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18 Jul 1976
Montreal 1976

Tsukahara makes a name for himself - Gymnastics

Japanese gymnast Mitsuo Tsukahara guaranteed himself a place in the Olympic pantheon not just because of his medal triumphs at three editions of the Olympic Games, but equally because of his inimitable creativity.

Tsukahara was part of the all-conquering team which won the team gold at the Games in Mexico City, Munich and Montreal and he ended his Olympic career with no less than 10 medals to his name.

In the men’s team competition at Montreal 1976, Japan’s men were pitted against their old foes from the Soviet Union.

The Japanese had won every men’s team event since 1960, while the Soviets had finished runner-up on every occasion.

The competition was a tight one and it went down to the wire, with the destiny of the gold medal being decided after the final rotation.

Japan were holding on to a slender lead when Tsukahara recorded a superb score of 9.9 for his horizontal bar routine, which proved enough to give the Japanese the title.

In the individual event he claimed the bronze but was never close enough to truly challenge Soviet star Nikolai Andrianov or his compatriot Sawao Kato who won the gold and silver medal respectively.

Tsukahara won a fifth gold in the high bar, together with a silver in the vault and bronze in the parallel bars.

All these were extraordinary feats, but his most lasting legacy is arguably his vision and imagination, which led to a number of now commonplace dismounts and moves that now bear his name.

He first demonstrated the “Tsukahara dismount” - a backward salto with a half twist, followed by a reverse 1.5 twist – at the 1970 World Championships in Yugoslavia.

The “Tsukahara vault”, which sees the gymnast perform a cartwheel onto the springboard before mounting the horse, has now become such an integral part of the gymnastics programme that it is now included in the women’s compulsory exercises.

Tsukahara retired from competitive gymnastics in 1978 but his son Naoya carried on the dynasty and was a member of the Japan team which added yet another team gold at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens.

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