ATHENS, Greece - American backstroker Aaron Peirsol accused Kosuke Kitajima of using an illegal dolphin kick at the start of the Olympic 100-meter breaststroke Sunday night that helped propel the Japanese star to a gold medal.
“He knew what he was doing. It’s cheating,” said Peirsol, who spoke out after watching teammate and world record-holder Brendan Hansen finish second.
“I have no response on that,” Kitajima said through a translator.
Kitajima’s time of 1 minute, 0.08 seconds was 17-hundredths of a second better than Hansen, who took the silver in 1:00.25.
The United States, however, cannot appeal the result.
“You can’t appeal a judgment call,” U.S. men’s coach Eddie Reese said. “The race is over. No whistle, no foul.”
Peirsol claimed Kitajima enjoyed a two-tenths of a second advantage because of his starting kick.
“Something needs to be done about that,” he said. “It’s just ridiculous.”
According to Peirsol, Kitajima dove in, streamed to the surface and did a dolphin kick. The rules require only a breaststroke-type kick be used in the race.
“You take a huge dolphin kick and that gives you that extra momentum, but he knows that you can’t see that from underwater,” Peirsol said.
“He definitely did a dolphin kick,” said American Jason Lezak, who watched the race.
Judges are positioned on the pool deck and don’t have access to views from underwater cameras that are shown to television viewers and the crowd on a large screen in the stadium.
“There’s nothing about the race I actually remember,” Kitajima said. “I got in and did the best I could. I just remember when I finished and I won, I was as happy as I’ve ever been.”
Asked if he had ever done a dolphin kick in a breaststroke race, Kitajima responded, “There’s nothing I have to say.”
Norimasa Hirai, Kitajima’s coach, said the swimmer never uses a dolphin kick.
Koji Ueno, the head Japanese coach, dismissed Peirsol’s accusation and said he was satisfied with Kitajima’s performance.
Hansen, Peirsol and Lezak said Kitajima’s first kick was an issue at last summer’s world championships in Barcelona, Spain, where he defeated Hansen in the 100 breaststroke.
“He’s got a history of that, and pay attention to it,” Peirsol said.
Lezak said he twice watched Kitajima’s race last summer.
“I just remember the whole crowd doing a little ‘aah’ when they saw it and then they took it off the camera real quick once they knew that what he did was wrong,” Lezak said. “This time, they didn’t show the replay, but in live time, it was just real obvious.”
Hansen, however, downplayed Peirsol’s accusation while sitting next to Kitajima at the medalists’ news conference.
“It would be a big deal for an official to come out and to disqualify somebody,” Hansen said. “I can only account for my actions and I know exactly what I did in my race. Everything else, I hope the officials who are sitting right next to me will take care of that.
“They are not there to have a front row seat and watch the Olympic Games,” he added. “They’re there to take care of the rules. I believe that’s what they do.”
Hansen said he appreciated Peirsol’s support, but blamed himself for swimming slower than he did at last month’s U.S. trials, where he took the world record away from Kitajima.
“I don’t agree with his actions because the U.S. is very diplomatic on these sorts of things,” he said of Piersol. “He was a little fired up and he was protecting his teammate, that’s all.”
Hansen was first at 50 meters and Kitajima was third. The Japanese overtook Hansen coming off the turn.
“I didn’t swim my race, I swam his. That’s exactly what he wanted me to do,” Hansen said. “It’s a little bit of a rookie mistake, but it’s understandable when it’s my first Olympic Games. I was looking over — I could see out of my peripheral vision the whole time. I shouldn’t even be worrying about it.”
Hansen and Kitajima will race again in the 200 breaststroke preliminaries Tuesday.
“This is a race that can either break you or make you, and I guarantee you it’s going to make me in two days,” Hansen said.
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