Kosuke Hagino rattled the national 200m freestyle textile record with a 1:46.28 victory in the 200m freestyle and within half an hour at Japan nationals in Niigata returned to produce a second upset triumph, on 53.10 in the 100m backstroke. Both times marked big personal bests that challenged the best Japanese times ever in textile suits.
If the 200m free win over Takeshi Matsuda will not throw the world order into doubt, China's Sun Yang out front this year on the ranks in 1:44.99 and Olympic champion Yannick Agnel (FRA) yet to fire at best, his 53.10 defeat of Ryosuke Irie's 53.33 places him second in the world this year. The time is just 0.04sec adrift the leading effort of France's Jeremy Stravius, the 2011 joint world champion aiming to make the crown his own in Barcelona this summer.
The star of the women's programme was Aya Terakawa, who became the first woman inside 59sec over 100m backstroke, the national crown staying on her head in 58.84, just 0.01sec shy of her own Asian record, that mark the third best ever in textile behind Emily Seebohm and the American who pipped the Australian for gold at London 2012, Missy Franklin.
But Hagino stole the show on day 3 in Niigata, racing to the podium twice within half an hour in world-class times that provided evidence that the 18-year-old winner of Olympic bronze in the 400IM at London 2012 is on a roll to challenge for more honours at the FINA World Championships in Barcelona this July and August.
In the 200m freestyle final, Yuki Kobori turned first in 25.08 at the 50m mark, Hagino all but level on 25.15, Matsuda on 25.22. Kobori extended his lead to 52.23 to 52.57 and 52.58, the order held at the half-way. It was then that Hagino made his form felt: on 1:19.73 at the last turn, he was 0.35sec up on Kobori and rolling, Matsuda trying to stay in touch on 1:20.17. In the hunt for home, Hagino put in a 26.55 last-lap split to rip a second off Kobori, whose 1:47.53 was good for bronze as Matsuda got by for silver in 1:47.12.
Syo Sotodate, 1:48.55, Fumiya Hidaka, 1:48.72 and Daiya Seto, 1:48.94, are in line for potential relay action at world titles this summer. Syo Uchida set the Japan record at 1:45.24 in shiny suit in 2009, while Matsuda is the best in textile in Japan, on 1L45.96 last year.
Hagino then returned to the fray with Irie and Co. The 2009 world champion Junya Koga was out first in 26.12, 0.05sec up on Hagino and Yuki Shirai, Irie on 26.23, all three backstroke specialists hoping to keep Hagino at bay. No way said the medley man: he clobbered them all with a 26.93 return.
The second best ever in a textile suit by a Japanese man, Hagino's time was not a long way from Irie's best of 52.83. Hagino arrived at nationals with a best of 53.58, clocked at NSW titles in Australia this year, his best a 57 last season with full focus on medley, but 54.83 back in 2011 as he left his first 16 years behind him. Little point in comparing today's events with the swiftest of efforts on the clock in Japan: Irie's 52.83 is 16th best performance in his country, 52.24 his national record in a suit no longer allowed.
If the wider world is left to wonder at the value of things as it stares at the swimming clock, there is no doubting Hagino's growing status and ambition. On an Asian record of 4:07.61 to retain the 400 metres medley crown on day 1, he has more in mind, telling reporters in Niigata after the ling medley: "I was a bit disappointed, because my target was to get inside 4:07, but I firmly improved my personal best, so I think the time paved my way towards the world championships."
Hagino drew plaudits from the king of Japanese swimming, quadruple Olympic champion of 2004 and 2008, who tweeted to the teenager: Kosuke is strong. Congratulations!
Meanwhile, Terakawa, out in 28.72 today compared with 28.96 on her way to Olympic bronze in Asian-record time at London 2012, had already held sway at the helm of world rankings this season, on 59.16. She was a class apart in Niigata, silver going to Shiho Sakai in 1:00.99, bronze to Sayaka Akase in 1:01.05.
In other action:
A year ago, Olympic selection the prize, a national mark of 4:36.64 gave Miyu Otsuka ticket to her first Games. She kept the crown today in 4:37.53 ahead of Miho Takahashi, 4:40.04, and Sakiko Shimizu, 4:40.35. Otsuka led from blocks to Barcelona world-titles selection, passing through in 1:02.75, 2:12.60 and 3:32.82.
Ayatsugu Hirai moved from 4th to 2nd fastest Japanese 1500m freestyler ever with a 15:00.66 victory over national record holder Yosuke Miyamoto (14:57.12, 2011), on 15:05.27, 0.68sec ahead of Kohei Yamamoto, who took the crown a year ago in 15:01.13.
Hirai, who leaves his teen years behind this season, led from the 200m mark to gold, his time a personal best inside the 15:04.12 in which he made the podium at Japanese uni champs last September. He passed the 400 and 800m in 3:58.58 and 8:00.14, the 500m splits telling the tale of a tight battle that was won in the first third of the challenge:
The final came to a close in 15:27.91.
Double Olympic medallist at London 2012, Satomi Suzuki, added the 50m breaststroke crown to her 100m title with a 31.57 effort ahead of Rie Kaneto, 32.01, andy Miku Kanasashi, 32.03.
The top seven women in the 200m freestyle came home between champion Chihiro Igarashi's 1:59.50 and 2:00.67. Fourth at the half-way turn on 58.73, Igarashi, 17, edged up to third at the last turn, on 1:29.85, the leader Haruka Ueda on 1:29.49. For the crown, Igarashi then produced the only sub-30sec homecoming split down the last lap for the sole sub-2min effort of the final.
The silver went to Ueda in 2:00.43, bronze to Aya takano in 2:00.58, Yasuko Miyamoto on 2:00.63 to place herself in contention for relay action in Spain, three others left to wait and wonder within 0.2sec of 4th place, within 0.4sec of silver.