Japan won its first Olympic swimming medals in 1928, and its men dominated the sport in the 1930s, winning a leading 12 and 11 medals at the 1932 and 1936 Games respectively.
At the two Olympics of that decade, there were only 11 events, as compared to 32 at the two most recent Olympics.
After many largely unimpressive performances by Japan's best swimmers at Olympics from 1952 through the 1990s, Japan has seen its swimmers win a respectable number of medals at the last four Summer Games, demonstrating better quality and overall depth during that time period.
Japan's Olympians in London swam to 11 medals, the highest number for the country since 1936. However, the Japanese will return home without any swimming golds-not the result they expected.
Still, they can take pride in the fact that they stood on the medal podium so many times, and were bested for golds on a number of occasions only by America's many greats in the pool.
The list below includes information on the top five performances by Japanese swimmers in London:
Ryosuke Irie: Irie, a men's backstroke gold-medal hopeful leading up to London, came through twice for podium finishes. He won silver in the 200-meter backstroke and bronze in the 100 back.
His silver medal in the 200 back, in a time of 1:53.78, saw him trail only Tyler Clary of the U.S. to the wall. Clary's winning time was 1:53.41. Irie's great swim also relegated American golden boy Ryan Lochte to the bronze at 1:53.94.
First, Suzuki won the bronze in the 100-meter breaststroke, trailing only 15-year-old Lithuanian gold medalist Ruta Meilutyle and American great Rebecca Soni.
She moved up one spot on the podium, though, after the finish of the 200 breast, winning the silver in an Asian-record time of 2:20.72. Rebecca Soni took the race in a world-record time of 2:19.59, giving her back-to-back Olympic golds in the event.
Kosuke Hagino: The 17-year-old Hagino is probably Japan's best bet for replacing men's breaststroke great Kosuke Kitajima as the leading swimmer for the country over the next several years. Hagino lowered the Asian record in the 400-meter individual medley several times this year, swimming his best time of 4:08.94 for the bronze in London.
Hagino touched the last wall behind gold medalist Lochte and Brazil's Thiago Pereira, who got the silver. Hagino's third-place finish also kept American Michael Phelps off the medal podium for the first time since 2000.
Ryo Tateishi: Often overshadowed by teammate Kosuke Kitajima, a four-time Olympic gold medalist in breaststroke events, Tateishi made a name for himself in London by earning bronze in the men's 200-meter breaststroke with a time of 2:08.29. Kitajima failed to medal in both the 100 and 200 breaststrokes in London.
Daniel Gyurta of Hungary won the 200 breast in a world-record clocking of 2:07.28, while Great Britain's Michael Jamieson secured the silver at 2:07.43.
Men's 4x100 meter medley relay: Japan's squad swam a brilliant race and earned the silver medal behind the Americans and their star-studded lineup. The winning time for the U.S. was 3:29.35, while Japan finished in 3:31.26. Australia lagged behind for the bronze, another disappointing finish for that country's swimmers in London.
Looking Ahead To 2016
Japan had five swimming medalists in London-Tateishi, Irie, Hagino, Suzuki, and Natsumi Hoshi-who are no more than 23 years old, which should give them several top swimmers to build around over the next four years as aging stars like Kitajima retire.
A suggestion to perhaps improve the performances of Japan's swimmers at the 2016 Olympics would be to schedule their Olympic swimming trials in the summer, as the U.S. does, instead of early in the year. There is too much pressure on Japan's best to peak several months before the Olympics, and then to try and do the same thing again several months later.
Patrick Hattman covers the Olympics for the Yahoo! Contributor Network. He lived in Japan for more than a decade and still closely follows the country's best athletes and team sports.
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- Swimming & Diving
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