A legend passes.
Lausanne (FIG) / FIG Office, July 18, 2013: The Japanese Gymnastics Association (JGA) has informed us of the death of one of its oldest, most celebrated Olympic champions, Nobuyuki Aihara, who succumbed to illness on July 16, 2013 at the age of 79.
At 26, Nobuyuki Aihara – alongside Masao Takemoto (40 years!), Takashi Ono (29), Yukio Endo (24), Shuji Tsurumi (23) and Takashi Mitsukuri (22) - made up the famous Japanese Artistic Gymnastics team that put an end to Soviet domination at the Games of Helsinki (FIN) in 1952 and Melbourne (AUS) in 1956, and took the Gold medal at the OG of Rome (ITA) in 1960. A specialist on Floor, he was crowned Olympic champion at the same edition when he topped by a narrow margin the Soviet and former FIG President, Yuri Titov, and Franco Menichelli of Italy.
In 1960 – just four years prior to the Games on Japanese soil - Japan gave everything they had to winning the title and defending it at home four years later, stopping the Soviet untouchables in their tracks.
Following a team victory in Rome, Japan would take 4 consecutive Olympic titles in Tokyo (JPN) 1964, Mexico (MEX) 1968, Munich (GER) 1972 and Montreal (CAN) 1976 before the Soviet Union carried the torch to Moscow (RUS) in 1980 against the backdrop of an international boycott.
The 1960 Japanese Olmypic Dream Team! (photo JGA)
Exemplary career, family
Nobuyuki Aihara was born December 16, 1934 in the Gunma Prefecture. At the age of 15, he discovered and engaged in Artistic Gymnastics. He would knock on the door of the distinguished NSSU – Nippon Sport Science University – of Tokyo, the Nittaïdaï, only to be received by Masao Takemoto, the one and only. One could do worse!
His first medals were Olympic: Melbourne 1956, where he took the team and Floor Silver medals. In the same categories, he would claim the world champion title in 1962 in Prague (TCH).
Aihara married Toshiko in 1964, also a gymnast and not just any one! She was a member of the national team in 1960, 1962 and 1964. That same year she would be the first woman to win an Olympic medal – Bronze – with the Women’s Team Japan. In 1979, Aihara would establish his own club in Japan called the Aihara Gymnastics Club, leaving his son Yukata to catch the baton. Yukata earned the Bronze Vault medal at the 1991 worlds in Indianapolis (USA) and placed third in teams at the Olympic Games in Barcelona (ESP) in 1992.
Japan mourns a gymnast of rare quality. He was a sure-fire player, reliable, perfectly calibrated to the point of being given the nickname ‘Gym Machine’ by the Japanese! He took training seriously and was highly concentrated during competitions. Nobuyuki Aihara earned the respect of his team-mates and kept the atmosphere light-hearted. Short in stature with curved legs, his minor disability put him at a disadvantage with taller athletes. But Aihara worked hard and overcame the obstacle.
With him goes a trace of the Japanese culture that has shaped an Artistic school that still thrives through the talent of his worthy successor, Kohei Uchimura.