Yoshi Oyakawa (USA)
Honor Swimmer (1973)
FOR THE RECORD: OLYMPIC GAMES: 1952 gold (100m backstroke); NCAA CHAMPIONSHIPS: 7 gold; NATIONAL AAU CHAMPIONSHIPS: 9 gold; BIG TEN CHAMPIONSHIPS: 6; WORLD RECORDS: (100yd, 100m backstroke).
Hawaiian Yoshi Oyakawa won 23 major titles in his remarkable career as the last of the great straight-armed backstrokers. He won the 1952 Olympic backstroke crown at Helsinki in 1:05.4 finally breaking Adolph Kiefer’s Olympic record of 1:05.9 set in 1936. Oyakawa won 6 Big Ten, 7 NCAA and 9 NAAU gold medals during his distinguished career under coaches Sparky Kawamoto, Hilo, Hawaii, and Mike Peppe (Ohio State).
Oyakawa started competitive swimming late (15), turned over on his back at 16, and was on his way to the Olympics at 18. Yoshi went to his second Olympics (1956 Melbourne) as an Air Force Second Lieutenant, finishing 8th after breaking his 1952 Olympic record in the prelims. Neither time was as good as his 1:04.7 to win the U.S. Olympic trials in Detroit.
After 2 years active duty this great backstroker and his Ohio State Sweetheart Mariko Yamane settled in Cincinnati where they have raised four daughters and a son and enough good swimmers at Oak Hills High School for Yoshi Oyakawa to be named Ohio High School Coach of the year for 1972.
Others have bettered Oyakawa’s 100 yd. and 100m world records but none since Oyakawa have done it going straight. The newer bent arm techniques have left his records intact, as the fastest ever straight-armed backstroker.
Oyakawa marked the ending of at least one other era, the domination of world swimming by the Hawaiian Islands. Their last Olympic champions were Oyakawa and Ford Konno in 1952. Not since the six Hawaiians (including Oyakawa) swam in the 1956 Games, has one of the islanders made a U.S. Olympic team.