Nambu leaps into the record books
The 1932 Olympic Games were a stellar event for many sports but in particular athletics, which saw a remarkable 20 new Olympic or world records set.
According to the Official Report, the exceptionally high standard of performance was attributable to numerous factors, ranging from “the fine mental and physical condition of the athletes due to pleasant surroundings in the Olympic Village, the adequate training facilities, favourable weather conditions, excellent Track and Field facilities, and to the enthusias-tic and sportsmanlike attitude of the spectators.”
Among the most notable new records established in Los Angeles was the one set in the triple jump jump by Japan’s Chūhei Nambu. Nambu was entered for three events in in 1932, the long jump – in which he was already the world record holder - and the triple jump and 4x100m relay.
The world record had been set a year earlier with a jump of 7.98m. It was a significant milestone for an athlete who had failed to impress at the 1928 Amsterdam Olympics, where he failed to make the podium in any of his three events.
The 1932 Games gave Nambu another chance to make his mark – but also provided a com-pelling sub-plot. If the 29-year-old was able to match his long jump record in the triple jump, he would become the only athlete to have held world records in both events simulta-neously.
“Only accident, bad luck or stage-fright, it would appear, can prevent the Olympic broad [long] jump championship from bouncing off in the possession of either Chuhei Nambu of Japan or Sylvio Cator,” wrote an Ohio newspaper three months before the Olympics, “two of the nimblest youths in competition since the boys used to leap from limb to limb.”
“As the only athletes credited officially with jumping more than 26 feet from a flying take-off, they outclass the field in an event which has been won rather easily by the United Stated in seven of the past eight Olympiads.”
On 2 August, Nambu achieved only third place in the long jump, a disappointing result for the reigning world record holder. But two days later, he redeemed himself in the most spectacular way, winning the triple jump with a mark of 15.72 metres, a new world record. In becoming the reigning holder of both records, Nambu had achieved something no athlete had done before.
“Give some credit to youthful fire and inspiration when it comes to accounting for the extraordinary performances that have marked the track and field events at Olympic stadium, a Kansas newspaper wrote in the aftermath. “There are no better examples than the two Japanese boys, Shuhel Nishida and Chuhei Nambu, nimble sons of a country that is fighting gallantly for its place in the athletic sun.”
Nambu remained holder of both records until 1935, when he lost them to the USA’s Jesse Owens (long jump) and Australia’s Jack Metcalfe (triple jump).
Nambu later became a sports journalist for Japanese newspaper Mainichi Shimbun. He also remained active in athletics, serving as head coach for the Japanese Athletics Association and leading the national delegation at the 1964 Olympic Games in Tokyo. In 1992, he was awarded the Olympic Order in Silver by the International Olympic Committee.
Nambu died at the age 93 in his home city of Osaka in 1997. His record of being the only athlete to hold both the long jump and triple jump world records at the same time remains intact to this day.