Japan’s Oldest Olympians

Today Oldest Olympians is taking a look at Japan. Despite having a reputation as a country for longevity, as well as a lengthy and prolific history at the Olympics, we have been able to identify only one definite centenarian among their Olympians: Seibo Kitamura, an art competitor at the 1932 Los Angles Games. We wanted, therefore, to take a closer look at some of Japan’s oldest Olympians.

(Uto, pictured on the right, on the Olympic podium)

The first case that might come to mind is that of Shunpei Uto, born December 1, 1918, who won two swimming medals for Japan at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. In the 400 metres freestyle he took silver, while in the 1500 metres freestyle he earned bronze. Until recently, we listed him as not only among our oldest Olympians, but also as Japan’s first centenarian Olympian in a physical sport. Unfortunately, however, we learned from journalist Ayako Oikawa, who undertook much research on this subject, that Uto had actually died several years ago, sometime in the 2010s, and never reached the age of 100.

(Shibata, pictured on the left, at a ceremony of the Olympians Association of Japan)

Once we learned this, our next idea was to see if anyone had been named as Japan’s oldest Olympian recently. While this distinction can sometimes be misapplied, it is often an excellent departure point for further research. The last title-holder that we were able to find, however, was from back in 2006, when the media covered Umetaro Shibata, a rower who took part in the coxed fours event at the 1932 Los Angles Games. His age varied across several reports, and we do not have even a year of birth for him in our database, but he was born c. 1909 and was in his mid-to-late 90s at the time. We could not find any updates beyond 2006 and, while he is certainly deceased by now, it remains an open question as to whether or not he reached the age of 100.

Finally, we come to our latest candidate, track athlete Etsuko Komiya, who represented Japan in the 100 metres event at the 1936 Berlin Games. Komiya was born on October 27, 1919 and would therefore have turned 100 recently if still alive, but unfortunately the last update we have on her is from 2012. With no evidence of her death, we have listed her tentatively as alive, but she will be removed from our lists on her 101st birthday if there are no further updates.

Unless and until Komiya is confirmed as having reached the age of 100, therefore, Seibo Kitamura, born December 16, 1884, will remain Japan’s lone centenarian Olympian. Kitamura, who took part in the sculpture contest at the 1932 Los Angles Games, is best known as the creator of the Peace Statue in Nagasaki’s Peace Park, a commemoration of the 1945 atomic bombing of that city during World War II. He died on March 4, 1987, at the age of 102 years, 78 days.

Finally, we wanted to end with two updates to previous cases. Thanks to his children, we have been able to confirm that the Morgan Plumb whom we profiled earlier this year was indeed the Canadian Olympic wrestler. We also want to thank Sven Buren, who found an article confirming that French bronze medal-winning cyclist Claude Rouer was still alive in 2017 and therefore among the oldest living Olympians. We are always grateful to those who take the time out to help us solve Olympic mysteries!

2 thoughts on “Japan’s Oldest Olympians”

  1. How do you know that Shibata is dead? There are quite a few people over 110 (even some over 115 if I remember correctly) in Japan and he still looks reasonbly healthy in the 2006 picture so its quite possible he survived another 13 years

    1. Hi! There are several organizations that track individuals over the age of 110 and Japan has some of the best data in the world in this regard. We have not seen his name appear on any of these lists, and thus we presume that he is deceased.

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