※The article has been published in Toyota Global Newsroom on August 21, 2019.
Since returning to Singapore, Joseph Schooling has been training on a daily basis with other swimmers, including overseas swimmers. Today, one of those other swimmers is Takeshi Kawamoto, another Global Toyota Team Athlete (GTTA). Like Joseph, Takeshi is best known for the butterfly stroke.
He jointly holds the Japan record for the 50 meter and 100 butterfly in Japan. He also came in first for the 100m butterfly in the Japan Swimming Championship 2018.
Originally from Aichi prefecture, Japan, the 174 cm tall professional athlete is also a Toyota employee by day. He belongs to e-TOYOTA Division.
Takeshi Kawamoto, celebrated his 24th birthday in Singapore’s Toyota office the day before we joined both Joseph and Takeshi at their joint training session. On the day of our visit, we witnessed Joseph and Takeshi competing with each other during training as they worked to achieve a new best time with every stroke. In between the races, as they were cooling down in smaller pool, the two, both in good spirits, were casually discussing about the sport.
Among other topics, Joseph asked Takeshi about his techniques, while Takeshi demonstrated his unique style. In addition to speaking with each other, both also chatted and laughed together with other swimmers training with them. It was not hard to see that despite the tough training the athletes faced, they were doing what they love, and, in Joseph and Takeshi’s case, they are continuously looking at ways to improve themselves.
“Joint training is always fun, because it changes up the scenery; [there is] someone fresh coming in, someone to push you. It gives you renewed energy,” Joseph said to us afterwards.
Talking about Takeshi, his rival-turned training partner, Joseph commented, “This joint training [with Takeshi] is amazing because you get a chance to learn from each other. Even though we’re both very good at what we do, it doesn’t mean that we don’t have room for improvement.”
He continued: “I asked Takeshi whether he is working on something [specific], [such as] practicing his techniques, asked him couple questions about his stroke, including how he does certain things in his stroke [that I found interesting]. He asked me some questions also. This is a kind of opportunity to pick each other’s mind, [to] help one another and [to] push each other. So yes, I’m all up for this joint training.”
Takeshi couldn’t agree more. “It is a very good opportunity. Because I am able [to learn] the reason for his speed and strength,” Takeshi said, laughing. “The greatest benefit is that we mutually agree with each other beyond [the boundaries of team or nationality],” he explained.
Takeshi also sees that the achievement Joseph had made open his eyes on the potential that an Asian too, can win the competition. “When Joseph got the medal at Rio , I was very impressed that an Asian was able to win the gold medal. Generally speaking, in the swimming world, Asians traditionally excel at long-distance races while short-distance race is dependent on other factors and physique [such as height, arm length] comes into play. But he [Joseph] was faster than others in the race. This means a lot to me. It says to me that: I can also get the first place in the future!” Takeshi told us his first thought about Joseph.
Takeshi shares the positive learning of the joint training session, “[When training by myself], once training is becoming hard, I also feel tired. But here, I have mates who can cheer up each other.” He added, “He [Joseph] taught me [training menu, techniques] a lot [too].”Yet, Joseph has also been his constant reminder for him to do better and better,” However, I've lost the race during the training, I definitely don’t want to lose next time!” He laughed.
It was refreshing to see two young world-leading swimmers getting along well together, and that they still made room for continuous improvement and learning, even when they’re already in the top of the top of their sport. The fact that they’re trying to be better than each other –because they are rivals in the competitions – while working together as partners to improve each other’s skills, is even more astonishing. Both Takeshi and Joseph bring out the true meaning of true “sportsmanship”.
Later, Joseph talked about “Start Your Impossible”, where we learn that his personal challenge is to continue finding room for improvement. “[The] first [challenge] for me it is [to] try to defy expectations, both [my] personal and external expectations. [The] second [challenge] is [to] push [my] limit[s].”
“It may sound cliché, but for an athlete, if you look underneath [the motivation] it really means something. It can be a catalyst for [a] world journey [or an] Olympic journey,” he explained.
“My Impossible is to come to practice every day and challenge myself to be the best I can, and going about things in [a] positive way. Those are the things I need to learn to do better if I want to get to the next level,” he added.
For Takeshi, his stated Impossible “[is to] pursue the ultimate swimming,” he said, beaming with confidence. “First of all is making perfect body [condition] and [perfecting my] swimming skill,” he explained.
The training session that day concluded at nearly 6 pm. Joseph and Takeshi were still joking around while they stopped to dry themselves after exiting the pool. Because Takeshi will stay few more days in Singapore before flying to the United States for more training, Joseph recommended several local cuisines for him to try. While Joseph mentioned he is curious about how his favorite foods; sushi and udon taste in Takeshi’s home country of Japan, he told us he will be ready to try it when he is in Japan for Tokyo 2020.
The swimming pool in Tokyo 2020 is certain to heat up with these tough rivals competing for the 1st place position at the podium. But once their event finishes, it is easy to picture both of these young men sitting in a sushi bar somewhere in Tokyo, joking around as usual while eating good food. So, we’ll look forward to seeing both of you in Tokyo, Joseph Schooling and Takeshi Kawamoto!