A javelin thrower, a rhythmic gymnast and a weightlifter would seem to have little in common other than their desire to perform well at the ongoing London Olympics. But a closer look reveals that all three have roots that stretch across the globe, from Japan to Britain and back.
Javelin thrower Genki Dean, 20, who was born to a British father and Japanese mother, is representing Japan. His father, John, now 57, came to Saga Prefecture 31 years ago to study kendo. There, he met and married Hiroko, now 56, who was studying English. John eventually found work and settled in Kobe.
John and Hiroko raised three kids, with Dean being the youngest. He was named Genki, which means “energetic” in Japanese, because his parents hoped he would be healthy. That wasn’t a farfetched wish. Dean weighed an astounding 4,740 grams at birth.
Dean started taking part in track and field because of his older brother, Daichi, 24. His talent for the javelin became apparent while attending Amagasaki High School and Waseda University.
His current coach initially thought Dean wasn't quite ready for the London Olympics. But everything changed when the 20-year-old beat Japan’s acclaimed javelin thrower and Olympian Yukifumi Murakami at this year’s national championships. Dean said he was determined to qualify for the Games and take his entire family to Britain with him.
“It’s not only my Olympic Games,” he recalled thinking.
Dean has both British and Japanese nationalities. He visited his father’s hometown of Durham in northern England every summer until the eighth grade. Dean’s 81-year-old grandfather and 85-year-old grandmother as well as three cousins still live in Britain.
In Japan, Dean’s brother and sister were often bullied in school for being biracial. Whenever they were bullied, John told his kids how he detested the Japanese term “half” used to refer to biracial individuals who were “half” of one ethnicity and “half” of another. He told his kids that they were “double” because they had the best of two nations.
Dean certainly has his father’s large frame. At the Twilight Games held at Tokyo’s Yoyogi Park Athletic Field on July 22 he set a new meet record with a throw of 78.72 meters.
Dean's first competition at the London Olympics will be the preliminaries on Aug. 8.
BRITON RAISED ON JAPANESE FOOD
Lynne Hutchison, a 17-year-old member of the British national rhythmic gymnastics team, was born in Tokyo’s Akasaka and raised in the British city of Bath. Her first Olympic event will be the team preliminaries Aug. 9.
Hutchison was the first daughter born to her British father, Brian, 52, and Japanese mother, Kuniko, 51. Her family moved to Britain when she was 2, and she began rhythmic gymnastics at age 6.
Hutchison visited Japan every summer until the age of 14 and stayed at her maternal grandparents’ home. Her favorite activity in Japan was shopping in Harajuku. She also loves Japanese rice, and grew up eating traditional Japanese dishes such as "hijiki and devil’s tongue strips that her grandparents would send her mother.
Rhythmic gymnastics is not a particularly popular sport in Britain and it may be hard for Hutchison's team to advance at the Games. But Hutchison is not discouraged. “I hope to do my best, and have audiences enjoy my team’s performance. I want people in the U.K. as well as Japan to know more about rhythmic gymnastics,” the 173-cm-tall teen with the Japanese middle name Karina said in fluent Japanese.
WEIGHTLIFTER FACES BRITISH HERITAGE
Kazuomi Ota, 26, a weightlifter representing Japan in the over 105-kg division, has a grandfather, who was born in Berkshire, England, and later joined the U.S. military. After World War II, he was stationed in Kokura in the southern island of Kyushu. There, he met and married Ota’s grandmother.
Ota began weightlifting at Fukuoka Prefectural Yahata Chuo High School in Kita-Kyushu. He has won the national championship six straight years since he was a third-year student at Kyushu International University. He’s currently the reigning champion and Japanese record holder for the past two years.
His large frame and athletic ability are similar to Genki Dean. Eiji Inagaki, the head coach of the Japanese national weightlifting team, says of Ota, “His strength to pull upward is much stronger than most Japanese athletes.”
In the world of weightlifting, the over 105-kg division is a crowd-pleasing division that determines the strongest weightlifter in the world. No Japanese athlete has ever placed in the top eight, perhaps due to the relatively small size of Japanese athletes.
Despite being one-quarter British, Britain has been an emotionally distant country for Ota. He heard that his British grandfather left his wife and kids and returned to the United States where he eventually died. Ota’s father, Joji, 61, has mixed feelings about his British heritage.
“But the Olympics has given me a good opportunity to think about my roots. So I hope to discover more about (my British heritage),” says Ota, who will be competing Aug. 7.
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