By Yoo Jee-ho
INCHEON, Sept. 21 (Yonhap) -- The buildup to the men's 200-meter freestyle swimming race at this year's Asiad had been largely focused on the duel between Park Tae-hwan of South Korea and Sun Yang of China.
Park was the reigning Asiad champ while he and Sun shared the silver at the 2012 Olympics. Park entered the race with the second-fastest 200m freestyle time this year at 1:45.25, and he was the big fan favorite in the South Korean host city of Incheon, with the swimming event taking place in a new arena named after him.
Yet it was Kosuke Hagino, the 20-year-old up-and-comer from Japan, who stole the show with a great burst of speed down the stretch.
Hagino trailed both Sun and Park by nearly a full second after 150ｍ. Then he shifted into high gear and covered the final 50ｍ in just 26 seconds flat to take the gold at 1:45.23, his personal best.
Kosuke Hagino of Japan raises his arms in celebration of his gold medal in the men's 200-meter freestyle race as Park Tae-hwan of South Korea stands next to him on the podium at the Incheon Asian Games on Sept. 21, 2014. (Yonhap)
Sun was 0.05 seconds behind for silver. Park, who did his final 50ｍ in 26.98, was in third at 1:45.85.
The win even surprised Hagino himself.
"I simply wanted to beat my personal best and be a good competitor for the two giants," Hagino said at his press conference. "I am very happy. I look forward to racing with them again in the 400ｍ freestyle (on Tuesday), too."
Hagino might have sneaked up on the two Asian giants, but he'd quietly put together a strong resume heading into Incheon.
Hagino won two silver medals at last year's world championships, in the 400ｍ freestyle and the 200ｍ individual medley. He'd been a specialist in individual medley before expanding his repertoire to freestyle and backstroke.
At the Pan Pacific Championships last month, Hagino outpaced the American great Michael Phelps for the 200ｍ individual medley gold medal.
Hagino, at 177 centimeters, gave away more than 20 centimeters to Sun and about 7 centimeters to Park. Yet it was Hagino who came up big in the final portion of the 200ｍ race.
The tireless Japanese added a bronze medal in the 100ｍ backstroke, about 20 minutes after finishing his 200ｍ freestyle race.
"There was only a short term of rest between my races," he said. "My time was slower than I had expected. But I will move on and focus on my next race, the 200ｍ backstroke."