Japanese veteran diver still dreams of Olympic medal

When asked what he will do with his life after finally retiring for good, diver Ken Terauchi is at a loss for words. "Uh, maybe take a cruise around the world? ... But that's on the 'it'd be nice to do if I could level," he said.

At 34, an age when most divers have long left the sport, Terauchi's passion still burns strong, and thoughts of ending his career never cross his mind.

At the recent Asian Games in Incheon, South Korea, he saw a number of Chinese and South Korean divers who were in his age group, only they were there as coaches.

Competing against a new generation of younger divers, Terauchi finished fourth in the men's synchronized springboard and fifth in the 3-meter springboard.

On the night he returned from South Korea to his home in Hyogo Prefecture, he went straight to bed without even taking a bath. The fact that he woke up 23 hours later was proof he had given it his all.

Terauchi switched from swimming to diving while in the fifth grade of primary school and developed his skills through a rigorous training regimen. Because he travelled overseas, he never went on school trips, and didn't even attend his own graduation ceremonies.

By the time he was 15, Terauchi had become Japan's top diver and placed 10th in the 10-meter platform at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. With a fifth-place finish at the 2000 Sydney Olympics, he had become the face of the sport in Japan.

But he never won an Olympic medal and, after coming home from the 2008 Beijing Games empty-handed, he decided to retire. While it freed him from the enormous pressure he had been under, as time went on, the desire to compete again grew stronger and stronger.

A casual remark from one of Japan's greatest Olympians turned the tide for Terauchi.

"You need to make a comeback," said longtime friend Kosuke Kitajima, the two-time double Olympic champion in the breaststroke. That hit the mark and Terauchi returned to the pool in 2010 at age 30.

His attitude toward competition "took a 180-degree turn," according to Terauchi.

In the past, he became stressed out when training did not go as scheduled, but he has since become more easygoing. "I took a break for 1½ years, so it's not a big deal no matter what happens," Terauchi said.

He has also adopted a more flexible attitude toward training, setting his routine based on how he feels physically.

With a broader outlook came an unexpected discovery. Just to see what would happen, he cut down on weight training, and consequently found that this caused him to feel lighter and allowed him to move his body in the way he wanted.

"I thought I had peaked in the latter half of my 20s, but I feel can still improve both technically and physically," Terauchi said.

He's convinced that his performance has further improved after losing four to five kilograms made him sharper, even though his training time is only 60 to 70 per cent of what it was at his peak.

Terauchi has not decided on when he will bring an end to his career - it could be the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics, or maybe the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. "I'd like to keep going as long as I compete on a world-class level. That's all that matters," he said.

As long as he remains without an Olympic medal, he will keep going.