Japan won a best-ever 38 medals at the recently concluded London Summer Games-albeit only seven golds-which was a significant decline from the country's performances at the 2004 and 2008 Summer Games.
Japan's swimmers ascended the medal podium 11 times in London. However, they failed to earn a single gold medal, leading their best young swimmers to set their sights on the 2016 Summer Games to be held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
The following list provides brief profiles of a number of Japan's top swimmers who could challenge for Olympic gold in 2016:
Akihiro Yamaguchi: Yamaguchi did not compete in London as more accomplished veteran breaststroke swimmers like four-time Olympic gold medalist Kosuke Kitajima and Ryo Tateishi made the trip for Japan. However, the 18-year-old Yamaguchi has been marked by swimming observers for quite a while now as one to watch for 2016.
Yamaguchi started to realize his tremendous potential on September 15 as he set a new world record in the men's 200-meter breaststroke with a time of 2:07.01, eclipsing the previous mark of 2:07.28-set by Hungary's Daniel Gyurta on his way to gold last month in London.
The Japanese teenager said after his record-setting swim: "I am looking forward to next year's World Championships. I want to be a successor to Kitajima-san, a swimmer I look up to. I think I can cut it in the 200 at the world level and want to challenge in the 100, too."
Kosuke Hagino: Another rising star for Japan in men's swimming, the 17-year-old Hagino impressed for a bronze in the 400-meter individual medley in London and appears poised for greatness in both the 200 and 400-meter individual medleys.
Ryo Tateishi: Tateishi earned a bronze in the men's 200-meter breaststroke last month and should pair with Yamaguchi to provide Japan with medals in both breaststroke events in major international meets through at least 2016.
Satomi Suzuki: Suzuki is another top performer for Japan in breaststroke events and became the first Japanese woman to capture two individual swimming medals at the same Olympics in 2012. It took the awesome swims of Lithuanian Ruta Meilutyle and American Rebecca Soni in the 100 and 200 breaststrokes respectively to keep Suzuki from winning her first Olympic gold. Look for her to be in the mix for gold again in 2016.
Ryosuke Irie: At age 22, Irie won bronze in the men's 100-meter backstroke and silver in the 200 meters in London and figures to be a strong contender for Olympic gold in the events in 2016.
Natsumi Hoshi: Hoshi celebrated her 22nd birthday a little early in London by winning the bronze in the women's 200-meter butterfly. She should push for another medal in her specialty in 2016.
Related content: London Olympics Recap: Japan Finishes With Its Best-Ever Medal Count
Patrick Hattman covered the London Olympics for the Yahoo! Contributor Network. He lived in Japan for more than a decade and continues to closely follow the country's best athletes and team sports.
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