[etc] Interview with Ryosuke Imai, Japanese Masters Ambassador of Gwangju 2019
강미진 Nov. 30, 2018310
Interview with Ryosuke Imai, Japanese Masters Ambassador of Gwangju 20191
How did Swimming become part of your life?

My mother took me to the local swim club when I was 6 years old. Swimming started out as a full body exercise for me but somehow the watery adrenaline rush kicked in and I felt so alive when I’m in the water. I fell in love with the sport and my competitiveness has kept me going all these years.

I started training with the squad at the age of 9, and by the time I was 10, I won my first silver at the national junior champs for the age group 10 and under category. I also had the opportunity to represent Japan at international meets, such as Pan Pacs in Sydney 1999 and the world championships in Fukuoka 2001, won silver in the 100 breast at the Universiade (world university games) in Beijing 2001, and bronze in the medley relay at the Pan Pacs in Sydney 1999. I was really excited that I became the first Japanese man to break a minute in the 100 breast (short course) when I swam at the NCAA championship as a part of the University of Southern California swim team in Minneapolis.

I had been regarded as one of the elite swimmers until the Olympic trials in 2004. The Olympics was the only meet I failed to go and represent my country and it was a huge deception. But it left a fire in my heart. I knew that this was not a full stop to my swimming career. I re-evaluated my performance at the Olympic trial to understand what I could have done better as I started swimming in the masters swim meets. I expanded my swimming career to become an entrepreneur by establishing a sport retail company called Wonder Years, as I want to bring good swimwear and equipment from all around the world to my fellow Japanese swimmers. I also started working with the swimmers, varsity teams, and the federation.

Swimming becomes a community to be a part of and a sport to enjoy. I dedicate my time, energy, and passion to it and it has been very rewarding so far.

Can you tell us more about your experience as a Master Swimmer?

I stopped training for a while and when I went back in the pool I found myself out of shape and unhealthy about 10 years ago. It motivated me to go back into the water and started training again. This time the biggest competitor is myself as I had set the masters world records in breaststroke and went to the Japan Masters a few times before already. After some considerable amount of hard work, I set the national masters records in the 50 & 100 breast for my age category which is 40 – 44 this spring, and I won two events at the Asian Masters Championships in Nagoya this year too.

My experience through masters swimming, is that mental training should be just as important as the work that we put into the pool. We all should acknowledge how important mental training has on high pressure meets, such as the upcoming World Master Championship. Also, we should enjoy and appreciate the swimming community that we all have built over the years. I reunited with my old swimming friends and met new friends in the meets. I really enjoyed seeing the expansion of my swimming network at the Asian masters, and it is my biggest motivation for the World
Masters next year.

You have been chosen as ambassador for Gwangju 2019. What does this mean to you?

First and foremost, being appointed as one of the ambassadors is a tremendous honour. It is a role that I can fully contribute my capabilities, experiences, and connections to promote the event to the world. It is also a role that brings me joy outside the pool. I am planning to get connected with people and organizations through working as an ambassador, learn what I can do to contribute to the event success from my position, and hopefully continue working toward the world masters in Fukuoka, my hometown, in 2021.

What will your role as ambassador for Gwangju 2019 entail?

I would like to play the “hub” role on behalf of Japan. I could help in building bridges between Gwangju and the world with Japan by overcoming language and cultural barriers, and by localizing and promoting the information needed in Japanese. My network allows me to connect to the right people to promote the World Masters in Gwangju. I have already met the honorary secretary of the Japan Masters Swimming Association and we agreed to cooperate in promotion the event nationwide together.

The Japan Masters Swimming Association has also asked me to share the information they have for the World Masters 2021, Asian Masters and Asian Masters Games with the world. Not only am I going to work as a messenger from Gwangju to Japan, but also from Japan to the world.

What are you expecting from the FINA World Masters Championships in Gwangju?

I am expecting good competition - hopefully great swims and winning the World Masters Championship titles in the 50 and 100 breaststroke. Reunion, new encounters with the swimming community and individuals, and cultural excursion.

What advice would you give to those training and participating to the Masters Championships next year?

Doing well at the event is great and that is what motivates each of us to head to the pool after long hours of work and errands, but doing the best you can is what counts in the masters swimming. We all should remember to enjoy making progress in training. Let’s respect and embrace each other’s swims and celebrate the unity in Gwangju!

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