Hironoshin Furuhashi (JPN)
Honor Swimmer (1967)
FOR THE RECORD: WORLD RECORDS: 1949, 1951 (400m, 800m, 1500m freestyle); Furuhashi’s accomplishments in swimming lifted the morale and spirit of post-war Japanese people.
As with Tedford Cann, Olympic records will not show the greatness of Hironoshin Furuhashi. Whereas Cann, as no other swimmer, excited the imagination of his people with heroism in a war (World War I), so Furuhashi did more than any other swimmer to lift the pride and confidence of his people after a war (World War II).
Furuhashi, as no other athlete, symbolized the Japanese hopes for a return to greatness from the grim rubble of total defeat in World War II. In spite of poor nutrition and lack of competition during Japan’s blackest years, he burst into the postwar world of occupation and reconstruction with standards of excellence in middle distance freestyle swimming that inspired the vanquished even as it shook the victors from complacency to hitherto unheard of swimming effort and performance. Furuhashi was one of those rare competitors so far ahead of his competition that he set standards for all to copy.
Born in 1928, he should have been at his peak by the 1948 Olympics, and was, but Japan was not yet permitted back into the Olympic family of nations. The next best thing was a meet of their own in Tokyo with the same events and as near the same conditions as possible for the uninvited. Furuhashi responded by winning both the 400 and 1500 meter freestyle races in world record times well below the Olympic winners in London. Obviously this helped Japanese morale but neither Japan nor the world were quite so impressed then, as in August 1949, when Furuhashi was invited to participate in the U.S. Nationals in Los Angeles. Furuhashi responded with 3 world records: 400 freestyle (4:33.3); 800 freestyle (9:35), and 1500 freestyle (18:19.0), all well below his competition. Furuhashi’s times were the inspiration for George Breen’s and Murray Rose’s great performances 6 years later.
Ironically, Furuhashi repeated his triumphant record-breaking in Brazil (1951) but contracted malaria and so was far below par in the 1952 Helsinki Olympics. Just as with Teddy Cann, Furuhashi was denied a healthy Olympic opportunity but his records in off-Olympic years guarantee his place in swimming immortality. His greatest contribution to humanity, however, was to his people, as is expressed by another Japanese swimmer, Saburo Kitamura, “Under the surrender following the World War II, Japan was in a state of total shock, but Furuhashi’s accomplishments in swimming lifted the morale and spirit of Japanese people and few swimmers of the past can equal his feat under the most unfavorable circumstances.”
Just as Hall of Famer Kusua Kitamura represents the beginning of Japanese world swimming dominance in 1932, so Hall of Famer Hironoshin Furuhashi represents the end of that era 20 years later.