I’m always kind of waiting for the good news. I’m tired of hearing about athletes getting in trouble and seeing scandals that ultimately question the actual humanity inside of a person. In the case of athletes, there’s always someone at fault and it usually involves the athlete themselves, and I can’t stand it since those who do get in trouble are pretty fortunate: they have a far more secure standing than most, and have made tons of money that they earned due to their talent and day and night training so they can make their living. Now, when the Olympics roll around every four years, I don’t pay attention to all of the sporting events; I especially don’t pay attention to it when NBC decides to tape delay it. However, I’m always up for hearing some great stories involving a participant in the games, and usually, while the Olympics does hold some controversy, there are moments that take place that can make a person and a community smile, just a little bit. And with Kouhei Uchimura’s story, this is one that manages to involve the manga community in its own little way.
While growing up, you’re most likely to have read a work that tells you to shoot for your dreams, and you’re most likely to have watched a cartoon or show with the theme inspiring you to never give up. Then you become an adult, and suddenly realize it’s not feasible to accomplish what you wanted to do as a child. Only a few out of the billions of people on Earth grow up to eventually accomplish what they want to do; Kouhei is part of that few, or more specifically, one of that few to have read a work and let that guide him throughout the 2012 Olympics. Kouhei began taking Gymnastics at his parents’ sports club in Nagasaki Prefecture at the age of 3. In 1994, Shogakukan launched Ganba! Fly High, a manga illustrated by Hiroyuki Kikuta and written by Shinji Morisue in Weekly Shounen Sunday. Ganba! Fly High tells the story of high school gymnast Shun Fujimaki who wants to compete in the 2000 Olympic Games. He eventually is able to rise through the competition and win a gold medal.
What is the correlation you ask? Shinji Morisue happened to be a participant in the Olympic Games—in fact, in the 1984 Summer Olympics, he left Los Angeles with three medals: a bronze in team combined exercises, a silver in vault, and a gold medal in horizontal bar. Uchimura will leave London with the gold in all-around competition. When I saw the original ANN link to the news, I was pretty touched, as it seemed to be right down my alley: an athlete saying how a manga he either read as a child or as a teen was one of his inspirations in making it to the Olympics, and it just so happened the author of the said manga he had read was the last to have won the gold in the same sport’s all-around event. As it turns out (clarified in the news link), Morisue did not win all around gold in 1984—that was a different Japanese gymnast, Koji Gushiken—but it doesn’t really diminish the real story.
The real story involves a manga created and based on what Morisue knew about Gymnastics, and how it managed to inspire an athlete to shoot for gold. Yes it’s kind of cheesy and Uchimura didn’t have to mention it, but he did. In case we might have forgotten inspiration can come from entertainment or literature, this can serve as a reminder. It’s still probably a rare occurrence, but it is certainly possible. The Olympic Games can mean a lot of things, but if there’s one thing people can take from it is that it’s an athlete-driven event that not only has highly paid superstars representing their respective countries, but also high school and college students who love to play their sport and get salaries comparable to a regular day job. It means the stories these athletes have are actually genuine, and worthy of great admiration.
Kouhei Uchimura has won events before, securing wins at numerous competitions prior to the London Olympics, so he has received good money for his accomplishments. I still find it cool to see that there was a manga that inspired him to keep on pushing, as attempting to be an athlete means pushing through all the good times and the bad times. As for Ganba! Fly High, to know of a work that did inspire someone to make a mention of it reminds me of how we always hear manga artists tell us who inspired them to create their works. It also makes me want to see more athletes share their stories in manga form, whether it’s a success story, one that doesn’t end as it should, or another athlete inspired by a manga. We all get inspiration from something, though, so it’s not exclusive to sports. So do you guys have something that inspired you, or have a story that you thought was pretty cool? Do you know of other manga works that athletes have written and shared aside from Ganba! Fly High? And what do you think of Uchimura’s story?
You may check out more of Justin’s work at Organization Anti-Social Geniuses.