The other night at the sushi bar with the Olympics on the tv in the corner, the conversation was decidedly the Games and the stories over the first week. After hearing out others and feeling a bit reflective after a couple of Green Tea shochus, I boldly asserted that nobody even remotely comes close to Shun Fujimoto, sounding a bit like old Mr. Wilson from Dennis the Menace who told it like it is.
Being ensconced in a seaside village, I figured I'd earn some points with the locals for the native name drop and everyone would exclaim "Sou desu ne!", especially the ones near my age. Instead I found silence, from everyone. It was the same look I get when I don't elongate enough on my "u" in Japanese and the word I intended to say, like "husband" comes out as "prisoner". Confusion wrapped in WTF.
Could it be in this land where respect is earned not by winning but by sacrificing the most, Shun Fujimoto has been forgotten? Besides Godzilla he was the first Japanese being I knew.
Every American boy around my age knew at least of his existence and his place in history.
If there was ever a hero that symbolized Japan's highest virtues of desire and commitment, this was their guy.
As an American, my knowledge of Japanese Olympic heroes is quite limited to participants since 1996, and is reduced drastically more considering I only remember them if they show up on television as commentators every few years. But I knew Shun Fujimoto. And here I was in this sushi bar explaining to everyone the situation back in Montreal about their most world famous countryman of which they were not familiar.
Now for those reading this and also not familiar behold the greatest of Shun Fujimoto.
At the 1976 Montreal Summer Olympics, Shun Fujimoto, a male gymnast, severely hurt his right knee in his floor exercise. As a medal contender in the team event, he didn't want to let his team down so he hid his injury. He believed he could handle the pommel horse and still rings as those events didn't require applying pressure to the legs…until, well, ummm…the the dismount from the rings eight feet above the ground.
He nailed the pommel horse with a 9.5. As for the still rings he was flawless until the dismount where he stuck the landing, with a slight hop on his left leg. This hop was necessitated because in his right leg he had broken his kneecap and tore ligaments. Standing one leg in excruciating pain, he scored a 9.7, giving his team the gold medal in a narrow win over the Soviet Union.
How is this man, the epitome of grit, not widely known in Japan? How does this man not selected as the symbolic torch lighter at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics? Especially in a country that reveres the spirit of no "I" in team and "leaving it all out on the floor".
One week left to pay respects to the man who should be the most famous Olympic hero in Japan.