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Son of Gymnastics Pioneer Doesn’t Live in Dad’s Shadow

July 23, 1996

ATLANTA (AP) _ Naoya Tsukahara always had a sense of his father’s greatness when he was a child. He knew all about his father’s exploits in the Olympics and the move he invented on the high bar.

But the vault that bears his father’s name? Well, that was a different story.

``Since I was very little I knew my father invented the (trick) on the high bar,″ said Tsukahara, a member of the Japanese gymnastics team. The move is a full-twisting, double back somersault.

``Later I noticed he invented the Tsukahara vault,″ he added. ``It was (when) I started practicing that I realized the vault was named the Tsukahara.″

When performing Mitsuo Tsukahara’s vault, a gymnast cartwheels onto the vault, hitting it sideways before springing off into a backflip. Considered daring when he first did it, the vault is now a standard in gymnastics. The women performed a version of it in their compulsory exercises.

The younger Tsukahara performed a Kazamatsu vault during Monday’s men’s team finals, earning a 9.537. His two-day total of 114.147 points was good enough for 14th place overall, and earned him a spot in the all-around finals.

``When I do my father’s moves in competition, it feels a little awkward,″ said Tsukahara, whose least favorite event was his father’s best, the high bar.

Performing in front of his father, who was at the Georgia Dome for the finals, doesn’t make him nervous. His father will point out any mistakes, but Tsukahara said he’s not trying to live up to anyone’s reputation.

While the elder Tsukahara is best known for his namesake vault, he never won a gold medal in that event. He left Montreal with the silver after finishing slightly behind Nikolai Andrianov of the Soviet Union.

His four gold medals came in the high bar and the team competition in both 1972 and 1976. That was before his 19-year-old son was even born. Mitsuo also won a bronze in the still rings at Munich.

``I felt very happy to stand on the same podium as my father,″ Tsukahara said of competing in the Olympics. ``But I’m always looking for a higher goal.″

How about inventing his own move?

``The Tsukahara Jr.,″ he said with a smile.

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