Incheon: Like his famous namesake Kosuke Kitajima, Japanese swimmer Kosuke Hagino is hoping the Asian Games will be his springboard to bigger and better things.
The 20-year-old Hagino has surfaced as the new rising star of the Japanese team after climbing up the world rankings in the past two years.
He won a bronze medal in the 400 metres individual medley at the 2012 London Olympics then silver in the 200m and 400m individual medleys at last year world`s championships in Barcelona.
If he continues his rise, Hagino will be one of the favourites to win gold at the 2016 Olympics in Rio and the Asian Games, starting in Incheon on Friday, is looming as a key stepping stone.
It was at the 2002 Asian Games, also held in South Korea, where Kitajima first announced his arrival to the swimming world, winning three gold medals, in 100m and 200m breaststroke and medley relay.
Kitajima went on to win four Olympic gold medals, two each at Athens and Beijing, but his legacy to Japanese swimming could be worth more than what he won.
Kitajima also helped inspire a new generation of Japanese swimmers that are starting to make waves. Japan did not win a single gold medal in the pool at the London Olympics but Hagino is the leader of a talented new crop.
At the Pan Pacific championships in Australia last month, Japan won seven gold medals - six in the men`s events and one in the women`s - competing against the powerful American and Australian teams.
Hagino won two golds - pulling off an eye-popping win over Michael Phelps to win the 200m individual medley - and beating Tyler Clary in the 400m medley.
He also won three silver medals - in the 200m and 400m freestyle and 4x200m freestyle relay - and looks poised to win another big stack at the Asian Games, which has become a testing pool for future Olympians.
Yashuhiro Koseki, swimming the same events as Kitajima, won the men`s breaststroke double to show that he will also be a force in Incheon while Ryosuke Irie, a silver medallist in London, at the London Olympics, who defeated Matt Grevers to win the 100m backstroke.
Daiya Seto also won the 200m butterfly, adding more depth to the Japanese team, while the women, who face a tougher challenge against China, also showed some encouraging signs.
Kanako Watanabe led a Japanese one-two in the 200m breaststroke title at the Pan Pacs while Natsumi Hoshi was runner-up in the 200m butterfly.