Japanese swim star Kosuke Hagino insisted Saturday he was not feeling as down about his floundering form "as everyone might think", as he gears up for the Tokyo Olympics.
Hagino won gold in the 400m individual medley and silver in the 200 IM at the Rio Games, but has since struggled with a loss of motivation and patchy results.
The 26-year-old admitted he almost quit swimming following his 2016 success, and took a three-month break to try to rediscover his mojo.
He insisted his troubles were over after booking his place at this summer's coronavirus-postponed Games at Japan's Olympic trials in April.
But he cut a dejected figure after clocking a 200 IM time of 1 min, 59.43sec in a warm-up race in Japan on Saturday -- well off the pace needed to be a contender this summer.
"It was slow -- that's all," Hagino said after finishing fourth at the Japan Open behind close friend and rival Daiya Seto -- who had just swum another race 20 minutes earlier.
"I don't want to think too much about it. I just want to try and build on the things that I can from now on."
Hagino has opted not to defend his 400 IM title this summer, to concentrate on the 200 IM.
After Saturday's race he insisted his head was in the right place, but also admitted he had much to work on.
"I'm not as down about this as everyone might think I am," he said.
"It was slow overall. My butterfly was slow, my backstroke didn't feel good, and my breaststroke and freestyle weren't good either."
Hagino insisted he was "not slacking off", and that he was "giving it everything" in training.
Seto also admitted he had room to improve, after clocking a 200 IM time of 1:59.30 in third place, but he believed time was on his side.
"There's still a big difference between the good performances and the bad," said Seto, who was banned for just over two months at the end of last year as punishment for an extramarital affair.
"For the 50 days I have left, I want to pay attention to the way my body moves and try to put it together so that there's no inconsistency when the Olympics come around."