Twenty-year-old Japanese swimmer Shoma Sato is making a massive splash in Japan ahead of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics . At April’s national championships, which doubled as the country’s Olympic trials, the relatively unknown teenager exceeded all expectations by smashing the Japanese record in the men’s 200-metre breaststroke with a time of two minutes, 6.40 seconds. Sato, who The Japan Times called a “rising star”, not only set a new Japanese and Asian record, but posted the second fastest time ever in the event, and is now a serious medal threat at the 2020 Games in Tokyo. Biography Sato was born in Tokyo, Japan on February 8, 2001. He was exposed to swimming almost immediately by his father, Shinpei, and joined the Tokyo Swimming Centre, where a number of top Japanese swimmers have trained, at the age of nine. He is currently in his third year of studying at the prestigious Keio University in Tokyo. Sato says his ambition is to match the achievements of legendary Japanese swimmer Kosuke Kitajima, who claimed the gold medal in 100m and 200m breaststroke at the Athens 2004 Games and the Beijing 2008 Games. Sato is relatively short for a top swimmer, standing 1.77m tall. In comparison, Japan’s Ippei Watanabe, the 200m breaststroke Olympic record-holder stands at 1.93m. Swimming stroke Sato’s preferred stroke is breaststroke and his preferred distance is 200m. He competes occasionally at 50m and 100m breaststroke but told seiko.co.jp that he was concerned about the threat posed by Britain’s dominant world record-holder Adam Peaty over the shorter distances, and so he opted to focus on the 200m. One of his main rivals at 200m is countryman Watanabe, but the 2019 Fina World Championships bronze medallist failed to qualify for Tokyo. Sato also said he feels that the 200m is less tiring. “100m is hard for me because I have to use all my strength from the beginning. The 200m doubles the distance, but I like it because it feels like I’m swimming at a more comfortable speed,” Sato said. Breaking Asian record The wunderkind had already let the swimming community know he was ready to break out after bagging the fastest 200m breaststroke time of the season with a run of 2:06.74 at February’s Japan Open, a result that showed it was only a matter of time before he smashed Watanabe’s previous national record. But at the national championships in Tokyo in April, Sato was still only considered an outside chance despite a promising build-up to the event. After leading at each turn, the 20-year-old pulled away from the field after the final touch to record a stunning time of 2:06.40. Only Russia’s Anton Chupkov has clocked a faster time (2:06.12), which he achieved at the 2019 Fina World Championships in South Korea. After the race, Sato told Kyodo News about his ambitions. “I couldn’t see others around me at all, I was just focused on my race from start to finish. In my semi-final, from 100 metres to 150 metres, my pace dropped off, so I tried to maintain it there. I managed to keep my calm, to my surprise. I couldn’t get the world record, but I don’t mind that at all. I’ve always talked about world record, but I want to win at the Olympics.” Joining the ISL In September 2020, Sato announced that he was joining the International Swimming League (ISL) with the newly formed Tokyo Frog Kings franchise. The team struggled during their first season and finished the qualification stage in sixth place. Sato himself toiled managing an aggregate ranking of 164 in the 2020 campaign. In December 2020, Sato revealed that he will compete for the Frog Kings again in the 2021 campaign.