The FINA World Championships were held at the end of July in Barcelona, Spain. Shinri Shioura, a senior at Chuo University Faculty of Law, broke a record four times during the championships, became the first Japanese to reach semi finals in the men’s 100 meter freestyle event, and anchored the Japan team to bronze in the men’s 4 × 100 meter medley relay event.
After the championships Shioura said, “I think Japan’s strength is how all the athletes work together, support each other and create a mood for competing.” This strength of Japan was essential to gaining the medal.
The international stage was huge. “I was on the skinny side.” As he walked into the swimming arena he said his view was blocked by his tall opponent walking in front of him. An impressive 188 cm in height and 89 kg in weight, he was still on the skinny side. His opponents were not the only thing different from usual—the water quality and atmosphere, everything was different. This makes it difficult to keep your usual self.
The athletes were competing outside of the water as well. On the first day of the championships Shioura was the leader of the cheering group. There were 31 athletes representing Japan, and he cheered and waved the flag for his friends.
“Although swimming is an individual sport, it feels like a group sport.” Everyone gets nervous in a different environment and emotional pressure. At international events, the team must be strong in performance and speed, but also in supporting each other with the emotional pressure.
The men’s 100 meter freestyle preliminaries were held on July 31. Shioura, competing in the seventh round, turned and finished first. He proceeded to the semi finals with a personal record and fourth seed. This was the first time for a Japanese athlete to reach the semi finals in this event. It was a historical moment when the Japanese showed their presence on the world stage in freestyle, which had been considered too strenuous for the Japanese physique.
The semi finals were on the same day. Shioura was in the fifth lane of the first round. Although he was third to turn at the 50 meter point, he finished fifth. Out of both rounds he had finished tenth seed. It was a 0.05 second difference from the eighth seed that kept him from reaching the finals.
“My goal was to reach the finals. It was nice that everyone congratulated me for reaching the semi finals, which was the first for Japan, but I really wanted to swim in the finals.” You could hear his frustration.
He identifies the final 10 meters as the cause of his defeat. He held a fast pace during the first half but could not maintain it at the last. His goal now is to be able to swim at full speed for a longer time.
The popular freestyle
He watched the finals from the crowded stands. The freestyle event is not so popular in Japan, but at the world championship finals Shioura could see how popular it really is. The atmosphere of the arena was completely different. The other athletes also seem to acknowledge that it is special.
“It’s awesome.” He forgot his defeat as he watched.
Shioura was the life of the party and took the lead in creating a good atmosphere. “Smiling helps to lower stress, so it’s better to smile even if you have to force it.” Creating an atmosphere to help people smile—this is an important job, too.
As he stood, however, on the edge of the pool right before diving in for the medley relay, he was so nervous he felt like he was about to explode. The men’s 4 × 100 meter medley relay was on August 5, and Japan had the second lane. The Russian team in the third lane, to their right, was astonishingly fast.
The Japanese team’s goal for the medley relay was to get a medal. They had calculated the average times of all the other teams and drafted a plan based on the Russian time. They would have no medals unless they beat Russia.
America in lane four and France in lane six were increasing their speed. At this point, Japan was in fourth place.
No, no, no! He could feel the anxiety rise.
“You can do it!”
“It’ll be okay. Take it on!”
Together with Kitajima (left), his hero (personal photograph of Shioura)
He heard voices cheering him on from behind. They were Kosuke Kitajima (second swimmer) and Ryosuke Irie (first swimmer) who had already finished their turns. It is true that Shioura was alone on the platform, but everyone held responsibility for the team. “It’ll be okay.” He decided to trust his teammates and dove in.
The dive felt good—the best during the entire championships. America led the event, followed by France and Australia (lane 5). Japan competed with Russia for fourth place. Shioura persevered fiercely.
The team’s time was 3:32:26. Although they finished fourth, America’s disqualification pushed them up to bronze. This was the medal they had all fought for and won. It was that much shinier in their eyes.
Handed over, handing over
Kitajima was Shioura’s goal, hero and aspiration.
Shioura remembers being glued to the TV as a freshman in junior high school, watching Kitajima dominate the 100 meter and 200 meter events at the 2004 Athens Olympics. “I really want to go to the Olympics.”
At this year’s world championships, he followed Kitajima and competed together in the relay event. “I’m so glad he is still competing.”
Shioura now has an employment offer which will allow him to continue swimming. “I want to become an athlete that children can trust. I hope that children will see me swim and want to try the freestyle.” He seemed to be thinking back to his childhood days when he watched Kitajima.
There were surely hundreds, no thousands, of children who watched the four Japanese athletes win this medal. Tokyo will host the Olympic Games in 2020. It will also be a stage for a bigger relay of dreams and aspirations.
Offered by: Hakumon Chuo 2013 Autumn Issue, No. 233