From The Seattle Times, October 19, 1964
From The Seattle Times, October 19, 1964

The portrait is sketchy. The image reflects a lack of detail, as well as a dark side of a life that held so much promise.

It’s sometimes frustrating trying to piece together a person’s life on the internet. Toby Gibson was a boxer. He was a legitimate contender for a medal at the 1964 Tokyo Games. He was a husband and a father. He was a lawyer and a deputy prosecutor. He embezzled funds. He committed armed robbery. He served time in prison. And then, one day in March, 1973, he died.

I really don’t know much beyond those milestones in his life.

The picture above accompanied a column by Red Smith. The famed sports writer explained in his article from October 19, 1964, that Gibson was a “highly attractive young sociology student who wants to be a teacher and is always surprised when he knocks somebody out.” No one else was really surprised. Gibson was on a streak, having won 12 straight fights as a lead up to Tokyo, and was favored, along with Joe Frazier, to win gold for the US.

toby-gibson-at-olympic-trials-in-1964
Toby Gibson at the US Olympic Boxing Trials_Sports Illustrated_June 1, 1964

Sports Illustrated cited Gibson as “the most impressive winner” of the US Olympic Boxing Trials, held in May, 1964. The writer described him as “likeable and articulate…a fine boxer and superb puncher.” A professional fight manager was reported to have privately said that Gibson was “the best prospect since Joe Louis.”

In his first bout in the light middleweight class, he made quick work of his Thai opponent, Yot Santhien. Unfortunately, Gibson found himself on the losing end of a controversial judgment in his second fight against Eddie Davis, penalized significantly enough for “ducking” his Ghanian opponent too much. And that was that. No medal.

In the Sports Illustrated article, Gibson was quoted as saying that he didn’t intend to turn pro after the Olympics, that he wanted to be a teacher. As it turns out, he did go pro, but only for five professional fights before entering law school. His hard work not only got him a law degree, but also the distinction of being the first black to be appointed a deputy prosecutor of Spokane County in the state of Washington, according to his obituary in The Seattle Times.

Some time after moving to Seattle to open a law practice in 1977, Gibson got into trouble, and was disbarred. First he was caught misappropriating more than $25,000 of his clients’ trust funds. Then he was convicted of armed robbery and extortion of another law firm in Oakland, and imprisoned for 7 years.

I have searched and searched, but the subtler shades of color between the harsh outlines of his life are hard to fathom, and I am left with a story and a life unfulfilled.

 

NOTE: This article was updated on January 2, 2017

From the book
From the book “XVIII Olympiad Tokyo 1964_Asahi Shimbun”

He came from nowhere. Japan was expecting gold in wrestling, judo and women’s volleyball, but not boxing.

Takao Sakurai (桜井 孝雄) won his first match in the bantamweight class against Brian Packer of Great Britain, but no one outside the Korakuen Ice Palace took notice. He won his second match with ease against Ghanian Cassis Aryee, but there was still no interest. But when Sakurai easily outpointed Romanian Nicolae Puiu, people finally began talking about the kid from Chiba.

Japan experienced glory in boxing for the first time in Rome, when Kiyoshi Tanabe won bronze in the middleweight class. But when Sakurai defeated Washington Rodriguez of Uruguay, Japan had a boxer in an Olympic finals for the first time.

His opponent in the finals was Chung Shin-Cho of South Korea. From the beginning, Sakurai peppered Chung with stinging right jabs and hammered with hard lefts throughout the contest. Chung went down three times before the referee stopped the fight at 1 minute 18 seconds of the second round.

Takao Sakurai on the podium
Takao Sakurai becomes the first Japanese to win gold in boxing, and remained the only one until Ryota Murata did so in London in 2012.

Sakurai was perceived as a very cool competitor, sometimes overly so. When a reporter suggested it was surprising that Sakurai wasn’t brimming with tears of happiness after winning the gold, he replied, “I haven’t had any water to drink, so no tears to cry”.

American lightweight gold medalist, Sam Mosberg, at the 1920 Antwerp Games was a spectator and was quoted as saying that Sakurai was the most outstanding boxer at the Tokyo Olympics. He was “very aggressive and willing to fight,” Mosberg was quoted as saying at the Hospitality Center of the Takashimaya Department Store. Why the 68-year old Olympian was interviewed at a department store, I have no idea. But finally, everybody knew who Takao Sakurai was.

Watch this video on Sakurai. It’s in Japanese, but