Gholamreza Takhti and Shunichi Kawano: The Chivalrous and the Shamed

Gholamreza Takhti
Iranian star wrestler, Gholamreza Takhti

What did Shunichi Kawano do? What behavior was so shameful that this Japanese wrestler was banished from the Olympic Village by his coach because it would “adversely affect the morale of other athletes.” It was reported that Kawano “lacked fighting spirit”, an accusation that was amplified as he lost in the presence of Crown Prince Akihito and Princess Michiko at the Komazawa Gymnasium.

Two days later, Kawano appeared before the press with his head shaved, an apparent act of

October 16, 1964, Japan Times
October 16, 1964, Japan Times

contrition. But instead of playing the role of the shamed and contrite, he told the press that he didn’t feel he lacked the so-called “Olympian fighting spirit”. And it appears that the public sided with him, because Kawano was allowed back into the Olympic Village after the sensationalist coverage of this story by the press in Japan shamed the Japanese authorities to reverse themselves.

Whatever happened, it is in contrast to the reputation of the wrestler who beat Kawano in that light heavyweight freestyle match, the Iranian wrestler, Gholamreza Takhti. He was not the most decorated athlete in Iran in the 20th century, but he was a hero to Iranians, primarily for his honorable behavior.

As is stated in this article remembering the “Gentle Giant”, he was often described with such words as “chivalry, humility, kindness and gentleness”. Takhti was known to apologize to opponents after defeating them, apparently once apologizing to the mother of a Russian opponent who was looking sad upon her son’s defeat.

Takhti won gold in Melbourne, and silver in both Helsinki and Rome. And while he could not win a medal in Tokyo, he ended his Olympic career with a reputation unscathed, and continued with his life as one of the most popular people in Iran.

Honor and shame – flip sides of the same coin – symbolically represented on the wrestling mat in October, 1964.