The President of Japanese Swimming, Hironashin Furuhashi, the "Flying Fish", died in his sleep in a hotel here at the world championships in Rome last night. He was 81.
Vice-President of FINA, Furuhashi was the the most successful athlete ever to reach the second-highest position in the FINA Bureau. He took up his place in 1968 after having enjoyed a stellar career as a swimmer. Furuhashi was deprived of a place in Olympic history by virtue of Japan’s role as aggressor in the Second World War, which kept the nation’s athletes out of contention at the 1948 Games.
During that period, Furuhashi, born on September 16, 1928, was known as “the Flying Fish”, not because of his world-record-breaking speed but because he belonged to Tobiou Swimming Club in Tokyo, and Tobiou means “Flying Fish”.
He led the way in distance freestyle in 1948 and 1949. Within hours of the Olympic results in the 1,500m and then the 400m freestyle, news came from Japan that Furuhashi had shattered the world records in both events and would have been Olympic champion in London by comfortable margins had it not been for his nation’s disgrace. Neither of the world records set in that week accepted by FINA.
However, Furuhashi would go on to establish six world records, two over 400m, three in the 800m and one in the 1,500m, in 1949, four of those standards on tour in Los Angeles and two back home in Tokyo. His best swimming days were behind him by 1952, when he finished eighth in the final of the 400m freestyle at the Olympic Games in Helsinki.
He later served as President of the Japanese Olympic Committee and in 1989 was awarded the FINA Prize of Eminence.
Furuhashi was attending the championships in his capacity as honorary president of the Japanese Swimming Federation as well as vice-president of world swimming's governing body FINA.
Kazuo Sano, chairman of the Japanese Swimming Federation, said concerns were first raised when Furuhashi didn't come down for breakfast at his hotel.
FINA president Julio Maglione said Furuhashi had died in his sleep. "It is with great sadness that we inform you about the loss of FINA vice-president Hironoshin Furuhashi who passed away last night in his sleep here in Rome," said Maglione.
"Fu-san, as we called him, was a reference for FINA. FINA will always remember him as a kind and efficient official. He was a very clever man and a big friend. In this very sad moment for FINA we want to express our condolences to Hironoshin Furuhashi's family and all the aquatic community in Japan."
A minute's silence was held in Furuhashi's memory ahead of the last session of finals in Rome.