INCHEON, South Korea: China’s world and Olympic champion Sun Yang showed no signs of the thumb injury he claimed ruined his bid to win Asian Games gold in the 200m freestyle by qualifying quickest for the 400m final on Tuesday.
The towering Chinese clocked three minutes, 51.17 seconds to beat South Korea’s Park Tae-Hwan in their heat, while Japan’s Kosuke Hagino, who shocked Sun and local hero Park in Sunday’s 200m, split the two rivals with the second quickest time.
Hagino, who has already won three gold medals in Incheon, clocked 3:52.24 with Park, the 2008 Olympic champion, touching in 3:53.80 to set up another battle royale.
Defending Asian Games champion Park was accused of choking after taking bronze in the 200m — the first of his triple-header with Sun — and admitted as much after the 400m heats.
“I’m feeling a bit of pressure and my body has been feeling a bit heavy,” said Park, after whom the aquatics venue is named. “Hopefully I can swim my best in tonight’s final and get a result.”
In contrast, Hagino, who added his signature 200m individual medley and the 4x200m freestyle relay titles on Monday to help Japan open a 7-5 lead over China in the gold medal standings, looked relaxed after winning his heat with ease.
“It will all be on again tonight against those two,” smiled the 20-year-old, referring to Sun and Park. “I won’t be thinking too much about them. I don’t know what kind of race it will be but I’ll just focus on swimming my race.”
“Whoever can block everything out and swim their race will probably win,” added Hagino, competing in six individual events and already being talked of as favourite to win medley gold at the 2016 Rio Olympics.
China’s Ye Shiwen, who won the women’s medley double in London, will be hot favourite to defend her Asian Games title in the 400m medley after comfortably topping the time-sheets in the morning’s heats in 4:38.21.
Yasuhiro Koseki, tipped to become the next Kosuke Kitajima after blowing away his breaststroke rivals this year, including at last month’s Pan Pacific championships, posted only the fourth fastest time in the 200m heats, complaining he had missed breakfast.
“I didn’t get anything to eat before the race,” he grimaced. “I was flapping about a bit out there. Hopefully tonight I can make the halfway turn inside world-record pace and get go under 2:08.”
China have dominated the Asian Games swimming in recent years, winning 24 of the 38 golds at Guangzhou in 2010.