He also won bronze in Incheon in the 100m backstroke and silver at 2013 Worlds in the 400m free.

Perhaps the most anticipated race of Hagino’s season may come Tuesday. He is entered in the 400m free with Sun, the reigning World and Olympic champion in the event, as well as Park, the 2008 Olympic champion. However, Sun has come down with an injury that forced him out of the 4x200m free relay Monday.

“I have three [individual] events left, and I want to win them all,” Hagino said Monday, according to Agence France-Presse, “I want to leave everything out there.”

Hagino, who shares a first name with Japan’s greatest swimmer ever, breaststroke legend Kosuke Kitajima, faces a problem if he wants to pull off a Phelps-like schedule at the Olympics.

The 400m IM and 400m free are typically on the same day at the Games, the opening day. At Pan Pacs, he won silver in the 400m free and then finished last in the 200m backstroke final on the same night. Still, Hagino swam six individual events at the 2013 World Championships with these results — two silvers, three fifths, one seventh.

Hagino began swimming before he turned 1 but “could only do one or two push-ups as a sixth grader.” according to the Japan News. “He also failed to excel at sports involving a ball.”

In 2012, Hagino won bronze in the 400m IM in London, relegating Phelps to fourth place. That was the first time Phelps finished off the podium at an Olympics since 2000.

“It’s been fun being able to watch him,” Phelps told The New York Times at Pan Pacs. “He’s definitely a very well-rounded swimmer.”

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Canadian ice dancers overcome hair-raising wardrobe malfunction

Piper Gilles, Paul Poirier
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Ice dancer Piper Gilles‘ hair got caught in partner Paul Poirier‘s costume during the Canadian Championships rhythm dance, but the couple still posted the top score in Mississauga, Ontario, on Friday.

As they spun together, Gilles’ hair appeared to catch on one of Poirier’s shirt buttons. It stayed that way for about five seconds as the couple nearly came to a stop before Poirier untangled it. What was Gilles thinking?

“Crap, crap, crap, crap, crap, crap,” she said later. “It’s probably more swear words to that, but crap at that moment.

“It was like one of those pure panic moments, like, what do I do? Do we stop? Do we keep going? Paul’s like, just keep moving.”

Gilles and Poirier scored 88.86 points, taking an 11.6-point lead into the free dance.

The couple eyes their first national title after finishing second or third seven times in the last eight years behind Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir and Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje.

Gilles and Poirier rank fifth in the world this season.

The panicky moment Friday was reminiscent of the PyeongChang Olympics, where French ice dancer Gabriella Papadakis‘ dress strap broke, exposing her breast. Papadakis and partner Guillaume Cizeron took silver and have been undefeated since.

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Allison Schmitt opens 2020 in fast form, bidding to join U.S. Olympic legends

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Allison Schmitt, after failing to qualify for world championships teams, revealing a battle with depression and taking nearly two years off competition post-Rio, has a chance to swim at her fourth Olympics this summer. And to do it in an individual event for the first time since 2012.

Schmitt won the 200m freestyle in 1:56.01 at the Tyr Pro Swim Series stop in Knoxville, Tenn., on Friday night.

The time would have ranked second among Americans in 2019 behind Katie Ledecky. Ledecky is not swimming in Knoxville, but the 2012 Olympic champion and American record holder Schmitt beat Simone Manuel by 1.24 seconds.

“Wish I could say I was tapered, would make it feel a lot easier,” Schmitt said on NBCSN. “Getting better every time I jump in the water and swim in finals.”

Schmitt’s time marked her fastest outside of a major summer meet since the 2012 London Games. She’s bidding to become the third U.S. woman in her 30s to swim an individual event at an Olympics, joining 12-time medalists Dara Torres (who swam in her 40s) and Jenny Thompson.

Full Knoxville results are here. Broadcast coverage of the meet continues Saturday at 6:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app.

Swimmers are preparing for June’s Olympic trials, where the top two per individual event qualify for the Tokyo Games, plus extra 100m and 200m free swimmers for relays.

In other events Friday, 18-year-old Carson Foster took the men’s 200m free in 1:47.74, beating the U.S.’ top 400m freestyler, Zane Grothe, by 1.33 seconds.

Foster, younger than any U.S. Olympic male swimmer since a group including Michael Phelps in 2000, is better known for his individual medleys. But the 200m free offers up to six Olympic spots when including the 4x200m free relay.

“Any event where there’s more spots on the line this summer is an event I want to train for,” said Foster, who ranked outside the top 10 in the U.S. in the 200m free in 2019 and beat a field Friday that included none of the six fastest.

Annie Lazor won the 100m breaststroke in 1:06.68, a time congruent with her No. 2 ranking in the U.S. last year behind Olympic champion and world-record holder Lilly King. King, who trains with Lazor, is not competing in Knoxville.

In the 100m butterfly, 29-year-old Amanda Kendall upset top-ranked American Kelsi Dahlia in 57.65 seconds. Regan Smith, the fastest backstroker in history, was second in a personal-best 57.86, followed by Dahlia.

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