MIYAKE Yoshinobu: Japan's greatest weightlifter

The three winners of the Featherweight Weightlifting event at the Tokyo 1964 Olympic Games. From left to right, Isaac Berger of USA (silver), Yoshinobu Miyake of Japan (gold) and Mieczyslaw Nowak of Poland (bronze). (Photo by Central Press/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
The three winners of the Featherweight Weightlifting event at the Tokyo 1964 Olympic Games. From left to right, Isaac Berger of USA (silver), Yoshinobu Miyake of Japan (gold) and Mieczyslaw Nowak of Poland (bronze). (Photo by Central Press/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

The Olympic Games are full of champions, records and stories, but they’re also an incredible encyclopaedia of strange, funny, emotional and sad moments. We’ll dig some out every week to put a smile on your face or a tear in your eye. This week: Japan's first gold medallist of the Olympic Games Tokyo 1964.

The background

MIYAKE Yoshinobu is perhaps the greatest weightlifter to have graced the Olympic Games.

Born the sixth of nine siblings in Murata Town, Miyagi Prefecture on 24 November 1939, he would go on to be the start of a family weightlifting dynasty.

Entering junior high school, Miyake had an interest in judo so would practice the sport and enter prefectural competitions in his spare time since he was unable to participate in formal club activities due to his part-time job delivering newspapers.

But during his second year of high school he was injured while practising judo with another athlete.

Miyake wondered how he could become stronger so a friend told him there was a barbell at Shibata Agricultural and Forestry High School. Keeping a low profile while training in the weightlifting room, it was during this time he heard about a Fukushima high school student, FURUYAMA Yukio, placing eighth at the Melbourne 1956 Games.

That was when he thought it might be possible to do the same thing - go to an Olympic Games. Originally not planning on going to the university and instead getting a job, there was no company that supported weightlifting so he looked for a university with a strong weightlifting programme. Despite being accepted to Hosei University, there was a JYP50,000 admission fee which saw Miyake take part-time work to help raise funds - his brother gave him the other half.

It wasn't easy work, eating just one imagawayaki (Japanese sweet filled with red bean) and drinking a bottle of water a day.

Despite all that, Miyake achieved his goal: to participate in the bantamweight class at Rome 1960, where he won a silver medal.

However, it was only the start of Miyake's Olympic Weightlifting journey, his next goal was to win gold at the Tokyo 1964 Games.

"I worked on what I should do in 1,460 days," he told Sasakawa Sports Foundation in 2012.

"What kind of study/practice I should do, and what I should do mentally. Since I have weight control, I studied nutrition, fatigue, knowledge of medical science, enhancement of mental strength, how to make a programme, and also collected information on rival athletes."

During this time he would win back-to-back World Championships in 1962 and 1963 as well as graduate from university.

In order to perfect his weightlifting technique, he wanted to film his lifting. Despite making around JPY12,000 (then USD$33) a month as a member of the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force, he borrowed $240 to buy a camera.

Like the famous techniques of the "Fosbury Flop", the "Ali Shuffle" and more recently the "Biles", Miyake used a particular technique: the “Miyake Pull”, or “Frog Style”. When the 158cm weightlifter went in front of the bar, his heels world sit close together with his knees spread and toes pointed outwards - like a frog sits.

The final

It was just two days after the Tokyo 1964 Opening Ceremony that the featherweight (60kg) took place at Shibuya Public Hall.

A day earlier, weightlifter ICHINOSEKI Shiro had clinched Japan's first medal of the Olympic Games with a bronze in the bantamweight. Waking up refreshed from a nine hour sleep - Miyake had trouble sleeping a few days prior - he ran 1km before taking a shower, stretching then arriving at the venue, ready and calm.

Miyake's biggest rival was Isaac Berger of the United States, who had won silver at Rome 1960 in the featherweight class.

However, in the end, the Japanese athlete lifted a new world record of 397.5kg, 15kg more than silver medallist Berger, to secure the host nation's first gold of the Tokyo 1964.

At Tokyo 1964, Miyake was the sole gold medallist from a non-Eastern bloc nation - which took 15 of a possible 21 medals on offer. He was also so dominant that he was the only gold medallist weightlifter in seven classes not to fail a single lift.

Yoshinobu Miyake of Japan raises his hands in victory after winning a gold medal in the featherweight weightlifting event at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics (Photo by Keystone/Getty Images)
Yoshinobu Miyake of Japan raises his hands in victory after winning a gold medal in the featherweight weightlifting event at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics (Photo by Keystone/Getty Images)

The outcome

Four years later at Mexico City 1968, Miyake retained his Olympic title and was joined by younger brother Yoshiyuki, who won bronze in the same weight class. It was the first and only time that Japanese brothers stood on the podium in the same individual event of Olympic Games

Come Munich 1972, Miyake's fourth consecutive Olympic Games, he settled for fourth.

By the time of his retirement, which came in March 1997, he had 25 world records, two Olympic golds and a silver along with three World Championships. Away from the sporting stage, Miyake has received a number of prestigious awards including the 1968 Sports Achievement Award (Ministry of Education), the 1997 Purple Ribbon Medal (Prime Minister), and the 2011 Order of the Sacred Treasure (Prime Minister).

He was also inducted into the Weightlifting Hall of Fame in 1993.

Currently as the Director of weightlifting at Tokyo International University, an 81-year-old Miyake is training the next generation of weightlifters including athletes aiming to represent Japan at Tokyo 2020.

And the Miyake family name has also continued to live on in Olympic Weightlifting with niece MIYAKE Hiromi, a London 2012 silver medallist and Rio 2016 bronze medallist, set to participate at Tokyo 2020 in the women's 48kg category once again.