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Farewell to Japan’s Uncle Olympics, One of Sport’s Superfans

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Olympics superfan Naotoshi Yamada poses for a photo at his office in Tokyo last October. Photo: REUTERS

By Michael Pavitt |

Tributes were paid after news emerged that Japan’s Olympic superfan Naotoshi Yamada had died earlier this month at the age of 92, which meant he missed out on “his dream” to attend Tokyo 2020.

Yamada had garnered fame for having attended every Summer Olympics since 1964, when the Games took place in Tokyo for the first time.

His streak of 14 consecutive Summer Olympics included attendance at Moscow 1980 despite the absence of the Japanese team, with the nation one of 66 to boycott the Games over the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan.

As has been shown from numerous photos posted since his passing, Yamada was famed for his gold hat and red jacket. His collection of Olympic merchandise is also reportedly on display at a gallery in his home town, Nanto.

Given his commitment, it is not surprising that he was dubbed Uncle Olympics in his homeland.

His absence from next year’s spectacle has already been noted with International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach among those to pay tribute.

“Sad to hear the news of the death of ‘Uncle Olympics’, Naotoshi Yamada at the age of 92,” Bach said. “He was a real ‘super’ fan watching every edition of the Games from Tokyo 64 onwards. We will all miss him in Tokyo next year.”

While it is unclear whether anyone can match Yamada’s dedication to the Olympic Games, there are numerous examples of when people have gone to great lengths in their dedication to a sport or even an athlete.

Sticking with Japan, their two-time Olympic figure skating champion Yuzuru Hanyu is known for having a dedicated fan base.

Having elected to choose Winnie the Pooh as a personal mascot, his supporters have taken to showering him with soft toy versions of the A.A Milne character after his performances. Fans have also been seen wearing items of clothing featuring the character. Hanyu reportedly donated the toys thrown after his performances at last year’s Winter Olympics to children in Pyeongchang.

The two-time world champion’s participation at the Olympics had at one stage been in doubt, due to an ankle injury.

Some of Hanyu’s dedicated fans reportedly made the pilgrimage to Kobe to leave portraits and good luck messages to the skater at the Yuzuruha shrine, due to its similarity to his first name. According to Kyodo News, the priest at the shrine asked for fans to schedule their visits to ensure he could prepare for their arrival.

Their efforts, you could argue, were rewarded when Hanyu became the first male skater to win back-to-back Olympic titles in 66 years.

Football fans are also known to go to great lengths to support their teams. There are stories on a yearly basis regarding fans who have not missed one of their team’s matches in decades.

Five years ago, a Nottingham Forest supporter had reportedly attended 2,534 consecutive matches, a streak ended by a foot injury. In 2013, a Wolverhampton Wanderers fan was claimed to have missed his first game in 37 years after a match fell on the same date as his stepdaughter’s wedding.

Unsurprisingly, football’s World Cup also delivers tales of superfans.

Peru’s colorful fan base gained fame during last year’s World Cup in Russia, largely due to sheer number of fans who had travelled from South America to watch their team’s first appearance at the tournament since 1982.

Their passionate backing was further highlighted by claims some fans had given up jobs and sold cars in order to finance their trip to Russia. While Peru failed to advance from their group, their fans were at least rewarded with a 2-0 win over Australia in their final match at the tournament.

Peru’s supporters were also named winners of the fan award at the FIFA Best ceremony in 2018. They saw off competition from Sebastián Carrera, who undertook a 3,000 kilometre round trip to watch his Puerto Montt team face Coquimbo Unido in the Chilean second division.

Russia 2018 also saw the attendance of the sons of Clovis Acosta Fernandes, the Brazilian fan who gained public recognition for clinging to his version of the World Cup trophy during his nation’s 7-1 semi-final defeat to Germany in 2014. Fernandes died from cancer the following year, with his sons deciding to head to Russia to honour his legacy.

Dedication has been shown in North America as well, with James Goldstein considered a National Basketball Association (NBA) superfan.

The millionaire is claimed to attend more than 100 NBA matches per season and holds season tickets at Los Angeles Lakers and Los Angeles Clippers.

I could not end a blog on superfans without referring to Dieter Senft, who is known as Didi the Devil. The German is a familiar face at each year’s edition of the Tour de France, where he appears in his traditional red devil costume. To notify others of his impending arrival, Didi paints the Devil’s trident symbol on the road.

He missed the race for the first time in nearly 20 years back in 2012 due to surgery, but has been present again in the following years.

Didi also attended the Atlanta 1996 Summer Olympics. One can only hope he met up with fellow superfan Uncle Olympics at those Games.

Republished with permission from insidethegames.biz. 

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