By Jack Tarrant
TOKYO (Reuters) – Two years before the Tokyo 2020 Games, many of the world’s top swimmers will have the chance to get accustomed to the Olympic host city as it stages the Pan Pacific Swimming Championships, starting on Thursday.
The quadrennial event, returning to Japan for the first time since 2002, boasts an elite international field including five-time Olympic gold medallist Katie Ledecky and Australia’s Olympic 400m freestyle gold medallist Mack Horton.
There is also a strong home contingent, featuring five-time Olympic medallist Kosuke Hagino.
“This will kind of be a block that we will work on towards Tokyo 2020,” Horton, 23, told reporters on Wednesday.
“This is kind of the first step, I guess, in that prep but I think this meet is also about becoming comfortable in Japan and getting used to Tokyo so that in two years it is easy.”
Compatriot Cate Campbell, two-time Olympic relay gold medallist and four-time winner at the Pan Pacs, said the event would stand them in good stead for 2020.
“This will be a good stepping stone and we will be following the same process for the next two years leading into Tokyo,” she added.
Ledecky, the 400, 800 and 1,500m freestyle world record holder, said: “I know a lot of us have our eyes on Tokyo 2020 and this is a great experience for all of us to see the city and really learn how to compete in Japan.
“For me, its my first time competing in Asia or even being in Asia so it is about learning the travel and the atmosphere of competing and racing in front of this crowd,” the 21-year-old American added.
“It will be a great experience for us and we have some great swimmers from around the world at this competition so it will be a really great four days of racing I think.”
For Hagino, who won the 400m individual medley gold in Rio, the Pan Pacs will give swimmers the chance to lay down a marker ahead of the Games.
“Obviously, before the Olympic Games in 2020 this may be the last big opportunity for us to compete together,” said the 23-year-old.
“I will be doing my best as this will be a big step towards the Olympic Games and obviously I will do my best to compete to my full potential at Pan Pacs 2018.”
The championships, which run for four days in the pool before the open water swimming on Aug. 14, will be held in Tokyo’s Tatsumi International Swimming Centre, which will host water polo during the Olympics.
The 2020 Games swimming events will be held at the Olympic Aquatics Centre, currently under construction just down the road.
(Editing by Peter Rutherford)