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Gymnastics Loses Olympic Champion Yukio Endo
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1964 Olympic all-around champion Yukio Endo (Japan) died Wednesday after a long fight with esophogeal cancer. He was 72.

Endo won 17 world and Olympic medals in his career. He was a member of five gold-medal Japanese teams that dominated the 1960s, winning Olympic team titles in 1960, 1964 and 1968, and world team titles in 1962 and 1966.

Endo also was the originator of the "Endo" skill on high bar, a forward Stalder, still used today by gymnasts around the world.

Endo celebrates his gold medal on parallel bars at the 1964 Olympic Games. His teammate Shuji Tsurumi was second and Italy's Franco Menichelli third.

Born in Akita in Jan. 12, 1937, Endo grew up in a state facility after his mother died of tuberculosis when he was 9. He took up gymnastics when a teacher encouraged him to get involved in sport, instead of "lying in bed with nothing to do," he later said.

The young Endo found inspiration in elder teammate Takashi Ono, who took Japan's first Olympic gold medal in gymnastics on high bar at the 1956 Olympics in Melbourne.

"We were always chasing Ono," Endo later said.

At the 1960 Olympics in Rome, Endo helped Japan win its first Olympic team title. He tied teammate Masao Takemoto for fifth in the all-around, and in finals placed fifth on vault and fourth on high bar.

"I was very happy just to be able to fly abroad in an airplane," he recalled of his first Olympics. "I participated with the thought that I had it made, as long as I could avoid falling behind by keeping up with Takashi Ono, my mentor who was also from Akita prefecture.

"Japan's men's team in Rome was made up of six athletes, three veterans like Ono, who had been to Helsinki and Melbourne, and three newcomers including Takashi Mitsukuri and me. The veterans delivered splendid performances despite being nervous, while we newcomers managed relaxed performances without learning the fear that comes with a real competition. Perhaps it was that balance within the team that eventually made it possible for Japan to win its first gold medal in the team competition."

At the 1962 World Championships in Prague, Japan again won the team gold and Endo took six individual medals. He won another gold on the floor exercise, silver medals in the all-around, still rings and high bar, and bronze medals on vault and parallel bars.

As Japan's top gymnast, Endo was under pressure at the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo, the first time the Olympics were held in Japan. He helped Japan defend the team title and took the gold medal in the all-around.

"We really felt the pressure then," he said. "The media had excessively high expectations, running headlines like 'Of course, a second consecutive team gold! And then on to Japan's first individual all-around gold!' And the fact that the Games were being held in our own country meant that, in a way, we felt a strong psychological connection with visitors at the Games, which was also a heavy burden."

In the apparatus finals, mistakes dropped him to sixth on both still rings and vault, but a little luck helped him take his third gold on parallel bars, he said.

"When I messed up my landing on the rings and then really blew it on the vault that followed, I was in a real jam," he said. "What pulled me back from the brink before the next exercise, the parallel bars, were the sudden applause and cheers that arose here and there from the audience. As it turned out, some people who were listening to the radio on earphones while watching the gymnastics clapped inadvertently because they had heard that Japan's women's volleyball team had won the gold medal. Swept up in the joy emanating from those people, I approached the parallel bars with the thought that luck was now on my side. I pulled off a very satisfying performance that was almost perfect, scoring 9.90. So, you could say that my only individual event gold medal was thanks to the women's volleyball team."

Endo won three more medals at the 1966 World Championships in Dortmund: gold with the team and silvers on floor exercise and high bar.

Endo was inducted into the International Gymnastics Hall of Fame in 1999

In 1968, the 31-year-old Endo competed in his third Olympic Games, winning another team title and the silver medal on vault.

"As the oldest gymnast and the team captain, I was focusing on making sure things ran smoothly for everyone, not on my own performance," he said. "So the gold medal for the team competition that we won when we pulled together like that is particularly meaningful to me."

At the 1972 Olympics in Munich, Endo took the floor not as a gymnast but as a coach.

"[I was] a team official but also the closest thing the athletes had to a big brother," he said. "I'd lift them up onto the rings and the horizontal bar at the beginning of their performances. Actually, at the first training camp in preparation for Munich, all the athletes experienced all sorts of problems, so we weren't in any kind of shape to follow the training plan. So when we ended up winning gold for the team competition for the fourth consecutive time, I was happier than you could imagine, and when they picked me up and tossed me in the air, I was deeply moved. I still remember saying at a press conference, 'It felt like we were overhauling a broken-down car, so it's wonderful to get this far.'"

After retirement, he worked as a professor at Nihon University's Department of Literature and Science. He was also a director of the Japanese Olympic Committee and twice vice president of the Japan Gymnastic Association.

In 1996 he received Japan's highest honor, the Emperor's Medal. He was inducted into the International Gymnastics Hall of Fame in 1999.

The date of his funeral has yet to be determined, said his wife, Yasuko. His son, Koichi Endo, is executive director of the Japan Gymnastic Association.

External Link: Endo's Induction Video from the IGHOF

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