“Pressure can be dealt with your own ability”Interview with Yukio Iketani, silver medalist at the Olympic Games in Barcelona, on how to perform better in competitions

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Winning Olympic bronze medal at Seoul in 1988, and silver medal at Barcelona in 1992, Yukio Iketani is remembered as a former athlete with a remarkable career in gymnastics, and now known as a businessman in the gymnastics field. (Interview by Minoru Sengoku, CPA & Tax Accountant/Edit by Naoko Ohsumi, Tokyo Edit)

Spent childhood without missing a practice.Have already decided to set a career out of gymnastics by the time I was in Elementary School.

Sengoku (S): What made you start doing gymnastics?

Iketani (Ik): I’ve started when I was 4 years old, advised by my parents. They were thinking of gymnastics being a trigger to start some other sport, rather than to do gymnastics in a full scale. Body balance and flexibility can be nurtured through gymnastics. Therefore, the sooner you start, it will likely to help you gain basic abilities to perform better in any kind of sport.

I found gymnastics most attractive in the sense that it requires such basic physical skills, meaning not everyone can do. I felt splendid when I understood I’m able to do something others cannot. Believe I was able to continue for such a long time because it was the sport which suited my taste among many other sports.

S: After elementary school, you have joined Seifu Junior High School through entrance exams?

Ik: Yes. Knowing there were many Olympians from this sport elite school, I took exams and joined Seifu Jr. High. It was just the timing when they started a new program to admit student entry through recommendation, and to nurture gymnastic athletes for the 6 years starting from junior high school, all the way up to the end of high school.

From the time I started gymnastics full fledge as a 3 grader, my dream was to participate in the Olympics. However, it did not mean I understood what actually Olympics was about. I was sort of understanding when I saw the Olympic Games in Los Angeles when I was a 2nd grader at my Jr. High School, not imagining I would be performing in the next Olympic in Seoul.

S: Really? How much did you practice till the Olympic Games in Seoul?

Ik: Basically, almost every day without any break. Although there were some days when I would do what we called a “light practice”, doing only training or body stretch, but was doing 365 days of the year. We do not have an off-season in gymnastics.

Though there were times I felt like quitting, with the support from my parents I was determined to build my career in gymnastics by the time I was in 5 grade. I also was already thinking to become a coach after my career as a competitor from this period.

Ability to overcome pressure, comes from the calm of your mind build by your own effort

S: You have earned a bronze medal at Seoul. Why do you think you were able to accomplish?

Ik: At Seoul, I didn’t have to deal with much pressure, enabling to perform by enjoying at ease. This was the biggest factor. While still being a high school kid, I felt I can fail without being scolded as I was the youngest of the team, only surrounded by working adults.

Also, aside from invitation matches, it was the first time for me to participate in a genuine international competition outside Japan. I had not even experienced of thinking how well my abilities are within the international level. Come to think of it, that may made me avoid of carrying any unnecessary pressure. As a result, we won the bronze medal in team all-around, and another bronze in the individual floor exercise. I was very happy to be the only winner of an individual medal from Japan.

S: You have also performed at the Olympic Games in Barcelona 4 years later. When did you start thinking of performing in the next one?

Ik: The night the Seoul Olympics ended. By that time I have already naturally gained an idea to do better than bronze.

Gymnastics is not a kind of sport which you can rest for a while after a competition. You must start conditioning yourself from the next day, or you will end up deteriorating in performance. That is why I felt to immediately restart my practice towards the next, right after the Olympic Games ended.

Pressure is something you create on your own. It will vanish away once you build absolute self-confidence.

S: Being a defending bronze medalist, did you carry a sense of pressure in Barcelona, when the entire expectation from Japan was heading towards you?

Ik: Yes. Compared to the time I was at Seoul, I carried hundreds and thousands of more times as pressure. I had then just surpassed the age of 20, making my recovery from injuries slower than before, which fueled my impatience.

I believe pressure basically is something people create by themselves. When your mind dive too deep into a negative mode, the greater the pressure becomes, no matter how well your actual skills are. To deal with pressure, I believe first of all you should gain self-confidence. If you reach a point where you have no doubt about yourself, you will maintain your composure, enabling to perform as usual.

Losing your composure and gaining anxiety may lead you to failures on what you usually can do, and day to day efforts can guide you to achievements. I believe this is something in common with business.

S: In Barcelona, you have won bronze medal in the team all-around, and a silver medal in floor exercise. Can you share us any episodes?

Ik: In Barcelona, I was able to show my best performance. At the same time, I made a lot of mistakes as well (lol). First mistake I made was in the Horizontal Bar which I’m usually good at. I’ve done a big failure in the compulsory, and could not advance to the finals. Being obsessed to win the gold medal may have caused the failure.

Second failure came from the floor exercise. I had done three times, twice in the teams, and once in the individual. In the first two in the teams, I could not stop where I usually land at the very end.

Though I failed twice, instead of getting depressed, I was telling myself that something was strange as I should be able to stop. I was self-confident to be able to definitely stop, as I have been practicing throughout.

In the third performance, I was able to land properly in all occasions. After being able to show my utmost performance, I won myself a silver medal.

Retirement at age 22, starting gymnastics classes as business.Firmly instructing basic behaviors as well.

S: After retiring at a young age of 22, along with your show business you have established a gymnastics lesson business called “Yukio Iketani Gymnastic Club”. What made you start this, and what do you have as your passion towards teaching?

Ik: Along with my physical condition, because of the fact I went to the Olympics twice, and that I had the thought I was able to perform what I consider the best that I could at Barcelona winning a silver medal, it made me start thinking of retirement.

Today, gymnastics equipment had seen progress, changing the skills altogether than how it used to be. There are many difficult skills to master, otherwise you will not be able to perform in an international level. Degree of difficulty in my time was only up to level D, whereas today we see up to level H, and level I for women.

If you want to adapt up to these levels, obviously you need to properly practice from childhood, or else you will never reach there. I had a will to coach somebody up to become an Olympic gymnastics athlete who is capable of competing in an international level through proper coaching.

S: What are things you take importance in when you teach athletes?

Ik: For kids attending my class, I first want to teach the basics on how to behave properly as an individual. Aside of skills, I believe they deserve to do gymnastics only after they can greet properly to another, or to behave properly to someone senior. I was very glad I was told how to behave by others before I went to the Olympics.

Starting from my senior graduates of Seifu High School and other athletes I met at the Olympics, I had countless occasions where they did favorable things to me. At wintertime in my 3 grade at Junior High School, to attend camps and practices, I even had the privilege to stay in a grand senior’s house for a month.

I assume it was annoying for them seniors! (lol)

I was able to achieve what I have done at the Olympics because of these seniors. Every one of them are great irreplaceable mentors to me. Relation with such seniors are also an important factor on being good at gymnastics.

For a businessmen, it is important to have a dream.I want all to realize their dreams after they overcome difficulties.

S: When running a business, do you think to nurture staffs is important?

Ik: Yes. I have been running business all through my life after graduating college. When running a business, I believe what is important is how many people can you manage to set up as someone to do things on your behalf. There are few things you can do on your own.

In order to realize this, you need to nurture someone. When I was still a child, we were brought up in an environment where seniority system was very strict. Kids nowadays were not raised with such idea, so it is quite difficult to teach them this culture from scratch.

However, as long as they are doing gymnastics, they need to be taught of such system. I am trying to make them understand as much as possible, by verbally explaining what it is all about.

S: Lastly, do you have a motto?

Ik: My motto is “dream”. Because of the dream that I had I was able to go through hard practice, and to participate in the Olympics heads high. Now my dreams have changed to nurture someone to become an Olympian. The structure of myself being able to push hard on matters because of the dreams I have had not changed since I was still an athlete. I hope someone I am teaching will be in the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo.

I believe every businessman have their own dreams. Some of you must have the same headache as mine, on how to nurture your subordinates. However, at the same time dreams provides us the strength to overcome something important as well. I want all of you to try to realize your dreams.

Yukio Iketani
Born 26th Sep. 1970
Started gymnastics at the age of 4.After attending Seifu Jr. High, and Seifu High School, graduated from NSSU (Nihon Sports Science University)Won Olympic bronze medals in Seoul for floor exercise in the individual competition, and in team all-around. Won a silver medal in individual competition for floor exercise, and a bronze medal in team all-around. In 2001, established “Yukio Ikegaya Gymnastic Club”.Appearance in TVs in drama, as a TV castor, and as gymnastics commentator. Also performing in theater plays.