By the time the 1964 Tokyo Olympics rolled around, gymnast Boris Shakhlin of the Soviet Union had won nine Olympic medals in Melbourne and Rome, including four gold medals in 1960. Until 1980, his total Olympic medal haul of 13 was the most by any male athlete until 1980.
Shakhlin certainly had an opportunity to continue his championship ways in Tokyo. Except that Yukio Endo, and perhaps all of Japan, stood in his way.
Endo won the men’s individual all-around gymnastics competition, which includes compulsory and optional events in six events: the vault, floor exercise, pommel horse, rings, parallel bars and horizontal bar. After all was said and done, Endo had a total score of 115.95 out of a total 120 points, edging out three competitors who tied for second with scores of 115.40.
In other words, 0.55 separated gold from silver. The problem is, Endo had what could be described as an awful effort on the pommel horse optional. As American gymnast Dale McClements described in her diary at the time, “Endo sat on the horse 2 times and dismounted with bent legs.”
According to the Japan Times, Endo had a considerable lead over his teammate Shuji Tsurumi and Shakhlin before the pommel horse optionals. “Japanese spectators were biting their nails fearing that the last moment error would cost Endo the gold medal. The event was halted 10 minutes as Japanese team manager Takashi Kondo made a strong appeal to the judges that the faults should not be counted too much. While the Russians glowered, spectators burst into cheers when the judges finally raised their scoring flags. All four were unanimous giving Endo 9.1 scores which assured him of the gold medal.”
Another American gymnast who witnessed Endo’s performance, Makoto Sakamoto, told me that the pommel horse is arguably the hardest of the six disciplines. “It’s the most difficult event to stay on. There are so many opportunities to fall and slip off. You can hit a slick spot, or you sit down. He missed! I remember saying, ‘Darn it, the best gymnast in the world is crumbling.’ Then he got a 9.15, and I thought, ‘what a gift!’ Anyone else would have gotten an 8.2 or 8.4. He got a 9.15.”
In other words, the 0.55 edge would have disappeared if Endo had not gotten what might be called a home-field advantage.
And yet, one could argue from a standard of the Olympic spirit that the true champion was Boris Shahklin. He did not complain or bad mouth the judges. He took his defeat in stride, according to AP. ” In my opinion, Endo performed very well in the 11 events, but his side horse play was very poor. However, the international judges were good as a whole. I think I did fairly well in the 12 exercises as a whole. I can say, now, Endo was the strongest gymnast in the Tokyo competition.”
Endo won three gold medals for Japan in 1964, and also helped the team to gold in Mexico City. The torch had been passed, and Japan went on to dominate men’s gymnastics for two decades.