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Remembering a Gymnastics Legend – An Outdated College Gymnastics Weblog


The straightforward reality of life is eventually time strikes on and probably the most well-known athletes of the day will ultimately fade into obscurity. Keiko Tanaka-Ikeda was a kind of athletes from the Nineteen Fifties and Nineteen Sixties whose title is essentially unknown to most followers. However her legacy was so impactful, Keiko is among the most necessary gymnasts of not simply her period, however of your entire twentieth century. Tanaka-Ikeda’s athletic accomplishments had been extraordinary and her life story was as equally compelling.

In an period the place communist nations gained 99% of the medals, Keiko Tanaka-Ikeda was answerable for the opposite 1%.

In the identical approach that the US has New York (the area) and New York (town), the identical is true for Hiroshima, Japan. Keiko was born within the Hiroshima Prefecture (province) and grew up in a comparatively small metropolis that was positioned 36 miles away from Hiroshima, the big metropolis which shares a reputation with your entire area. When Japan escalated its struggle on December seventh, 1941 and introduced the nation into direct battle with the US, British Empire and the Netherlands, Keiko was only one month previous her eighth birthday.

Tanaka-Ikeda was spared the worst of World Battle II by dwelling in a small regional metropolis that had skilled little to no bombing raids. Her World Battle II experiences was spent taking ballet lessons and dwelling a considerably regular civilian life. However that was all shattered within the last weeks of the struggle in the course of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima (town). It is among the most controversial, broadly identified and defining moments of World Battle II, if not in your entire historical past of warfare.

Keiko instantly misplaced her uncle within the blast. Her father who went to seek for him the subsequent day and would quickly die from radiation publicity. On the time Keiko was 12 years outdated.

Like most gymnasts of her era, Keiko Tanaka-Ikeda began the game comparatively late. At first she competed in swimming, tennis, volleyball and all kinds of occasions in Observe & Discipline. It was by an opportunity encounter when she was taking part in on a males’s excessive bar {that a} gymnastics teacher seen her and satisfied her to take up the game. Tanaka-Ikeda turned a gymnast at 16 years outdated and inside three months had turn out to be a regional champion over all of Hiroshima.

This kind of dominance so shortly after becoming a member of the game and beginning gymnastics at such a late age was surprisingly widespread on this time interval. It might happen often throughout the main European packages and Keiko was hardly the exception. Though it needs to be famous that on this period of gymnastics ballet coaching was a vital a part of the game and Tanaka-Ikeda got here from a ballet background. This was a vital issue to her fast stand up the ranks.

Keiko skilled alongside the boys. When her grandmother watched Keiko carry out gymnastics for the primary time, she scolded her for taking over a sport that exposed a lot of her physique. Keiko responded by saying “what’s improper with a woman spreading her legs?”

Inside 5 years of taking over the game Keiko Tanaka-Ikeda was successfully ranked eighth greatest on the planet on the 1954 World Championships. That is an period the place the Soviets had been allowed to make use of eight gymnasts within the All-Round and nation limits didn’t exist. Nor had been there nation limits in Occasion Finals. Keiko didn’t merely win a medal in Occasion Finals, she took the gold medal on beam.

Keiko Tanaka-Ikeda gained a gold medal in a person occasion on the 1954 World Championships. At this level she had solely 5 years of whole expertise within the sport and I couldn’t discover any information of her having prior expertise in even low-level worldwide competitors earlier than this time. It’s a rare achievement for a gymnast to go from the novice degree to a gold medalist in solely 5 years. However Tanaka-Ikeda in all probability might have reached the worldwide elite degree even faster than that if she had been allowed to compete at an earlier age.

Previous to 1954 Japan didn’t ship girls to compete in main gymnastics competitions. In 1954 Japan didn’t even ship a full group to the World Championships. As an alternative, Japan despatched simply two girls to the 1954 World Championships and this was the debut look of Japanese girls’s gymnastics. If there had been competitions accessible and open Japanese girls from 1950 to 1953, Keiko in all probability might have discovered success in any of these years as effectively.

Her #8 rating within the All-Round and gold medal on beam on the 1954 World Championships makes it possible that she might have been a powerful All-Arounder at the least a number of years prior. Doubtlessly turning into an Olympic-caliber athlete in as little as two to 3 years after selecting up the game. Tanaka-Ikeda was merely that gifted.

Surprisingly sufficient, Keiko Tanaka-Ikeda is each the very first pioneer of Japanese girls’s gymnastics, in addition to its solely Corridor of Famer. The Japanese girls’s program was in such infancy at this level in historical past that whereas Keiko completed eighth within the All-Round, the subsequent highest rating Japanese gymnast had completed 93rd. She did it whereas Japan’s services weren’t as sturdy because the dominant girls’s gymnastics packages of Japanese Europe. Keiko is alleged to have “skilled on dust” within the early phases of her profession.

The subsequent main competitors for Keiko can be the 1956 Olympics which had been slated to be held in Australia. On the time barely a decade had handed for the reason that finish of World Battle II and Japanese athletes can be visiting a rustic that had fought instantly towards Japan. Australians spent a lot of World Battle II watching the Japanese advance to inside hanging vary of their nation.

The army state of affairs of Australia throughout World Battle II

To the Individuals, it was a struggle on the opposite aspect of the globe. For the Australians, it had been a struggle fought on their again doorstep. On a per capita foundation, Australia had suffered almost twice as many deaths as the US.

The connection between Japan and Australian represented a pivotal second in Olympic historical past the place two key adversaries of World Battle II would play the function of host and invited visitor on the Olympics. Regardless that 1956 was the third Olympics for the reason that finish of World Battle II, this was really the primary time Germany or Japan would compete at an Olympics being held inside a rustic that was a member of the Allies throughout World Battle II.

Throughout the 1956 Olympics Keiko Tanaka-Ikeda had an anti-Japanese slur levied her approach. It was a narrative she would recite repeatedly for the remainder of her life, but additionally highlights a personality trait each time she retold the story. What Keiko would so typically point out when highlighting this incident, was that the spectator who ushered a slur in direction of her was a mom who had misplaced her son within the struggle.

Propaganda poster from World Battle II

When studying interviews of well-known gymnasts, you possibly can all the time get a way of their character as the identical theme reappears time and time once more. Even whereas the interviews had been held many years aside. For Keiko, there have been two themes that had been readily obvious. The primary is she had a behavior of constructing legendary quips and witty remarks, typically towards authority figures trying to criticize her.

However the second theme was that Tanaka-Ikeda had a bent to worth empathy and be aware of the struggling of others. What higher individual to know the angle of a grieving mom than a daughter who had misplaced her father in the exact same struggle?

On the 1956 Olympics Keiko Tanaka-Ikeda completed 4th on Ground Train and almost missed out on a medal.

Beforehand I said that in an period the place communist nations gained 99% of the medals, Keiko Tanaka-Ikeda was answerable for the opposite 1%. Whereas that is considerably of a joking exaggeration, there’s a whole lot of fact to this remark. Previous to the most important reforms and rule adjustments of the mid-Nineteen Seventies, solely 11 medals had been gained by non-Japanese Bloc gymnasts within the particular person occasions on the Olympics and World Championships.

1 medal was gained by Cathy Rigby
1 medal was gained by Evy Berggren
1 medal was gained by Taniko Nakamura
2 medals had been gained by Ann-Sofi Pettersson
6 medals had been gained by Keiko Tanaka-Ikeda

Keiko single-handedly gained extra medals than all the opposite non-Japanese Bloc gymnasts put collectively. Within the All-Round she was the very best scoring non-Japanese Bloc gymnast in each single competitors she attended from 1954 to 1966 in what was in the end a 13 12 months streak. In that very same time interval, she had extra top-10 finishes within the All-Round than all the opposite non-Japanese Bloc gymnasts put collectively.

On the 1956 Olympics Keiko Tanaka-Ikeda was the one gymnast within the top-20 of the All-Round who wasn’t from the Japanese Bloc.

However the place issues get freakishly absurd with Keiko is how typically she positioned contained in the top-6 of the All-Round and Occasion Finals. In gymnastics the “top-6” shouldn’t be precisely an arbitrary cut-off as that’s the cut-off for being a prime seed in a contemporary All-Round Finals, in addition to the cut-off for qualifying into Occasion Finals in Olympic competitors from 1968 to 1980. Because of this, gymnastics historical past junkies want utilizing the “top-6” cut-off to award retroactive appearances in Occasion Finals to gymnasts like Keiko who predate the 1968 rule change the place Occasion Finals was separated from the group competitors. Thus creating the idea of an “look” in Occasion Finals.

When counting the variety of top-6 finishes in any of the 5 particular person occasions from 1954 to 1966 amongst gymnasts who weren’t members of the Japanese Bloc:

15 instances: Keiko Ikeda
3 instances: Ann-Sofi Pettersson
1 time: Toshiko Shirasu
1 time: Evy Berggren
1 time: Hiroko Ikenada
1 time: Taki Shibuya
1 time: Taniko Nakamura
1 time: Yasuko Furuyama

The statistics make it clear, on this time interval probably the most profitable gymnasts had been unequivocally the Japanese Bloc and Keiko Tanaka-Ikeda.

However Keiko wasn’t only a nice gymnast from exterior the Japanese Bloc, she was the most effective gymnasts of the day. Keiko gained a medal within the particular person occasions in each World Championships she attended from 1954 to 1966. Tanaka-Ikeda was an extremely effectively rounded gymnast having gained a medal in 5 of 6 occasions. The one occasion she by no means medaled in was vault.

Maybe probably the most spectacular facet of Keiko’s resume was the eight medals she gained on the World Championships, six of which got here within the particular person occasions.

In Keiko Tanaka-Ikeda’s period it was considerably more durable to win a medal on the World Championships resulting from this occasion being held solely as soon as each 4 years again then. That is why there are only a few gymnasts from the pre-1978 growth of the World Championships within the all-time rankings for many medals on the World Championships.

It additionally needs to be famous that of the 5 most adorned gymnasts within the historical past of the World Championships, 4 of them competed within the Nineties or later when the game had as soon as once more expanded the World Championships to be held in each non-Olympic 12 months.

With these particulars in thoughts, Keiko Tanaka-Ikeda is definitely one of the crucial adorned medalists of her time interval and ranks fifth amongst gymnasts within the pre-Korbut period for many medals on the World Championships with eight whole. Her six particular person medals on the World Championships are significantly noteworthy. Vera Caslavska who famously gained a gold medal in each particular person occasion on the Olympics and has a professional declare to being the perfect gymnast in historical past is forward of Keiko Tanaka-Ikeda by just one medal on this statistic.

Keiko Tanaka-Ikeda has the identical variety of particular person medals on the World Championships as Alicia Sacramone. That is unbelievable to consider as a result of Sacramone was inducted into the Worldwide Gymnastics Corridor of Fame on the idea of her success on the World Championships. Not solely does Keiko Tanaka-Ikeda match up equally with Alicia Sacramone, however Keiko competed in an period the place the World Championships had been held simply as soon as each 4 years. Alicia competed in an period the place they’re held 3 times each 4 years.

However for Keiko Tanaka-Ikeda her profession goes past the medals she gained. She gave beginning twice throughout her profession, continued to coach whereas pregnant, and by no means missed a significant competitors. Tokyo was slated to host the 1964 Olympics in what can be Japan’s most necessary Olympics in its historical past. However in 1963 the Japanese gymnastics program was alarmed that Tanaka-Ikeda, their most necessary gymnast on the ladies’s aspect was pregnant and was mentioned to have scolded her.

Keiko Tanaka-Ikeda responded by saying “I’ll give beginning, and I’ll win.”

On the 1964 Olympics Keiko was competing in her third Olympics and led the Japanese program to a bronze medal within the group competitors. The victory was all of the extra particular because it had been gained on Japanese soil. Keiko’s subsequent main competitors can be the 1966 World Championships. Right here she gave the best efficiency of her profession by successful a medal within the Crew Competitors, All-Round, and Uneven Bars. Mockingly she completed 4th on steadiness beam, it was the one time in her total profession that she did not medal on this occasion on the World Championships.

On the uneven bars Keiko Tanaka-Ikeda would share the rostrum with Taniko Nakamura who completed one spot behind her within the standings. It was the one medal of Taniko Nakamura’s profession in a person occasion. Excluding Taniko Nakamura’s 1966 bronze medal on the uneven bars, each different medal Japan has in girls’s gymnastics within the twentieth century was gained by Keiko Tanaka-Ikeda.

Japan’s girls’s gymnastics program at present has three medals within the group competitors. All three medals had been groups led by Tanaka-Ikeda. She is answerable for all however one medal Japan gained previous to 2009 and Japan’s solely Olympic medal previous to the 2021 Olympics.

When Keiko competed on the 1966 World Championships, girls’s gymnastics was in the midst of a revolution. Within the months after the 1964 Olympics a 15-year outdated Larissa Petrik defeated Larissa Latynina, the main Soviet gymnast of the day. The end result despatched shockwaves via the game and virtually instantly each main program started prioritizing younger gymnasts within the hope of discovering the subsequent Larissa Petrik. Opposite to in style perception, the rise of the little-girl period predated Nadia Comaneci by almost a decade.

It was really the 1965 to 1968 period of ladies’s gymnastics the place the common age of a feminine gymnast was experiencing its most fast decline. All around the world longstanding gymnasts who had a number of Olympic appearances had been being pushed out of the game. Keiko Tanaka-Ikeda turned yet another casualty in an period the place the established veterans had been quickly being purged out of the game to make approach for a brand new period of gymnastics.

As quickly as Keiko Tanaka-Ikeda disappeared, Japan’s girls’s gymnastics program disappeared alongside along with her. Maybe Japan couldn’t do with out its most profitable gymnast and truest pioneer. Maybe Japan was executed in by its personal lack of innovation as this system did not adapt to the brand new “little woman” period of ladies’s gymnastics that will outline the game within the Nineteen Seventies.

When Keiko retired it might take Japan 43 years to win one other medal, 51 years to win one other gold medal, and 55 years to win one other Olympic medal because the nation waited for a brand new era of gymnasts to fill the sneakers of Keiko Tanaka-Ikeda. And when such a era did come to fruition, it was led by Mai Murakami who introduced Japan one other Olympic medal after an absence spanning greater than 50 years.

However Mai Murakami didn’t simply deliver again Olympic glory to Japan’s girls’s gymnastics program, she did so on the 2021 Tokyo Olympics, the exact same metropolis Keiko Tanaka-Ikeda gained an Olympic medal at in 1964.

Nice gymnasts are remembered for his or her medals, the context behind the medals they gained, but additionally the way in which they advance the game via their eponymous expertise. In gymnastics Natalia Yurchenko has by far probably the most well-known eponymous ability and it’s a query of who has the second most well-known ability. Whereas there are various candidates for this title, one ability that’s within the dialogue for it’s the wolf flip.

The wolf flip has confirmed to be one of the crucial ubiquitous strikes of the 2010s and 2020s. However the ability was equally as in style with beam employees of the Nineteen Sixties and Nineteen Seventies to the purpose the place a lot of the gymnasts who gained medals on beam within the late Nineteen Sixties to early Nineteen Seventies had wolf turns of their routines. The wolf flip is quite distinctive in gymnastics historical past because it peaked in recognition in two distinct eras, 35 years aside. Only a few expertise have been as in style throughout so many various many years and completely different eras because the wolf flip.

Within the early Nineteen Eighties even Olga Mostepanova did a wolf flip. There’s maybe no different ability in gymnastics historical past that’s related to such all kinds of well-known gymnasts because the wolf flip resulting from its hyperlinks with each the Nineteen Sixties and continued recognition to at the present time. Keiko Tanaka-Ikeda not solely carried out the wolf flip in her time, however she is the earliest identified instance of any gymnast performing a real wolf flip based mostly on surviving footage.

If Keiko Tanaka-Ikeda wasn’t really the primary to do it as a result of different gymnasts could have executed it however footage of their routines didn’t survive, on the very least Keiko was the primary nice beam employee to embrace this ability. Keiko set the usual that every one the highest contenders for a medal on the steadiness beam carried out wolf flip as if it had been a trendy factor.

The wolf flip is among the most well-known strikes in gymnastics historical past, and Keiko Tanaka-Ikeda can appropriately be referred to as “The Grandmother of the Wolf Flip.”

In 2002 the Worldwide Gymnastics Corridor of Fame made the choice to induct Keiko Tanaka-Ikeda. This was a extremely symbolic determination as on the time the Corridor of Fame was nonetheless in its infancy. Again in 2002 solely 12 girls had beforehand been inducted into the Corridor of Fame. By making Keiko one among its earliest inductions, it amounted to a declaration that the Corridor of Fame felt Keiko’s profession was so extraordinary, she deserved to be on the prime of the record.

After analyzing her profession, it’s my opinion that the Corridor of Fame obtained it proper and inducting Keiko Tanaka-Ikeda so early in its historical past was the most effective selections the Corridor of Fame ever made. Some gymnasts are pioneers of their respective program, whereas others advance that exact same program by being their most profitable gymnast ever. Gymnasts are virtually all the time one or the opposite.

However in Keiko’s case, she wasn’t one or the opposite. She was each.

Connie Caruccio is the unique American gymnast, however its biggest gymnast was Simone Biles. The identical is true for Queenie Judd and Jessica Gadirova of the British program. For the Soviets, it’s Maria Tyshko and Larissa Latynina. Being a pioneer shouldn’t be the identical as being probably the most profitable gymnast in program historical past.

That’s the story for 99% of gymnasts, however as was the case earlier than, Keiko Tanaka-Ikeda is the opposite 1%. At all times being that lone exception. Keiko not solely led Japan to its debut in main competitors, she led this system to its first gold medal and its first Olympic medal. Tanaka-Ikeda then spent the subsequent fifty years being probably the most profitable gymnast in program historical past.

There’s maybe no gymnast in historical past who did a lot for a single program as what Keiko Tanaka-Ikeda did for Japan.

Keiko lived an extended life and was in a position to witness the revival of the Japanese girls’s program. In 2005 Mayu Kuroda completed 4th on the uneven bars on the World Championships. It was the primary time Japan had achieved such a excessive rating since Keiko Tanaka-Ikeda’s retirement. Whereas Mayu by no means gained a medal, she proved the Japanese program was on an upswing and that development has held agency.

Ever since 2005 Japan has been getting stronger with every passing Olympic quad. By the point of the post-Covid period Japan had turn out to be a full blown gymnastics powerhouse. This system now dominates the World Cup and whereas Keiko was once Japan’s solely gold medalist in program historical past on the Olympics and World Championships degree, three completely different Japanese gymnasts have gained a gold medal since 2021.

Hazuki Watanabe gained a gold medal on beam on the 2022 World Championships

Japan shouldn’t be solely successful on the senior degree, however are the reigning champions of the Junior World Championships. The broadly held perception is that Japan is among the main powers within the present period of ladies’s gymnastics and can proceed to be so for the subsequent couple of years. Keiko Tanaka-Ikeda’s profession represented the Golden Age of Japanese gymnastics. Now this system is certainly in its 2nd Golden Age.

In recent times Japan has emerged because the main program on steadiness beam, the exact same equipment Keiko was most identified for. This system achieved the quite uncommon feat by successful back-to-back gold medals on steadiness beam on the World Championships with two completely different gymnasts (Urara Ashikawa & Hazuki Watanabe). In doing so, the Japanese duo gained the identical medal, on the identical occasion, on the identical competitors as Keiko Tanaka-Ikeda had executed virtually 70 years prior.

Keiko Tanaka-Ikeda handed away of most cancers on the age of 89 years outdated on Might 13, 2023. She died at a time when she was in a position to witness the Japanese program on the top of its energy. The Japanese program she pioneered and set the usual that successful was attainable. Keiko Tanaka-Ikeda was in a position to witness Japan return to its former glory.

That former glory was Keiko Tanaka-Ikeda.

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