President and CEO Renata Simril of the LA84 Foundation made the following statement on July 1:
“The LA84 Foundation is honored to be stewards of treasured Olympic and sport memorabilia. As stewards, we recognize the rich history of the art and artifacts we care for and the significance of the accomplishments that the artifacts represent. When we discovered that the riding crop had belonged to Baron Takeichi Nishi, we were pleased for the opportunity to return the riding crop to his family and to share the story and influence of Baron Nishi with the world.”
In 1932 at the Los Angeles Olympics, Nishi became the first and only Japanese to win a gold medal in equestrian in Olympic history. He was beloved by the local Southern California community – a friend of Hollywood luminaries such as Charlie Chaplin and Douglas Fairbanks – and the pride of the growing Japanese American community at the time.
Just a little over a decade later as a Japanese Imperial Army officer, he died in the Battle of Iwo Jima in 1945, as was recounted in Clint Eastwood’s film “Letters from Iwo Jima.”
In 1964, the Helms Foundation was gifted Nishi’s riding crop by his widow. It was transferred to the LA84 Foundation when the Helms collection was acquired by LA84 following the 1984 Olympic Games, and remains in its collection today.
The LA84 Foundation has decided to gift this special riding crop to Nishi’s descendants.
Included in the announcement of the gifting were special messages from the great-grandson of Nishi; local officials, including L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti, L.A. County Supervisors Janice Hahn and Holly Mitchell, L.A. City Councilmember Mark Ridley-Thomas, and Iris Yamashita, screenwriter of “Letters from Iwo Jima.”
The announcement was moderated by David Ono of KABC-TV, with special guests including actor and producer Masi Oka, Simril of the LA84 Foundation, and Consul General of Japan in Los Angeles Akira Muto.
Rafu Shimpo photos by JUN NAGATA