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Sport24.co.za | Hagino targets 'hero' Phelps in Rio



Tokyo – Once a “daredevil”
outsider with a toothy grin, Japan swim sensation Kosuke Hagino insists there
will be no excuses if he fails to beat boyhood idol Michael Phelps at the Rio
Olympics.

The 21-year-old, who edged Phelps to claim
bronze in the 400 metres individual medley behind gold medallist Ryan Lochte in
London four years ago, said he is targeting double gold in Brazil this summer.

“Back then I wasn’t even
thinking,” Hagino said in a poolside interview at Japan’s National
Training Centre.

“I was just this daredevil long-shot.
Of course I was aiming to win a medal but I went into that race with doubts
clouding my mind.

“I was lucky to finish with a medal in
London, but this time there will be no luck involved,” he added.

“I’m going there to win so it’s a
totally different feeling to four years ago. The aim is to win gold in the 200m
and 400m medley, and I have a chance to medal in the 200m freestyle too — and
the 4x200m relay.”

But Hagino expects fierce competition from
Olympic legend Phelps, 30, and his fellow American Lochte, 31.

“Everyone comes to the Olympics in top
condition but those two will be the biggest challenge,” he said.
“Mental toughness will be key. It’s important to hang in until the last 15
metres and then squeeze out every last ounce of power.”

Hagino, set to emerge from the shadow of
countryman Kosuke Kitajima after the former Olympic champion failed to qualify
for Rio, added with a laugh: “Phelps and Lochte have longer arms than me
so with my little body I want to be a head in front at that point.”

Dwarfed by six-footers Phelps and Lochte on
the blocks, Hagino stands at five feet, 1.75m  but suffers no inferiority complex.

“It’s a buzz to race against
them,” said Hagino, star of the 2014 Asian Games where he won four gold
medals, including a pulsating 200m freestyle victory over Chinese giant Sun
Yang.

“I can’t wait.”

Hagino makes no secret of his admiration
for Phelps, the most decorated Olympic athlete of all time with 22 medals from
three Games, 18 of them gold.

“Phelps was always someone I looked up
to,” he said. “I used to watch him on TV – when he won eight gold
medals in 2008 in Beijing, and in Athens in 2004.

“But when I get in the water I want to
beat him,” Hagino added with no trace of sentimentality.

“Of course, even if the dream comes
true and I win gold, I’ll still be a long way behind Phelps.

“But that’s why the Olympics are so
special. I’ve swum against him several times but you only get the chance at the
Olympics once every four years. Not just Phelps, but Ryan Lochte too.”

Brazilian Thiago Pereira, who pipped Hagino
for silver behind Lochte in the 400m medley in London, will also be a threat at
his home Olympics.

“Pereira has always been a great
swimmer and is very dangerous,” said Hagino. “But there will be other
swimmers looking to make a name for themselves too, like Japan’s Daiya
Seto.”

Hagino’s upward trajectory was halted last
year after he fell off a bicycle and fractured his elbow, forcing him to miss
the world championships – a chastening experience, but one he insists made him
stronger.

“I felt helpless,” he said.
“It was so hard not to be able to compete. I was hoping to win a gold
medal and give myself momentum before Rio so it was a big blow.

“But on the other hand it’s made me
stronger mentally and I’m confident I’ll peak at the right time.”

Hagino’s ambitions, however, stretch well
beyond Rio with Tokyo hosting the next Summer Olympics in 2020.

“To think that the Tokyo Olympics is
next is a real thrill,” he said. “Obviously I will never be like
Kitajima or be able to do what Phelps has done.

“Hopefully one day kids will think: ‘I
want to be like Hagino’ – but I have a lot to do before that happens.”



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