Obituary: Mikio Oda

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The Independent Culture
IN HIS book A World History of Track and Field Athletics (1964), Roberto Quercetani, then president of the Association of Track and Field Statisticians, described Mikio Oda as "the pioneer champion of Japanese athletics. Few athletes, if any, have made a greater contribution to the advancement of athletics in their own country."

Oda became the first Asian to win an Olympic gold medal when he triumphed in the 1928 triple jump competition in Amsterdam, paving the way for a Japanese domination of that event which led to further gold medals for them in 1932 and 1936.

He first competed as a schoolboy at the Games of 1924, when he finished a creditable sixth in a strong field. "During that great Olympic final in Paris he gathered many useful hints," Quercetani wrote. And:

After returning home he worked more and more assiduously to develop his potential. In doing so he acted as an eye-opener in making his countrymen realise fully their natural vocation for the jumping events.

He was born near Hiroshima in 1905. For a triple-jumper Oda was small in stature, but what he lacked in length of stride he more than made up for with incredibly sturdy legs that gave him extra "spring" between the three phases of the discipline. His build also helped him withstand the strains the event places on knees and ankles.

Oda was a fine all-round jumper who set national records in the long high jump, and after graduating from Waseda University in Tokyo he worked as a sports writer for Asahi, Japan's leading national newspaper. In October 1931, in the same city, he set a world triple jump record of 15.58m, but early in 1932 he was injured and was unable to perform at his best in the Los Angeles Olympics.

For a time Oda was a professor in the athletics department of his old university and after the war was appointed as national coach to the Japanese Olympic team, a position he held until the Tokyo Games of 1964. The pole that bore the Olympic flag throughout those Games was 15.21m high in honour of Oda's winning mark in Amsterdam 36 years earlier.

In the Fifties he became a founding member of the International Track and Field Coaches Association, as well as the ATFS. Every year since 1967 the Oda Memorial Meeting in Hiroshima has been held on 29 April, a national holiday in Japan.

Mikio Oda, athlete, athletics administrator: born Hiroshima prefecture, Japan 30 March 1905; married (two sons); died Kamakura, Japan 2 December 1998.