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Aihara, decorated Olympic gymnast, dead at 79

AFP-JIJI

Ex-gymnast Nobuyuki Aihara, a double champion at the 1960 Rome Olympic Games, has died at the age of 79, the International Gymnastics Federation (FIG) announced on Thursday.

Aihara, who hailed from Takasaki, Gunma Prefecture, won gold on the floor exercises in which he excelled and in the team combined event as he helped break the Soviet stranglehold on the sport at the Rome Summer Games.

Four years earlier at the 1956 Melbourne Games, Aihara won silver in both events and was crowned world champion in the same categories in 1962. Injury prevented him from competing at the Tokyo Games in 1964.

After his passing, the FIG paid tribute to Aihara.

“With him departs a trace of Japanese culture which fashioned an artistic school that still lasts today through the talent of his worthy successor, Kohei Uchimura,” the 2012 Olympic champion and triple world champion, the body said in a statement.

Aihara’s extraodinary success helped establish the Japanese men as the dominant force in the sport, which lasted through to the country’s boycott of the 1980 Moscow Games in a widespread protest at the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

Aihara’s son, Yutaka, won a bronze in the team event at the 1992 Barcelona Games.