Lifetime Achievement Honoree: 2006
Born: Imabari, Japan
The United States has had a metamorphosis between the ‘50’s and the ‘80’s, and one of the significant factors has been the influence of Eastern and European coaches making their way to America. They have brought stringent, well proven training methodologies, combined them with improvements in apparatus and gym safety, and watched the medals given in gyms around the world start to come America’s way. Although Masayuki Watanabe is probably not a household name, his arrival in the U.S. started a chain reaction in gyms located in colleges, universities, training camps, and clubs. And the chain reaction to which he contributed has brought the U.S. world respect and honor. It is a pleasure to welcome “Mas” to this site as an Honored Guest.
Masayuki “Mas” Watanabe began his gymnastics at the age of 12 in Mihara, Japan, but by the time he reached high school, he was beginning to train on all six of the Olympic events. He went on to graduate from the famous Nippon Physical Education College. He was part of the great Japanese gymnastic dynasty of the 1960’s, but his greatest achievements came in America. Japanese World Championship Team: Team-Gold with Watanabe serving as an alternate, (1966). Japanese Olympic Games Trials: Mas competed in both the 1964 and 1968 competitions to make the Japanese Olympic Team; however, he suffered incapacitating injuries each time. Crossing the Pacific: Mas Watanabe retired as a competitor in Japan and made the trip to the U.S. in 1969 with the idea of competing and eventually becoming a gymnastic coach in America. U.S. National Championships: Gold-AA [T] & PH, Las Vegas, Nevada-USA, (1970). Pasadena National Invitational Championships: Gold-AA. Mas’ performance at this event caught the eye of the University of California’s Head Gymnastic Coach, Hal Frey, 1970 USGHOF Inductee. Hal hired Mas as an Assistant Coach. Remembering back, Hal writes, “Mas Watanabe served as Assistant coach from 1969-1977. He presented numerous clinics on mechanical analysis of skills and technique. He was highly regarded as an excellent teacher for American coaches on improving the technical performance of American gymnasts. He led seminars and other presentations that trained American gymnastic coaches. Our Cal teams benefited from his knowledge, and they had much success in competition. He moved to the USGF Headquarters where he helped direct national workshops and camps on technique, and our coaches and gymnasts made improvement as they taught the execution of movements to their athletes. I considered him to be a wonderful asset to American gymnastics and many coaches and gymnasts improved their gymnastics from his teachings and clinics. He was very methodical in his presentations, and his students always understood his teaching materials and information. Mas played an important part in helping the California Golden Bears win the NCAA National Championships, (1975).” After coaching at the U. of California for eight years, Watanabe changed jobs. He became the U.S. Men’s Program Director for USA Gymnastics, (1977-1983). His work in this position allowed him to tour the country teaching technique and development clinics designed to improve gymnastic coaches’ skills. He returned to Japan a year or so before the 1984 Olympics. Many in the gymnastic world credit Mas as being an influencing factor in training individual coaches; subsequently, the athletes they coached in turn became better gymnasts especially in international competitions. Mas helped many American coaches, but the predominant reason American gymnastics drastically improved were the college and individual American coaches. As of this writing (2007) Mas Watanabe has returned to the U.S. to be with his family and is coaching the women’s team at a gymnastics club in Sacramento. On a national level Mas continues to help as a coaching staff member for the women’s National Team when requested to do so by USAG. Family: (m) Masako Yamashita. Children: Masashi who works for the Apple Computer Co. and Sayuri who works in San Francisco for a major distributing company.
Sources: Jerry Wright provided data, some commentary, and photos. Hal Frey courteously provided his comments and personal insights as did Abie Grossfeld, 1979 GHOF Inductee. Introduction, some commentary, and formatting by Dr. Larry Banner, Web Manager.