Jiro Nagasawa (JPN)
Honor Swimmer (1993)
FOR THE RECORD: OLYMPIC GAMES: 1952 6th (200m breaststroke); Set over 5 WORLD RECORDS (400m medley relay, 200m and 200yd breaststroke).
Although Jiro Nagasawa of Japan was not the first swimmer to swim the butterfly-breaststroke in breaststroke competition, he was one of the first to swim the butterfly-breaststroke using the dolphin kick, introducing this stroke to Japan and Asia. On September 17, 1954, Nagasawa became the first swimmer to set the world record when this style of swimming officially became a separate stroke called the “butterfly” and recognized by FINA.
Between 1945-1955 in Japan and 1955-1956 in the United State, Nagasawa set a total of five world records in the 200 meter and the 220 yard butterfly. For his accomplishments, Jiro was awarded the 1956 USA Swimming Prize and the 1954 Japan Sport Award, which is the equivalent of the USA’s James E. Sullivan Award.
Born in 1932, Jiro took up swimming seriously at age eleven and mostly swam backstroke due to his team’s deficiency of backstrokers; but the beginning of his career was interrupted, as no practice was allowed during World War II.
Jiro resumed swimming again when he was 15, and this time he swam long-distance freestyle, but soon changed to breaststroke by age 17. Jiro was All-Japan champion at the age of 20 and participated in the Helsinki Olympics in 1952. Jiro settled for a disappointing sixth place finish, due in part to the arthritis he suffered in both of his knees.
Because of Jiro’s continuous struggle with arthritis, he changed the style of his breaststroke kick from the common frog-kick to the dolphin-kick in 1954. At this time, the breaststroke was swum using an over-the-water arm stroke. The new style of kicking was remarkably more powerful and led to much controversy in world swimming–which led to the butterfly being officially recognized as a separate stroke that same year.
Although he was rather small in stature, measuring the 166 centimeters in height and 60 kilograms in weight, Jiro Nagasawa won the 1954 All-Japan Championship, Japan-USA Dual Meet in 1955, and the USA Indoor Championship in 1956, all in world record time, using his revolutionary style of kick.
During the 1955-56 season at age 23, Nagasawa again changed his stroke by breathing to the side instead of straight forward as in the breaststroke. This change allowed him to lower his own world records by over three seconds in the 200 meter and 220 yard butterfly.
After taking positions as a coach and then Olympic National Coach, Jiro continues to contribute to swimming by coaching young swimmers and making efforts to encourage swimming among people in the Masters program.