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Swimming great Kitajima retires 'happy'

2016-04-10 10:57
Kosuke Kitajima (File)

Tokyo - Japanese swim king Kosuke Kitajima formally announced his retirement from competition on Sunday, saying he was "happy" with his legacy as Japan's greatest-ever swimmer.

Arguably the greatest breaststroker of all-time, the 33-year-old insisted there would be no flip-flopping on his decision, made 48 hours earlier after failing to qualify for his fifth Olympics in Rio this summer.

"I knew sooner or later retirement was getting closer," said Kitajima, who won double gold in the men's 100 and 200 metres breaststroke at the 2004 and 2008 Olympics.

"Today has come with no change from the feeling I had after the 200m when I thought: 'this is the end.' I've had a very happy career but I've only got to this point thanks to all the people who have supported me."

Kitajima finished fifth in Friday's 200m, having already missed out in the 100m earlier in the week, as heir apparent Yasuhiro Koseki and 19-year-old Ippei Watanabe booked their spots in Rio to mark a changing of the guard.

Kitajima, a three-times world champion and former world record holder, had flirted with retirement after his stunning performance at Beijing in 2008 when he retained his Olympic titles, an unprecedented achievement in his event.

But after moving to California the Tokyo native was coaxed back into the pool and returned to claim a silver medal in the 4x100m relay at the London Olympics four years ago.

Asked to pick a career highlight, Kitajima smiled: "Obviously the races where I won a gold medal were the most exciting. But I remember them all -- even the ones I lost when I was at elementary school."

Japan's most decorated swimmer and a huge celebrity in his home country, Kitajima served notice of his talent as a 17-year-old with a fourth-place finish in the 100m final at the 2000 Sydney Olympics.

But he shot to global fame at the 2004 Athens Games, when he twice beat fierce rival Brendan Hansen and memorably celebrated by pointing at the American and whooping: "I kicked his butt!"

Asked what he had said to pop star wife Chisa Maekawa about his decision to hang up his goggles, Kitajima shrugged.

"I didn't really say anything in particular," he said. "But she did say she was so used to me swimming that she will be sad not to be able to watch me anymore. Then she asked me what I was going to do with myself."


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