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Soichi Sakamoto founds Three-Year Swim Club

With his sights on the Olympics of 1940, Soichi Sakamoto decided to recruit and train a group of young swimmers to compete at an international level. He called his group the Three-Year Swim Club, requiring his athletes to follow strict rules of conduct, carry out a rigorous training schedule, and commit to the program for a minimum three years.

In 1937, Sakamoto was an elementary science teacher and Boy Scout master in Pu`unene, Maui with no previous experience as a swim coach. His approach emphasized character building and athletic discipline. He pioneered interval training - alternating sprint sessions with long distance - and other coaching techniques. Using the available resources of rural Maui, he trained his team in plantation irrigation ditches owned by Hawai`i Commercial & Sugar Company, having his athletes swim against the stream of irrigation water.

After just a year of Sakamoto's program, his swimmers began to meet with success. In 1938 the Three-Year Swim Club won every Hawai`i swim meet they entered. By 1939 they won the national title and in 1940 they were slated to fill the majority of slots on the U.S. Olympic Team. Due to World War II the Olympics were cancelled in both 1940 and 1944. In 1945 Sakamoto was hired as head swim coach at the University of Hawai`i where he continued to train the best swimmers in the Islands. In 1948 the U.S. Olympic Swim Team, again heavily weighted with Hawai`i athletes, won every event and Sakamoto saw his dream of training champions come true.

 Sites for further information

A newspaper article remembers Sakamoto "Swimming coach `ahead of his time’"(Star-Bulletin)

Hawai`i Sports Hall of Fame: Soichi Sakamoto

Time Magazine Article "Sakamoto's Swimmers"

Hawai`i Swimming Legacy: Stories of Coach Sakamoto

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