26. Sports Yokohama
by Pencil Louis
Vince had already missed out on selection in the Australian
team for the Barcelona Olympics. This was not a new
phenomenon. He had missed out on all Olympic selections
since the Rome Olympics in 1960. Vince was not at all
surprised when he wasn't selected for the Japanese team for
the Barcelona Olympics, especially as he wasn't Japanese. It
was therefore a double amazement that he was chosen to
represent Negishi-chiku in the Ikebe-cho Community Sports
Day. Not only had he not been born an Ikebean, but he was
not even a resident of Ikebe. He lived in neighbouring
Vince didn't know what strings Osamu had to pull to get him
onto the team. Maybe, each chiku was allowed one foreigner,
a little like the Japanese baseball teams or the Hawaiian
invasion of sumo. This was not an uncommon phenomenon in
professional sport anywhere in the world. Or perhaps, he had
been adopted by the local community for his excellent
display of omikoshi toting at the local festival. Whatever
the reason, Vince was exceedingly proud to be included in
He had sat on the side lines, two years earlier, during the
local sports day and watched Negishi-chiku come in a dismal
last. The following year, the whole business had been
postponed because of Typhoon Keiho and after two further
postponements due to rain, it was finally cancelled. It was
traditionally held on Taiku no hi or Fitness Day, a national
holiday commemorating the opening of the Tokyo Olympics in
1964. Companies organised sports within their own numbers
and local communities had their own day.
The Ikebe-cho Sports Day was held at the Ikebe-cho Primary
School and Vince's initial observations had suggested that
it was just a fun day of silly team games, where everyone
got a prize but no one really cared who won. The prizes were
also very practical - rubbish bags, cooking oil, dishwashing
liquid, bundles of soba noodles and the like. This was also
Vince's idea of what sport should be all about. Through
intense social observation, he had come to the conclusion
that competition really served little constructive purpose
in most endeavours in life and what was generally needed was
cooperation. And here was a gleaming example of how sport
could be community based around cooperative goals.
Vince had a glimmer of realisation that his vision of
Ikebean altruism was not quite what it seemed when he found
Osamu's own parents in their backyard throwing little pieces
of foam rubber into a netted hoop. There was little doubt
that the older Mr. Atsukawa was no Michael Jordan, but, in
partnership with his wife, he had the air full of little
foam pellets, some of which actually went into the basket.
Osamu was standing nearby with a stopwatch and clocked them
at two minutes before taking the hoop down and counting out
35 little bullets of foam.
"Isn't that one of the games in the Sports Day competition?"
Vince asked casually.
Osamu blanched visibly and gulped, "Er ... yes."
"Well," Vince pursued the idea, "isn't it cheating to
Osamu didn't answer right away, but suggested that the two
of them go for a jog. Vince couldn't think of a worse idea.
Jogging, to him, was akin to shooting heroin. There was
little or no point in doing it, but once you started you
were hooked for life. Besides, he knew that Osamu would set
off at a cracking pace and they'd both get back and not
Osamu's cracking pace didn't last long. He slowed at the
corner and took the fifty steps up to the local shrine in
twenty bounds. Vince trotted up more slowly and found Osamu
sitting on a stone cornice waiting for him.
"It's like this," he murmured. "The last sports day that
Negishi-chiku won was in 1965."
"So, you want to win this one?"
"It's really that important?"
Osamu detected a note of skepticism in Vince's voice, "I
think it is. There are many reasons why Negishi isn't
winning the Sports Day. Other parts of Ikebe have gone
ahead. There are big blocks of apartments, shops, factories
and so forth. Negishi-chiku just has the same old farms
we've always had with fewer farmers."
"And that makes it important?"
"Negishi knows it's going to lose, so half of the few people
we have don't show up. Even my own children don't want to
compete. None of their friends are going to. Their other
friends are in other teams."
Vince was suffering from a hangover on Taiku-no-hi, but he
dragged himself out of bed at 7 o'clock so that he'd be
ready for the start of the full day's play and had competed
in five events before the Atsukawas arrived. Vince was
panting after the dribble and skip relay in which the male
runners bounced a basketball while the female runners
skipped rope for some fifty metres each. Vince's team had
won and he had been presented with two bottles of dish
washing liquid. He smiled at Osamu as he came across and
offered him a sweaty hand.
"We're doing quite well. We've won three of the first five."
Osamu gritted his teeth, "You're playing for the wrong team.
That's the Nakasato team. We're the Negishi team."
"Oh," Vince said, surprised. "I thought we were purple."
Vince looked over at the scoreboard and saw that
Nagasato-chiku had 37 points and was in the lead while
Negishi had a solid zero against their name. Vince walked
over to the main Negishi tent. It was all but deserted. The
large taiko drum stood idle with no children playing on it,
the flag sagged. Vince scanned the tents of the other eight
chiku. Each was bubbling with enthusiasm and activity. One
man was waving the yellow Kogata-chiku flag backwards and
forwards. There were children pounding out tattoos on each
of the drums. The red Takayagato-chiku team was sounding a
war chant in preparation for meeting Negishi in the
Vince suddenly realised that he was the one man on the
Negishi team who could win Taiku-no-hi for them. He
remembered the times when he'd always been last chosen for
the team and now he had his chance to vindicate himself.
With superhuman strength and all of his 95 kilograms of
weight behind the tug-o'-war, Vince pulled the pinks to
victory against not only the red Takayagatos, but also the
green Shimoyabunes, the maroon Kochis and the orange
He entered every event he could. He disguised himself with a
shawl and threw his share of foam into the basket to help
the older Atsumis. He even ran in two of the children's
relays before someone realised that he wasn't an
over-enthusiastic parent trying to encourage the littlies.
He was disqualified from the three person centipede plank
walk for being the only member of the Negishi team.
Connie arrived around this time to witness a new Vince. He
was just leading Negishi to victory in the lemonade drinking
relay. And she stayed to witness his victories in the
obstacle course race, the backwards marathon, the
grandmother piggy back and the tandem basketball carrying
event. He was the only man to enter the women's dish drying
marathon and was lauded by one and all for his third place
in the event.
Connie shook her head, "I don't believe it."
Nozomi nodded, "I never knew that Vince was such a
"Oh no, he's not. It's hard to get him on a bicycle ride
down the river."
"But he's won about half of the events all but on his own."
"I'm just wondering ..."
"I'm just wondering if he's on anabolic steroids!"
The second to last event was the all age relay. Negishi
didn't have enough competitors to field a full team. By now,
the scoreboard read Nakasato 145, Negishi 141. None of the
other teams had passed 50. Vince had never been a sprint
man. It usually took him 400 metres to reach top speed. At
last, his hidden ability as a strategist came out. Instead
of running just one slow 50 metres he would run all 16 legs
of the race. This would also lessen the risk of dropping the
At the end of the fourth change, he was in last place. But
hitting full stride he started to move up through the field.
First he passed the Kochi maroons, then the fastly fading
Kamayabe whites and the Hoshiya oranges. On the eighth
change, the Hashoyado blues dropped their baton and Vince
moved into fifth spot before pegging down the Takigayato
reds. Laps were running out, but Ikebe-cho was not prepared
for a Murray Halberg finish. Halberg had won the gold medal
in the 10,000 metres at the Rome Olympics in 1960 by
starting his final withering sprint a full four laps before
the finish. Lightning Vince streaked past the Shimoyabune
greens and the Kogata yellows. Only the Nakasato purples
were in front. The theme music from Chariots of Fire echoed
in his head. He squeezed out one last burst of energy and
edged in front of the last Nakasato runner. Into the clear
around the final bend, the last 20 metres, 15 metres, 10
metres, 5 metres.
At three metres, a sudden pang hit Vince and he stumbled to
the ground. The Nakasato man flew past him into the tape.
Vince crawled the last 57 centimetres into second place, his
leg aching with a cramp.
As they carried him back to the Negishi tent he leaned over
to Osamu and asked, "If we win the last race, do we take the
Osamu had made some quick mental calculations and replied,
"The last race is the marathon. If we get the first five
past the post and nobble the entire purple team, we'll win."
Knowing that he couldn't race himself, Vince muttered words
of encouragement in English, "When the boys aren't getting
the breaks just tell 'em to go out and win one more for the
If the Negishi team had understood what he was saying, they
might have been moved to win the marathon. As it was, they
thought he was delirious, even if he did sound a little like
Ronald Reagan, the United States president voted most likely
to succeed as a Japanese politician. The Nakasato purples
had no difficulty in taking the first five places in the
marathon and nobbling the entire Negishi team.
If Connie had been impressed with the change into Super
Vince, she was certainly not impressed with the change back
again. Vince was a wreck who could hardly move for over a
week later. Even so, Vince had won enough dish washing
liquid, washing powder, plastic rubbish bags, boxes of
tissues and cooking oil to last them until the next