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09 Aug 1932
Los Angeles 1932

Record breaker Miyazaki makes a splash

The Japanese swimming team arrived at the 1932 Olympics as genuine challengers to the all-conquering USA, who had stormed to six golds at the Amsterdam Games four years earlier.

Aged 15, Yasuji Miyazaki was the second youngest of a prodigiously talented troupe of Japanese swimmers to compete in Los Angeles. Born in Kosai, Shizuoka Prefecture in 1916, he had shown his promise from a young age and it was little surprise when he was named in the team to travel to the Olympics. 

The swimming events took place in a brand new pool adjacent to the Olympic Stadium. It was here that some 10,000 spectators would watch as the Japanese team proved their pre-Games hype was fully justified.

In the semi-finals of the 100m freestyle, Miyazaki set out his stall in emphatic fashion, surpassing the Olympic record previously set by American Johnny Weissmuller with a time of 58.2 seconds. Then in the final, he went one better, winning gold to become the youngest ever swimmer to win the Olympic 100m title.

The following day, competing in the 4x200m freestyle relay, Miyazaki added a second gold medal, as the Japanese quartet set a new world record of 8 minutes 58.4 seconds. In total the Japanese won five golds, five silvers and two bronzes in the pool, pushing the USA into second place in the swimming medals table.

“Without doubt the performance of the swimmers from Japan was the outstanding feature of the competition for men,” the Official Report noted. “Japanese entrants won every race but one and their performance was remarkable for the high standing attained by all mem-bers of the team.”

However, the greatest plaudits of all were reserved for Miyazaki.

“The men from the Land of the Rising Sun placed three men in the finals of the 100-meter event as did the United States, but young Miyazaki’s performance overshadowed anything the Yankees could show,” purred one Texas newspaper.

After his Olympics success, Miyazaki retired from competitive sports to study law in Tokyo. Following World War II, he returned to swimming to become an advisor to the Japanese Swimming Federation.

In 1981, Miyazaki was inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame and in 1989 he was awarded the Olympic Order in Silver. He died in December 1989, aged 73.

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