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Thursday, October 17, 2013

HOW ONE PERSON CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE: Coach Soichi Sakamoto


Ray Tsuchiyama (left) recently had an editorial page article entitled:  'Coach' Sakamoto's vision put Maui swimmers on world map.  A decade ago, Gary Kubota published a lengthier article on Sakamoto,  The story of Soichi Sakamoto is worth re-telling.


Sixth grade teacher and Boy Scout master in Puunene, Maui, Soichi Sakamoto, had a dream.  While he, himself, could not swim (he reportedly could tread water), and certainly never had any experience as a swim coach, in 1937 he founded the Three-Year Swim Club of youths from Puunene.  They could not borrow the plantation pool, which was reserved only for supervisors and their families, so Sakamoto used the next best thing, a concrete ditch (below) and challenged the youths to swim against the current.  Here is Bill Smith training:

Former legislator, Keo Nakama, who swam for the club, remembers supervisors on horses chasing them away from the ditch.  But the Coach talked the sugar plantation into allowing his students to practice there.  Later, with some competitive success, the company permitted the students to practice at night in the real pool.  Later in 1937 a public swimming pool was completed in Camp 5, and this is where Sakamoto's swimmers practiced daily until 9:30 PM.  During the summer, they began at 5:30 AM and went until dark.  

Sakamoto devised pulleys and weights to develop muscles.  For this he was criticized by other coaches.  Sakamoto studied film to improve techniques.  His wife, Mary (righthe proposed three days after they first met), cooked for the team, outfitted them in aloha print uniforms with lauhala hats, and taught them the hula to entertain the crowd during intermissions.  Sakamoto's mother was reared in an orphanage in Japan.  He was hit by a truck as a child and nearly died.  It usually helps to have this kind of background to make a difference in life.

In 1938 the club won every Hawaii swim meet they entered.  In 1938 they won the NATIONAL title.

They essentially were the U.S. Olympic swim team to Tokyo in 1940, but World War II came, and the Olympics were cancelled until 1948.  However, the success the swimmers had sent Bill Smith (left) and Keo Nakama (at the age of 84 to the right--no, he was not that old when he entered college) to Ohio State.  Sakamoto in 1945 became the swimming coach of the University of Hawaii.

At the age of 24, then considered too old, Smith won the gold medal in the 400 and 800 meter freestyle at the London 1948 Olympics.  Thelma Kalama (left) won the gold medal in the 400 meter freestyle relay at these games.  In the 1952 Helsinki Olympics, Evelyn Kawamoto Konno got a bronze in two events and Bill Woolsey (below right, now 81) a gold in a relay.  Remember, these are all his students.

By the time the Olympic came back, Keo Nakama was ruled ineligible to participate because he taught physical education and was considered a professional.  However, in 1961 at the age of 40,  he became the first person to swim the 26-mile Molokai Channel.

Without Coach Soichi Sakamoto, none of these successes would have happened.  One person can make a big difference.

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My final scene in Las Vegas yesterday:


Tonight, there is no more soothing view than a sunset over Honolulu with a Ghurka cognac-infused cigar and 1737 Remi Martin cognac:


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Typhoon Francisco, now at 95 MPH, will mostly miss Guam, but strengthen into a Category 4, probably ease past Okinawa, and head straight for Japan:


Computer models show Francisco essentially following the same track as Typhoon Wipha.

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