Taguchi ends Japanese wait for gold in the pool


Japan was one of the world's strongest swimming nations in the first half of the century, but it was now 16 years since the last Japanese swimming gold medal. Hope of a return to the top of the podium rested on the shoulders of Nobutaka Taguchi, a 21-year-old breaststroke specialist who had competed in Mexico, but came home without coming near a medal.

Taguchi didn't have Mark Spitz to contend with, but he did face a challenge from two talented young Americans, both of them hailing from California. There was John Hencken, a formidable 18-year-old known as “The Rocket” and blessed with a fierce resolve – he'd taken up swimming to help him recover from a knee operation and had never stopped. Alongside him was Tom Bruce, 20 years old and similarly focused on success.

In the first semi-final Hencken set a world record and laid down a clear marker to his rivals. Less than ten minutes later, Taguchi broke his record in the second semi-final. It was clear that this was a contest that would produce a great climax.

The final saw all the medallists go quicker than the pre-Olympics World record. But it was Bruce who was in the lead with just 25m left in the race.

Taguchi reeled him in with the end in sight, with Hencken taking bronze and another American, Mark Chatfield, finishing fourth. Taguchi's time was below 1 minute, 5 seconds, another new world record, and something that would provide Japan with the swimming gold medal that the country had been awaiting. It was the highlight of his career and, after a disappointing return to Olympic action in Montreal four years later, he retired from competitive swimming.