Saturday, July 9, 2011

Jiro Nagasawa: The Inventor of Butterfly

There's no way FINA has the balls to DQ me for not doing a single breaststroke pull or kick in this breaststroke race!  I'm Japanese!

One of my swimmers recently asked me after practice if the man who invented butterfly was still alive.  Being the swim geek I am I started explaining that butterfly had been done in many forms as variations on the breaststroke but didn’t actually become it’s own stroke until around 1954.  Then I mentioned that I thought I remembered that the man given credit for actually “inventing” modern butterfly was a Japanese man who had passed away last year.

...and I was right.  I googled it on my phone and Swimming World actually has a write up that shows Jiro Nagasawa was inducted in 1993 to the International Swimming Hall of Fame, was 6th in the 1952 Olympics in the 200 breast and passed away at 78 years old in 2010.  I went to his bio at the ISHOF site and started reading through it, reading out loud cool factoids about how the butterfly arms had been used in the breaststroke often but his addition of the dolphin kick was controversial and is what made butterfly split off to become it's own stroke. (You know, kind of like the way FINA just up and changed the rules for that other Japanese guy in that other breaststroke race a few years ago so they wouldn't have to DQ him.)  He also had arthritis in his knees, and even more amazingly he experimented with side breathing to help him improve on his world records decades before Mel Stewart first made you turn your head funny when you watched him swim.

So, after my lengthy soliloquy about how cool Jiro Nagasawa was and how glad I was that she asked so I could learn all this cool stuff, my swimmer says to me with a look on her face like I had just described in detail my most recent trip to the bathroom: “I don’t care about all that.  I just wanted to know if he was still alive so I could kill him if he wasn‘t already dead.  After that set we just did, I really hate butterfly.”

Hmph… I guess kids these days just can‘t appreciate a good moment of swim geekiness when they see it.  Whatev…


  1. Not even close. He was the world's first great butterflier after it was separated as its own stroke, but he certainly didn't invent it.

    In reality, it appears that a few different people invented it independently.

    Dave Armbruster and Jack Sieg at the University of Iowa invented the stroke in the early 30's. Sydney Cavill from Australia also came up with the idea. Henry Myers swam it in the early 30's as well.

    Nobody's positive who did it first, but all of these people were swimming butterfly before Nagasawa turned 3.

    Swimming World just got outgeeked...

  2. oh, Braden... what Jiro did was stir up the controversy that caused FINA to change the rules. It's true that people had been doing breast with a fly recovery for years but Jiro put it together with a dolphin kick and raced it internationally-- not at the local aquatic park. He should get credit. Apparently all those other guys never did it fast enough for anyone to care.
    Kitajima was not the first guy to do a dolphin kick on the pull-out, but he will always be remembered as the guy who forced FINA to change the rules to allow it.

  3. Also not true. They used it in competition, and eventually Volney Wilson won the 1938 Olympic Trials swimming full butterfly, but was DQ'ed.

    Yes, Jiro was the straw that broke the camel's back so-to-speak, but he was not its "inventor". Comparing Jiro to Kitajima is an excellent comparison...but like you said he was not the first to swim butterfly in competition.

  4. Touche. The headline made me giggle, a lot. In fact, it might have been a full-fledged belly-laugh.