INCHEON, South Korea - Japan's swimming coach has warned against expecting miracles from new sensation Kosuke Hagino at the Asian Games in South Korea, starting with the men's 200 metres freestyle this weekend.
Hagino completed an individual medley double at the recent Pan Pacific championships, but Japan swim guru Norimasa Hirai quickly brushed off talk of a freestyle shock over China's Sun Yang or local hero Park Tae-Hwan.
"Hagino will be racing two Olympic champions," Hirai told AFP on Friday. "I think he will get amongst the freestyle medals but to win gold he would have to swim at a level where he could win an Olympic gold and I think that's asking a little too much."
An electrifying win over Michael Phelps in the 200m individual medley in Australia dramatically elevated Hagino's stock but the 20-year-old also took silver in the 200m and 400m freestyle, the latter behind Park.
"I think he's improved since then," said Hirai, who oversaw the rise of Kosuke Kitajima, Japan's greatest ever swimmer. "I hope he gives it a real shot but I think he's still a little way off Sun and Park's level. They're extremely powerful.
"If he can't win gold at the Asian Games, he won't win the Olympic title, so just being in those freestyle races against Sun and Park will be a big advantage for him looking ahead to the (2016) Rio Olympics."
Sun stormed to gold in the 400m at the 2010 London Olympics, four years after Park won the title in Beijing and the two heavyweight rivals face off in the first of three races in this Sunday's 200m free.
"To be honest, Hagino himself is not expecting to beat them," said Hirai. "A gold from him on day one isn't part of our calculations." Hirai revealed that Japan's swimmers had set themselves a record target of more than 20 gold medals in Incheon.
"The athletes are talking about winning 22 gold medals but I really don't know about that," said Hirai with a smile. "The team has no official target. The athletes do have their own targets, but that's not the team target.
"It doesn't mean we're divided in our opinions - it just shows how motivated the athletes are.
"Ideally we would like to win around 16 like we at the 2006 Doha Games. At worst we want to win more than last time (nine, in Guangzhou). We know it will be difficult of course and won't take anything for granted." Hirai insisted that Japan's women, who failed to win a single gold medal in 2010, could help boost the team's haul.
"They won a total of zero last time but this time we could have more luck in the breaststroke," he said, referring to Pan Pacific medal winners Kanako Watanabe and Rie Kaneto.
"Possibly also (Natsumi) Hoshino could win the butterfly. It will be important to get off to a good start and try to get on a roll."