At any Olympic Games, there is great attention on the gymnastics, and every host nation hopes to have a home hero to cheer on. In Tokyo, that meant a great focus on Yukio Endo, Japan’s foremost gymnast – the fulcrum of attention for both the individual and team events. The question was whether he would thrive or buckle under the pressure – the answer, emphatically, was to revel in the limelight and produce the performances of his life.
Endo had lived in a state orphanage since the age of nine. He had been encouraged to take part in gymnastics by one of the teachers there “rather than just lying in bed”. He progressed rapidly and was selected for the 1960 Games in Rome, where he helped Japan to a team gold. His individual showings were strong, but fell short of an individual medal.
But Endo continued to improve and, by the time Tokyo hosted the Games, he was considered his nation’s leading gymnast. By now, there was also an expectation that Japan would overtake the Soviet Union as the leading nation in gymnastics, adding to the pressure on Endo.
He was 27 years old, and in his prime, and he took the blue-riband gold in the men’s all-around contest with a dazzling series of displays, winning three of the six categories. Another gold followed in the parallel bars, in which teammate Shuji Tsurumi took silver, and then an inspiring performance in the team event, in which Endo achieved the highest individual score. He also won a silver in the floor exercises.
And the result? Japan was the leading gymnastics nation at the 1964 Games, and the team were acclaimed as national heroes, with Endo the biggest star of the lot.
He carried on for another four years and, as a 31-year-old, carried the flag at the Opening Ceremony in Mexico City and won gold and silver medals. Endo then retired – but was back in Munich four years later as Japan’s team manager.