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[ODDS and EVENS] Swimmer Yui Ohashi Shows the Timeless Value of Gratitude

By winning the 200-meter IM title on the last day of Japan's Olympic trials, Yui Ohashi qualified for the Paris Games. She called it a "wonderful feeling."

Swimmer Yui Ohashi achieved Olympic glory at the pandemic-delayed 2020 Tokyo Games. It was a fantastic achievement: two gold medals in four days.

And since we are constantly bombarded with news on an endless array of topics 24/7, it wouldn't be surprising if these impressive facts slipped from your mind. Don't worry about it!

Now, three years later, she will seek to write a new chapter to her Olympic biography (more on that below).

In the Japanese capital, Ohashi's dynamic double began in the women's 400-meter individual medley (competing, in order, in the butterfly, backstroke, breaststroke and freestyle) at the Tokyo Aquatics Centre on July 25, 2021. She conquered the field with a time of 4 minutes, 32.08 seconds.

And then on July 28, the determined swimmer from Hikone, Shiga Prefecture, completed the IM double, grabbing the gold in 2:08.52.

Ohashi was 25 when she hauled in two Olympic gold medals and brought joy to countless fans in her homeland while etching her name in the annals of swimming.

The second of the two individual medleys showcased her intense focus in the pool.

"I swam the last part of the race thinking win or lose, I want to be able to say I have no regrets," Ohashi told reporters after winning the 200 IM.

Ohashi Secures a Spot on Japan's 2024 Olympic Swim Team

Three years later, the 28-year-old Ohashi is happy to be returning to the Olympics. She has qualified to represent Japan in the women's 200 IM, after missing out on securing a spot on the team in the 400 IM.

At Japan's Olympic trials on March 19, Ohashi finished a disappointing fourth in the 400 IM (4:38.89) at the same venue that staged Tokyo 2020's swimming competitions. High school student Mio Narita, 17, was the top performer in the race, touching the wall in 4:35.40.

The next wave of generational talent is always arriving, always coming of age in sports. Narita is a part of the next generation of swimmers.

That doesn't mean, however, that Ohashi is ready to hang up her swimming goggles.

She said as much after her fourth-place result.

"Not managing to make the Olympic team means retirement," Ohashi told reporters, according to Kyodo News. "I want to get in at any cost."

Yui Ohashi
Yui Ohashi reacts after finishing fourth in the women's 400-meter individual medley final at Japan's Olympic trials on March 19. (©SANKEI)

A High-Pressure Test for Ohashi

Five days later, Ohashi was back in the spotlight ― think of it as an aquatic pressure cooker ― when the 200 IM final was held.

Ohashi knew beforehand what the Japan Swimming Federation's qualifying standard was (2:10.70) for the top two finishers in the race to clinch a spot on the Olympic team.

And then?

She left nothing to chance on the final day of the eight-day Olympic trials.

Competing with pride and the recollections of title-winning euphoria from 2021, Ohashi gave it her all. There was no doubt who was the top Japanese female individual medley swimmer on this day.

Ohashi won the race, punching her ticket to Paris with a time of 2:09.17. Shiho Matsumoto was the runner-up in 2:09.90. Narita clocked 2:10.39 to place third.

After stepping out of the pool, the triumphant Ohashi explained what was going through her mind before she and the other 200 IM swimmers splashed water all over the deck of the Tokyo Aquatics Centre.

"I got so nervous, but I was determined to give 100 percent and see what happens," said Ohashi, according to Kyodo News.

Yui Ohashi
Yui Ohashi swims the backstroke portion of the 200 IM final at Japan's Olympic trials on March 24. (KYODO)

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A Different Type of Satisfaction

Becoming a gold medalist in your home country is one of the biggest thrills ― maybe the biggest thrill ― any athlete or team will ever experience.

Naturally, returning to the Olympics as a gold medalist on the final day of qualifying produces different emotions in different people. Perhaps a mixture of joy and relief should be expected.

What emotions rose to the surface for Ohashi on Sunday, March 24?

"Before Tokyo, I thought that would be my first and only Olympics," Ohashi was quoted as saying by Olympics.com. "But now I have an opportunity to take another shot at the Games and it's a wonderful feeling.

I'm grateful to be able to be swimming for so long. The end is nearing for me and I wasn't sure how the race would turn out today."

Yui Ohashi
Yui Ohashi swims the freestyle portion of the 200 IM final at Japan's Olympic trials. (KYODO)

For Ohashi, it was a fine accomplishment, one that gives her a shot at trying to defend her 200-meter individual medley title in France.

And it was also nice to hear someone expressing gratitude for the opportunity to compete.

There was nothing arrogant, no self-proclaimed greatness or sense of entitlement in her remarks. 

Simply put, Yui Ohashi is happy to turn the page and begin the next phase of Olympic preparations. 

Bon voyage to the French capital.

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Author: Ed Odeven

Find Ed on JAPAN Forward's dedicated website, SportsLook. Follow his [Japan Sports Notebook] on Sundays, [Odds and Evens] during the week, and X (formerly Twitter) @ed_odeven.

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