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[ODDS and EVENS] Swimmer Daiya Seto Proves He's Still a Force to be Reckoned With

Daiya Seto wins his sixth consecutive 400-meter individual medley title at the FINA Short Course World Championships in Melbourne, Australia.

Although long-course pools are used for the most important competitions, Daiya Seto has demonstrated again and again that global short-course competitions have competitive ― and historic ― value, too.

Seto is the king of the 400-meter individual medley in short-course pools (25 meters in length). Olympic pools are 50 meters long.

The Saitama Prefecture native extended his reign of dominance in the event at the 2022 FINA Short Course World Championships on Saturday, December 17 in Melbourne, Australia.

In the 400 IM final, Seto touched the wall first in 3 minutes, 55.75 seconds to win the race at his sixth consecutive Short Course World Championships meet. Runner-up Carson Foster of the United States finished nearly two seconds (3:57.63) behind Seto. (Watch highlights of the race and other Day 5 highlights from here. The championships wrapped up the next day.)

No other swimmer ― not even the incomparable Michael Phelps ― has won a single event in six consecutive Short Course World Championships or six straight World Aquatics Championships (events staged in long-course pools).

It was a riveting reminder of Seto's all-around excellence as a swimmer in an event that showcases the ability to combine four disciplines (butterfly, backstroke, breaststroke and freestyle) into a single competition.

"I was focused on this event," Seto told reporters after the race at Melbourne Sports and Aquatic Centre. 

Seto, 28, noted that he had already competed in the 200 IM (fifth, 0.59 seconds off the winning pace), the 200 butterfly (silver medalist in Melbourne) and the 200 breaststroke (gold medalist). But he pointed out that he was especially looking forward to his signature race. 

'My Favorite Event'

"The 400 IM is my favorite event," Seto said. "I never lose short course. Next year I want to be the champion in long course."

The 2023 World Aquatics Championships will be held in July in Fukuoka.

But before he shifts his focus to 2023 and beyond, Seto reflected on his record win streak in the 400 IM in a Twitter post.

"I was able to achieve 6 straight victories safely!" Seto tweeted.

He went on: "I was able to achieve this result thanks to the support and encouragement of many people. I will continue to strengthen and do my best for the Paris Olympics, so I would be happy if you could continue to support me. Thank you very much for your support."

A Closer Look at Daiya Seto's Career

At age 18, Seto's 400 IM victory streak began at the Short Course World Championships in Istanbul in 2012 (3:59.15). He then claimed short-course world titles in 2014 (Doha, 3:56.33), 2016 (Windsor, Canada, 3:59.24), 2018 (Hangzhou, China, 3:56.43) and 2021 (Abu Dhabi, 3:56.26).

Seto underscored his versatile swimming skills, as viewed in long-course venues, with 400 IM titles at the World Aquatics Championships in 2013, 2015 and 2019 and a bronze in 2017.

And after holding off American Jay Litherland by 0.27 seconds to win his third long-course world title in July 2019 in Gwangju, South Korea, Seto insisted that he was "lucky to win gold."

"I thought to build up such a big lead that I could overcome any challenge," Seto said, according to Kyodo News. "That I didn't swim that well at the end is an area for improvement next year."

By comparison, Seto has produced modest results as an Olympian. At the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games, he earned the bronze in the 400 IM, while compatriot Kosuke Hagino received the gold.

Five years later, at the Tokyo Olympics, he didn't swim fast enough to book a spot in the 400 IM final. He was ninth (4:10.52). The top eight in preliminary heats qualified for the final. Britain's Max Litchfield grabbed the eighth spot (4:10.20).

A few days later, he finished fourth in the 200 IM final. 

In retrospect, Seto's overall performance in July 2021 at Tokyo Aquatics Centre was not that surprising. After all, he was suspended by the Japan Swimming Federation in October 2020 after revelations of an extramarital affair surfaced. Seto issued an apology. He also resigned as captain of the Japan national swim team. 

It's just a shoe!

Motivated to Compete at Paris Olympics

World records are frequently broken in swimming. Incremental improvements can lead to the split-second difference between victories and other results.

But some records last for many years. In December 2019, Seto smashed American Ryan Lochte's short-course world record in the 400 IM, clocking 3:54.8 at the International Swimming League's season finale in Las Vegas. Lochte had held the mark of 3:55.50 since December 2010. 

Three years ago, Seto reminded the world of his swimming talents.

This December, he did the same thing by earning a trio of medals at the Short Course World Championships.

Seto has also retooled his efforts, specifically focusing on planning for the 2024 Paris Olympics.

In March, he began working with a new coach, distinguished mentor Tsuyoshi Kato, at Tokai University. For years, Kato trained Rie Kaneto, who won the women's 200-meter breastroke gold at the Rio Games.

The plan moving forward is clear.

Just ask Seto.

"I made new choices for the Paris Olympics, started on a new path, and started with a new coach," Seto was quoted as saying by Daily Sports three days after winning the 400 IM for the sixth time. "It's all new. It was a year when many things started for the Paris Olympics."

Author: Ed Odeven

Follow Ed on JAPAN Forward's [Japan Sports Notebook] here on Sundays, in [Odds and Evens] here during the week, and Twitter @ed_odeven.

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