Daichi Suzuki (JPN)
Honor Swimmer (2022)
FOR THE RECORD: 1988 OLYMPIC GAMES: GOLD (100M BACKSTROKE); 1987 PAN PACIFIC CHAMPIONSHIPS: SILVER (100M BACKSTROKE); 1986 ASIAN GAMES: GOLD (100M BACKSTROKE, 400M MEDLEY RELAY); 1987 UNIVERSIADE GAMES: GOLD (100 & 200 BACKSTROKE) ONE JAPANESE NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP: 100M BACKSTROKE
As the 1988 Seoul Olympic Games approached, Japan had gone 16 years without winning a medal in swimming, a sport that it had once reigned as the world’s superpower. As swimming has always been an important part of Japanese culture, dating back to at least the Tokugawa Shogunate of the 15th Century, its performances at the Olympic Games was no longer a source of pride. Enter Daichi Suzuchi.
Suzuki’s parents signed him up for swimming lessons at the age of seven. It took only six months before Suzuki decided that he wanted to be an Olympian. It wasn’t until high school, swimming for coach Yoji Suzuki, that he began to show real promise, and after his junior year he began rigorous training with the hope of making the Japanese Olympic team in 1984. While he did not make the finals in the backstroke events, he was a member of the 400-meter medley relay team. They were the only Japanese men to swim in a final in 1984.
By 1986, Suzuki was one of the Top 10 backstrokers in the world. As he continued training and competing, he began winning. He won gold in the 100m backstroke and in the 400m medley relay at the 1986 Asian Games in Seoul, South Korea. He took silver in the 100m back at the 1987 Pan-Pac Championships in Brisbane, Australia, and at the Universiade Games in Zagreb in 1987, he won gold in both the 100 and 200m backstroke events, beating USA’s up and comer – David Berkoff in the 100.
By the time the 1988 Olympics came around the next year, Berkoff was the one to beat, unless of course you asked Suzuki or his coach. Suzuki had analyzed Berkoff’s swimming style and noticed Berkoff usually swam faster in the morning. Suzuki decided he would conserve his energy for the finals in Seoul. Suzuki also noticed that Berkoff stayed underwater until the 35-meter mark, known as the Berkoff Blastoff. Yet probably most importantly, and something that was completely missed by most of the swimming world, was that years earlier, at the 1984 Games, Suzuki had already adopted the underwater kick and decided to use it at the Games.
As expected, Berkoff swam fast and broke the world record in the prelims. When it was time for finals, Suzuki was in lane three next to Berkoff in lane four. Suzuki surfaced at about 30 meters after the start, just ahead of Berkoff, who remained underwater for another 5 meters. Berkoff pulled in front at the turn, but Suzuki chased him down over the last ten meters of the race. Instead of his usual arch finish, Suzuki decided to reach straight for the wall to out-touch Berkoff, winning the gold medal in a time of 55.05.
It was the first time Japan had won the gold medal in a backstroke event since Masaji Kiokawa had won it 52 years earlier in Los Angeles in 1936, and the first time in 16 years since that Japan had won a medal of any color in Olympic swimming. It was also the only swimming medal Japan won in Seoul.
Suzuki retired just after the 1988 Olympic Games. He had achieved his dream and decided to focus on his future and career. Among other things, he wanted to help future Japanese swimmers be able to truly focus on swimming, while not having to worry about making a living. That was not possible during his era, as international rules did not allow swimmers to become professionals.
Suzuki became a member of the Japan Olympic Committee, the World Olympians Association, the World Anti Doping Agency and Japan Swimming Federation, eventually becoming the youngest President in its history at 46.
Between his role as President of Japanese Swimming Federation and in his new position as Commissioner, he has helped lead Japan in rebuilding and revival as a world swimming power, as evidenced by its performances in the last two Olympic Games, where Japan won seven medals in 2016 and 11 medals in 2012. Rest assured that the future of Japanese swimming is in the good hands of Daichi Suzuki, Olympic Champion and 2022 ISHOF Honoree.