Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Koichi Nakano a Cycling Legend: The Greatest Track Sprinter

Over recent years Japanese track cycling has struggled against some of the better funded nations like Australia and Great Britain. This wasn’t the case back in the ‘70s and ‘80s when Japan was the proud home of one of the top track cyclists in the sport’s history.

Koichi Nakano was born in Fukuoka, Japan in 1955 and remains the only rider to win sprint gold at the world championships 10 times in a row. He is also the only Japanese rider to have ever won gold in the sprint competition. Known as the “de laatste Keizer” (the last emperor), he was one of the most successful on the Japanese Kerin circuit, but never won a world championship as it was introduced toward the end of his reign. He was coached by Bill Long, who was one of Australia’s top cyclists and journalists.

Nothing but Gold
Nakano has never received a medal of any colour other than gold at the championships and his first came in 1977 when he beat countryman Yoshua Sugata. Arguably his most controversial came against Canadian master Gordon Singleton in 1982. The Japanese was disqualified from the first race after causing a crash which resulted in Singleton dislocating his shoulder and having it popped back in trackside. The race was annulled and they were made to repeat it which Singleton won, but he separated his shoulder in yet another crash in the following round. The Canadian then threw in the towel for the third while launching an appeal, but the UCI decided to award it to Nakano in the end.

The emperor was a celebrity in Japan by the end of his career with thousands of people tuning in each week to watch kerin racing, which was vastly more popular than road racing. Nakano was known for his aggressive style of racing which many people including Singleton disapproved of it. He had his bike hand-made by Koichi Yamaguchi who also worked as a mechanic for the US national team. His skinsuit was developed from what was known as a magic suit which was originally developed for skiing.

Final Rainbow Stripes
His last rainbow jersey was in 1986 in Colorado Springs, at the age of 30, in one of Japan’s best years when they took each of the medals. Since his retirement in 1991 he has had few appearances and big events, however, he rode as the pacer during the Kerin in the 2000 Olympics in Sydney. He also took part in the torch relay on the road to Athens, he did not carry it but it was strapped to the back of his bike. Nakano is now commentates on cycling for Japanese television.

If you have any more info on Nakano please send me a message and I will credit you, but for now here are the videos from that 1982 final.

1 comment:

  1. You say the only Japanese rider to win the worlds but the very next year after had another Japanese rider winning the world sprint championship.