Kosuke Kitajima (JPN)
Honor Swimmer (2023)
FOR THE RECORD: 2012 OLYMPIC GAMES: silver (4 x 100m medley relay); 2008 OLYMPIC GAMES: gold (100m breaststroke, 200m breaststroke), bronze (4 x 100m medley relay); 2004 OLYMPIC GAMES: gold (100m, 200m breaststroke), bronze (4 x 100m medley relay); 2013 FINA WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS: bronze (4 x 100m medley relay); 2011 FINA WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS: silver (200m breaststroke); 2007 FINA WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS: silver (100m, 200m breaststroke, 4 x 100m medley relay); 2005 FINA WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS: silver (100m breaststroke), bronze (50m breaststroke, 4 x 100m medley relay); 2003 FINA WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS: gold (100m, 200m breaststroke) bronze (4 x 100m medley relay); 2001 FINA WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS: bronze (200m breaststroke); 2002 FINA WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS (SC): silver (100m breaststroke); 2010 PAN PACIFIC CHAMPIONSHIPS: gold (100m, 200m breaststroke), silver (4 x 100m medley relay); 2006 PAN PACIFIC CHAMPIONSHIPS: silver (200m breaststroke, 4 x 100m medley relay), bronze (100m breaststroke); 2002 PAN PACIFIC CHAMPIONSHIPS: gold (100m breaststroke).
Typically, debates rage over who is the greatest athlete in a particular stroke. When it comes to the men’s breaststroke events, there is no question. Japan’s Kosuke Kitajima has a firm handle on all-time great status, his career defined by unmatched breaststroke success at the Olympic Games and accolades earned at numerous other stops.
Kitajima announced his presence to the swimming world at the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, where the 17-year-old upstart narrowly missed a medal in the 100 breaststroke with a fourth-place finish. The effort, though, was an indicator of big things to come, and at the 2001 World Championships, Kitajima was on a global podium with a bronze medal in the 200 breaststroke.
Racing at the 2002 Asian Games, Kitajima erased one of the longest-standing world records in the sport when he took down Mike Barrowman’s 10-year-old standard in the 200 breaststroke. Posting a time of 2:09.97, Kitajima became the first man to break 2:10 in the event. The next summer, he maintained that momentum by claiming gold medals in the 100 breaststroke and 200 breaststroke at the World Championships, both events won in world-record time.
Known for rising to the occasion on the biggest of stages, Kitajima again doubled in the summer of 2004. With the Olympic Games returning to their original host city of Athens, Kitajima reigned in the 100 breaststroke and 200 breaststroke. The triumphs came over two of the greats in the sport, American Brendan Hansen and Hungary’s Daniel Gyurta.
From 2005 through 2007, Kitajima remained a steady force. He collected multiple medals in the breaststroke events at the World Championships and Pan Pacific Championships, including a title in the 200 breaststroke at the 2007 edition of Worlds. At this point, however, the Japanese star was focused on repeating his double-gold from Athens at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.
At the Beijing Games, Kitajima firmly etched himself as the greatest breaststroker in history when he again captured gold in the 100 breaststroke and 200 breaststroke. In the 100 breast, Kitajima won in 58.91 to break the world record and become the first man to go under the 59-second barrier. He set an Olympic record of 2:07.64 in the 200 breaststroke.
Kitajima qualified for a fourth Olympic Games in 2012, finishing fourth in the 200 breaststroke and fifth in the 100-meter distance. The 100 breaststroke marked the final duel between Kitajima and Hansen, who forged one of the best rivalries in the history of the sport.
Over the course of his career, including relay contributions, Kitajima won seven medals at the Olympic Games and was a 12-time medalist at the World Championships. He was also a three-time individual champion at the Pan Pacific Championships and a four-time gold medalist in solo competition at the Asian Games. In total, he set five world records.
Undoubtedly, Kosuke Kitajima’s name is synonymous with excellence in the breaststroke. He excelled over all distances and produced his finest performances at the most important times, exactly what is expected of a champion.