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Swimmer Kaneto overcame many setbacks to win Olympic gold

Rie Kaneto smiles as she shows off her gold medal after winning the women's 200-meter breaststroke at the Rio Olympics on Aug. 11, 2016. (Mainichi Photo/Daisuke Wada)

RIO DE JANEIRO -- Rie Kaneto won the gold medal in the women's 200-meter breaststroke at the Rio Olympics on Aug. 11 with a time of 2:20.30.

"I've been able to continue to aim for the top because my fellow swimmers who underwent training with me and my family fully supported me," Kaneto, 27, said after the competition.

A native of Hiroshima Prefecture, Kaneto started swimming when she was a third grader in elementary school.

She performed reasonably well in the 2008 Beijing Games -- the first Olympics she participated in -- coming in seventh in the women's 200-meter breaststroke. However, she failed to win a berth at the 2012 London Olympics. She was unable to leave the swimming pool for a while after failing to advance in a qualifying trial for the London Games and cried.

Kaneto participated in the FINA World Aquatics Championships in August 2013, vowing to regain her competitiveness as an athlete, but failed to win a medal, finishing fourth.

The swimmer then decided to retire after telling herself, "You've done enough."

At a wedding reception for her sister, Yuki, now 31, three months after the championships, a video of Kaneto swimming at the FINA World Aquatics Championships, followed by a message by her coach Tsuyoshi Kato, 50, were shown.

Rie Kaneto raises her fist after winning the women's 200-meter breaststroke at the Rio Olympics on Aug. 11, 2016. (Mainichi Photo/Naotsune Umemura)

"It's a difficult challenge so it's worth trying. I believe I can work with Rie," he said.

Dressed in a red kimono, Kaneto was in tears after the five-minute video message.

Her father, 61-year-old Hiroaki, who was opposed to her retirement, hung a gold medal on her. On the opposite side of the medal was her 58-year-old mother Fujiko's message saying, "Even when you rise up high, there are yet even higher places. Nevertheless, you should look up like a sunflower. I'm always watching over you."

Yuki prepared the video because she "wanted to tell her sister that there're people who are encouraged by Rie's swimming."

Kaneto made up her mind to continue swimming, but was unable to produce good results, partly due to the rise of younger swimmers.

Whenever she mentioned the possibility of retiring, coach Kato tried to encourage her to continue swimming saying, "How can you retire when there are so many people supporting you? People around you are thinking about you. Don't be a person who only thinks about themself."

This past February, Kaneto set a Japanese record in the women's 200-meter breaststroke. In the Japan Swimming Championships in April, she set a world record, becoming the first female swimmer to swim the 200-meter breaststroke in less than 2 minutes and 20 seconds, securing a berth at the Rio Olympics.

"I set a record in front of many people who supported me," Kaneto tearfully said after winning a ticket to Rio.

As the first female captain of a Japanese Olympic swimming team, Kaneto led the team saying, "I want to lead in a way that all members can smile." (By Kosuke Yamamoto, Tadashi Murakami and Sachi Fukushima, Mainichi Shimbun)

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