National

Japan's 'Olympic ojiisan' dies with Tokyo 2020 dream unfulfilled

AFP-JIJI

An Olympic mega-fan who attended every Summer Games since Tokyo in 1964 has died, just over a year before his home city was set to host its second Olympics.

Tokyo businessman Naotoshi Yamada, 92, who died on March 9 from heart failure, was a national celebrity known for his repeated, gleeful appearances in Olympic stands.

“Olympic ojiisan” (“Olympic Grandad”), as he came to be known, was an omnipresent fixture for TV viewers in the nation as they cheered on their national team at the “Greatest Show On Earth.”

Often sporting a gold top hat, a kimono and a beaming smile, Yamada also became a darling of the international media.

“After spending 92 years of his life cheering, Naotoshi Yamada, international Olympic cheerleader, was called to eternal rest on March 9, 2019,” said his website, managed by a firm he founded.

Born in 1926, Yamada built a successful wire rope manufacturing business, and also expanded his portfolio to include the hotel and real estate sectors. But away from work, his passion was for sport — particularly the Olympics. He had not missed a Summer Games since 1964, taking in Mexico City, Munich, Montreal, Moscow, Los Angeles, Seoul, Barcelona, Atlanta, Sydney, Athens, Beijing, London and Rio de Janeiro.

For good measure, he also attended the Winter Games when it rolled into Nagano in 1998, and told local media of his strong desire to attend the 2020 Tokyo Games.

Yamada saw the first Tokyo Olympics when he was 38. But his passion was truly ignited during the 1968 Mexico City Games, according to his website. He donned a kimono and a sombrero hat and loudly cheered for a Mexican 5000-meter runner, mistaking him for a Japanese athlete.

Local spectators embraced the scene and loudly cheered for Japanese athletes in return, leading to an electrifying show of support that went beyond nationality, his website said.

“He saw the awesome power of cheering, and was mesmerized by it ever since,” it said.