Busan: Even without Tomoko Hagiwara, Japan look set to dominate the opposition in the Asian Games swimming competition, which gets underway in Busan on Monday.
Japan beat main rivals China 15-13 in the gold medal standings in Bangkok four years ago and, if anything, have even more strength in depth at the 14th Asian Games in South Korea.
Hagiwara, who won a record four titles at the Japanese nationals in June, pulled out of the Games with a stress-related disorder after collapsing on the pool deck midway through the Pan Pacific championships in Yokohama last month.
The 22-year-old, who had won gold in the 200 individual medley before falling ill, was scheduled to compete in the 100 and 200 freestyle, the 200 backstroke, 200 individual medley and three relays at the Asian Games.
Her absence will give hope to the Chinese relay squads, as well as Qi Hui and Zhou Yafei, either of whom could profit in the 200 individual medley next week.
Qi Hui is already hot favourite to win gold in the 200 breaststroke, an event for which she holds the world record.
Meanwhile, Chinese teammate Luo Xuejuan, who won double-gold in the 50 and 100 breaststroke at last yearís world championships in Fukuoka, is another who has trained specifically to peak at the Asian Games.
However, Japan are unlikely to face too many threats in the menís competition, where Kosuke Kitajima will come under the spotlight after winning gold in the 100 breaststroke at the Pan Pacific championships despite a sore elbow.