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tBBC Ten questions With Yoshi Oyakawa

Discussion in 'News' started by jcollingsworth, Feb 29, 2016.

  1. Ten questions With Yoshi Oyakawa
    via our good friends at Buckeye Battle Cry
    Visit their fantastic blog and read the full article (and so much more) here

    I am excited to pass onto all of the loyal readers of tBBC and to the Buckeye Nation as a whole a conversation I had with a Gold Medal winner on the telephone. I am speaking of the Great Yoshi Oyakawa – a winner of the Gold Medal in the 200 yard backstroke in the 1952 Olympics held in Helsinki. Yoshi currently still holds a world-record in the same event. I am honored to share my Ten Questions with Yoshi with all of you.

    tBBC: You were born and raised in the Tropical paradise of Hawaii what triggered your interest to head to the Midwest and The Ohio State University?

    OYAKAWA: During High School, I guess, I spoke to a few of the Buckeyes; this was back in the late forties, Bill Neunzig, he came there back in ’38, he was the first of the Hawaiians. There was also Keo Nakama, his brother Bunny, Jose Bellmores, and Bill Smith, and also Halo Hirose. I just finished reading a wonderful book called ‘The Three-Year Swim Club’ written by Julie Checkoway. It’s about the three-year club of Coach Soichi Sakamoto. He worked them all out in the sugar irrigation ditches in Maui. Their goal was to make the ’40 and ’44 Olympics and of course, there would be no Olympics those years. Anyway, it’s an interesting story. As a young guy I had read about all of these guys, these great Hawaiian swimmers. Naturally I was quite interested in them and their successes. I knew they had gone to Ohio State. So because I looked up to them, I always had hoped to become a Buckeye – quite early in my life.

    tBBC: While at The Ohio State University you amassed quite the number of Gold Medals – 6 in Big 10 Tournaments, 7 in NCAA Tournaments, and 9 in NAAU Tournaments … is there any special event while competing for the Buckeyes that continues to sit fondly with you today?

    OYAKAWA: I suppose my sophomore year in a meet against Michigan – coming down to one of the relays, the medley relay. Both sides were strategizing. Mike Peppe (Coach) had to figure out how to get the best out of his swimmers. I remember I swam with Dick Cleveland and I think it was Jerry Holan who was doing the Butterfly and I was the lead-off in the Backstroke. Me being a Sophomore, both of those other guys being Juniors or Seniors; and Cleveland, he was from Hawaii, he was like a big-brother to us, he really psyched me out for this race – just pumping me up. I ended up breaking the world record in that relay. That more than anything sits in my mind.

    tBBC: You won the Gold in the 100 meter backstroke in the 1952 Olympics held in Helsinki, in that very race you broke Adolph Kiefer’s 6-year old record – while also beating the favorite Frenchman Gilbert Bozon – that must’ve been a triple dose of pride you experienced … how special was that day?

    OYAKAWA: Yeah it was really, really special … I don’t know how to put this, you know without … the American Backstrokers, there was Allen Stack who had won it back in ’48, before that was Adolph Kiefer who you mentioned. These guys were really good. I told myself, “you know this is an American event and, you know, I am an American swimmer”, so, yeah, I’m going to win. I was thinking that way. I knew Bozon; the European Champion had some pretty fabulous times in the early summer prior to the Olympics. Jerry Holan and I had stayed in school unlike Cleveland and Ford Konno who had dropped out to go back to Hawaii to workout for the Olympic trials but, anyway, Jerry and I stayed in Columbus and we worked out at the old Indianola pool which was a 55 yard pool and I can remember our last time trial in that pool. It was really slow. I think it might have been a 1:08 or a 1:09. And there these guys like Dick Coleman of Yale and a couple of other guys who were doing 60’s and 5’s and so forth – we thought we never had a shot at making the team. But Jerry Holan at the trials in Flushing, New York, when his event of the 200 yard Breaststroke came up, which was before mine, surprised. He swam that darn thing and broke the Olympic record at the time and he got First Place and, of course, made the team. And I said “Wow! That’s really neat.” So when I came up I did almost the same thing. At that time I didn’t break Kiefer’s record but I had a sub-six, it must’ve been a 5.9. It was good enough for First – and I too made the team. That got me there. The big moment for me was making the team – not to minimize the Olympic event itself, but, I don’t know, in my mind making the team was the biggest thing. That was great!

    tBBC: You are called the last great straight-arm-pull backstroker – which you still own the world-record in – can you help us understand what that means?

    OYAKAWA: Well most of the backstrokers nowadays use what is called a bent arm. If you look from the side view of the swimmer the fingertips go through an “S” motion, it goes down from the top, kind of forming the letter “S”. And to do that at the mid-point the elbow is bent to 90 degrees. It’s kind of a snap motion at the very end. And, you know, I never got into doing that. I tried it, later on in the Masters. In those competitions I tried it and it didn’t work too good for me. I was missing my old straight arm. You know Kiefer was a straight-armer. I then came along. After that everyone that has come along has been bent-arm.

    tBBC: I feel that every Ohio State student has that special spot on campus that they yearned to escape to for either quiet time, or positive interaction. Did you have such a spot and if so where was it?

    OYAKAWA: I think I really enjoyed walking through the Oval and seeing all that area has … the statue in front of the Library there. I use to just stand there and stare at that and I would have to pinch myself and say “wow I am really here.” That to me was really special. There was also Mirror Lake. Both – so beautiful and calming.

    tBBC: Who is your favorite Ohio State athlete of all time – they may be from any era?

    OYAKAWA: There are quite a few. There’s Jerry Lucas, of course Havlichek, those great basketball guys. Their coach, Fred Taylor … I recall when I was a freshmen, Fred Taylor, he had been playing for the Senators of Professional baseball and he would come back and work in the equipment room and of course that’s where I worked too, working as a scholarship athlete – there I got to know Fred Taylor. Anyway most don’t think of him as an athlete but he was, and a good one. But I have always enjoyed watching the basketball players of that era. Other than that I would have to say Glenn Davis – the track guy. He was completely in a class by himself. I saw him in the ’56 Olympics and I believe he went to the ’60 Olympics also. He won the high hurdles and I don’t know for sure, but I think his time was in the 40’s. He was an amazing athlete. There was also the track guy, ran like a deer …. What was his name? … Mal Whitfield. He had gone off to Korea and flew over 20 missions. He passed away not too long ago. He had some nice battles with the Jamaican runners. There was this great Jamaican runner, Arthur Wint. He and Mal were always battling in the 400 and 800 meter runs. Those are the guys in my mind that were super athletes. Of course how can you forget Hopalong? Heisman winner! That’s right! That group, they were special.

    tBBC: I have always been thoroughly convinced that some of the greatest athletes, primarily because of conditioning and state of mind, are swimmers. You are in your 80’s and are still active competitively in swimming. What is it about swimmers that set them aside from other athletes?

    OYAKAWA: Well, other than the fact they have to get used to all that chlorinated water … I think our workout regiment is pretty tough. I mean to get to the levels that you have to in order to be an athlete at Ohio State is tough for anyone of any sport. The one good thing about swimming is it’s a lifetime sport, like tennis. I am 82 now. I recently swam in a meet at Ohio University just last weekend (02/13/16… tBBC asking: “How did you do?) … I’ve slowed down quite a bit. There was one other guy in my age event … I won first … but I have slowed down quite a bit. I still get close to the national records. There is a guy by the name of Bumpy Jones. He swam at the University of Michigan. He was a teammate of mine in 1952 in Helsinki. He’s a Dermatologist down in Sarasota. He and I have this competition. He was more of an individual breaststroke but in the last few years he has been concentrating on the backstroke and so we have this back and forth. We always debate on who had the better workout the week before.

    tBBC: The 1970’s were special for you. In 1972 you were named the Ohio High School Coach of the year for the successes you brought to Oak Hills High School. In 1973 the International Swimming Hall of Fame inducted you. In 1978 The Ohio State University inducted you as well into The Ohio State University Athletic Hall of Fame. I understand that each one of those honors, separately and on their own merits, carry special memories. But, if possible, can you say which one brought the greatest sense of achievement?

    OYAKAWA: I have to say Ohio State. I always like to brag that I went in with the class of Woody Hayes. There may have also been the Diver Miller Anderson and others too. But I always liked Woody and retelling that. I will never forget one time – this is after I had graduated and I was at the Lane Shopping Center and Woody happened to be coming by. Of course I recognized him immediately. I had taken a football course from him at one time and he must’ve have remembered. He looked over at me and yelled “Hey Yosh!” I was the most surprised. The whole Ohio State recognition was awesome.

    tBBC: In the many years that you have swam competitively what advice do you share with young swimmers today?

    OYAKAWA: There’s nothing like hard work. Swimming and all the individual sports, you know you have a team, but you still have to do it on your own. It all depends on how hard you work. The harder you work – your return is bigger. There just isn’t any substitution for hard work to gain success. There is no other way to say that either.

    tBBC: Please share with your fellow Buckeyes what you love of The Ohio State University and what it means to you to be a Buckeye?

    OYAKAWA: To this day I always follow all of the sports, well not quite as closely as before, but I try. There’s Swimming of course, Basketball, Football, even Fencing – anyway, I always think this is so great. The camaraderie here is amazing. I look back and see all that has happened for me and I have to say I would not change a thing. I really love Ohio State.

    Following our interview Yoshi and I agreed to stay in touch. He even said to call him Yosh. I am honored. It was both kind of him and tremendously special for me in the short time we spent together. I look forward to passing onto Buckeye Nation whatever he is up to – which will certainly include winning. Yoshi Oyakawa is a Great Buckeye and it is important that we know of his great contributions to both The Ohio State University and the USA on the world stage. Thank again Yosh– I enjoyed our short time and Buckeye Nation, as well as I, will always remember it.

    The post Ten questions With Yoshi Oyakawa appeared first on The Buckeye Battle Cry: Ohio State News and Commentary.

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