Proud dad Kitajima targets fifth Olympics in Rio

Alastair HIMMER

Tokyo (AFP) - Even with a new job and nappy-changing duties, Japan's former Olympic swim king Kosuke Kitajima has not ruled out competing at the 2016 Rio Games, having rejected retirement.

The 31-year-old, who recently became a proud father, told AFP that his goals had shifted but his desire to race remained undiminished, despite flopping at last month's Japan Open.

"I'm not at the point where I feel I have to quit," Kitajima said in an interview this week. "Swimming is a big part of my life.

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"I'm still plugging away, whatever people think, and will stick to my way of swimming and mind my own business.

"Rio depends on how much I can focus and push myself -- it's not that I have zero chance," he added of his hopes of qualifying for an astonishing fifth Olympic Games.

Kitajima, who in 2008 became the first man to do the 100 and 200 metres breaststroke double at two Olympics, failed to qualify for this year's Pan Pacific and Asian Games competitions.

"I knew I wasn't 100 percent," he said, less than a week after taking up a new role as director of the Tokyo Swimming Federation. "It wasn't too upsetting."

Kitajima said that celebrating the birth of a baby daughter with pop star wife Chisa Maekawa had given him a fresh outlook.

- 'Hectic year' -

"It's one more fun thing in my life," he beamed. "Everything changes when you have a kid.

"I wake up, train, go to the office, go home, put the baby in the bath. It's been less than two months since she was born so it's been a hectic year.

"I want my child to see me race. It might be hard to show her me winning but hopefully watching me will bring her joy.

"That's the kind of motivation I have now. Gradually people's expectations of me are lessening," he laughed.

"Until 2008 I wasn't thinking about anything except winning gold medals. Nothing else mattered. But then I reset myself (by taking a year out) and went to America until 2012.

"I rediscovered the joy of swimming, hanging out with friends. I'd missed the rush of competing. If I didn't have that I'd quit."

Kitajima's fiercely individual streak is a trait shared by a select clique of top Japanese athletes, such as Major League Baseball star Ichiro Suzuki and former Japan football captain Hidetoshi Nakata.

"I doubt people view me as anything special, like they do Hide-san (Nakata)," Kitajima said modestly, suggesting Nakata may have walked away from his sport prematurely after the 2006 World Cup at the age of just 29.

"I wish he had played on a bit longer. But he went out, typical of him, with people wanting to see more. I really looked up to him, he had so much charisma.

"Women loved Nakata-san but he was so cool, even guys liked him. I guess I have a similar single-mindedness," added Kitajima, who agreed that his public image could sit at odds with his fluffier side.

"I'm not a loner or anything," he smiled. "I got married last year, have a family and I like being with friends."

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