Sunday, September 29, 2019 was gymnastics legend, Masao Takemoto‘s birthday. Had the three-time Olympian been alive, he would have turned 100 that day.
So many of Japan’s gymnastics greats attended this event, including:
- Shuji Tsurumi, two time Olympian and winner of 6 medals, including three silver medals at the ’64 Olympics to go with his team gold
- Haruhiro Yamashita, Tsurumi’s teammate on the 1964 team and winner of two medals, including gold in individual vault
- Toshiko Shirasu Aihara, two-time Olympian and 1964 women’s team bronze medalist
- Gingko Abukawa-Chiba, two-time Olympian and 1964 women’s team bronze medalist
- Koji Gushiken, 5-time medalist at the 1984 Olympics, including men’s individual all around
Takemoto was an inspiration to them all. Appearing at the 1952, 1956 and 1960 Olympics, Takemoto amassed 7 medals, and 7 medals in World Championships in 1954 and 1958, helping the Japan team to a team silver medal at the 1956 Melbourne Olympics. When he finished his Olympic career, helping his team to the gold medal at the 1960 Rome Olympics, he helped ignite a 16-year stretch of absolute dominance for Japanese men’s gymnastics, as Team Japan took gold from Rome in 1960 to Montreal in 1976.
And he won that gold medal at the age of 41.
Japanese American gymnast, Makoto Sakamoto was a 13-year old in Los Angeles, after moving there from Tokyo, when Japan won their first team gold in Rome. Sakamoto, who was in Tokyo and attended the 100th anniversary of Takemoto’s birthday, told the attendees that he and his older brother had a copy of Takemoto’s book on gymnastics, and that they read every page and followed every line in the book like it was gospel.
Sakamoto would go on to make the American men’s gymnastics team and compete at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, as well as serve as assistant coach to Team USA men’s gymnastics team that won gold at home in the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics.