Connect with Us:  

The Post-1992 Sorrows Of Iwasaki

Apr 12, 2010  - Craig Lord

Kyoko Iwasaki, who at 14 years and 6 days of age became Olympic 200m breaststroke champion in Barcelona in 1992, has revealed the downside of fame at such an early age  back home in Japan. In an interview with Kyodo, the former champion tells of the hate mail she received from fans of a music group after she attended one of the group's concerts, and of prank calls that forced her to change her telephone number. 

Iwasaki told the agency: "I couldn't lead a normal life as I did before. Weekly magazines carried one nasty story after another. I couldn't speak frankly. I wanted to be the top swimmer but started thinking that I did not have to be so. I could not concentrate on training. Naturally, I failed to produce good results. I thought, what have I done to deserve this?"

Ryuichiro Mizuno, who was a coach at the Numazu Sports Center where Iwasaki  trained, recalls first being aware of a problem when when he invited the Olympic champion to join a training session he was to take in Tokyo. Came the reply: "I've had enough!" She was ready to quit the race pool at a time when she should have been on the crest of a wave.

In 1992, a smiling Iwasaki descibed hjer victory as "the happiest moment of my life". Now, 18 years on, at 31, she has found happiness anew: she married professional rugby player Yuya Saito, 32, last year and has just enjoyed a wedding reception this spring. The couple live in Aichi Prefecture.

Iwasaki's victory took her and the swimming world by surprise. "I thought it just good for her to advance to the finals by breaking the Japanese record held by Hiroko Nagasaki to help boost the Japanese team's morale," Tsuyoshi Aoki, 63, head of the swimming committee of the Japan Swimming Federation, told Kyodo.

The swimmer herself thought a medal might be possible after she finished second in heats. She prepared for the final by taking a long nap and then eating five large rice balls.

The champ recalls the big race, in which she stopped the clock at 2:26.65  thus: "I could swim quite fast. Every time I kicked, I felt as if I kicked a wall. I never got tired." She celebrated a pb of some 5secs on her Olympic entry time. The joy of being 14.

Head coach Yoji Suzuki, 60, cited Iwasaki's "strange feet" when considering  her winning qualities. "When she kicks, her toes turn in like a parachute and catch water. There are many swimmers who catch water by bending their fingers, but she was the first swimmer to curve her toes. She is a genius."

And a girl who, oddly, was soon to get a taste of the downside of human nature. It took her two years to recover from the experience of having people dislike her because she had achieved something. On a camp in 1994 she was finally able to overcome a feeling that she had been "victimised". By 1996, she was able to make the Japanese team for the 1996 Atlanta Games and the defence of her crown. But once there she was unable to make the final. Iwasaki quit the race pool in 1998.

Today she talks to Kyodo of the new happiness she has found in life, namely caring for her husband and watching out for his health. "My specialty? I don't cook any elaborate meals. With good and balanced meals, I think I can support him," says the swimmer, who, despite the lows that followed the high back in 1992, names the Numazu Sports Center where she panned for gold as holding a special place in her heart.