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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, September 4, 2002

Champion swimmer Takashi 'Halo' Hirose dead at 79

By Wes Nakama
Advertiser Staff Writer

Takashi Hirose was one of the bigger kids playing sandlot ball in Pu'unene, Maui's "Camp 5" neighborhood back in the early 1930s.

Takashi Hirose was a top pupil of legendary coach Soichi Sakamoto.
So when he missed an easy pop fly one day, the other kids yelled out, "Eh, you big ... but you hollow!"

The name stuck. Hirose was called Halo, pronounced the same as "hollow."

"At first, he didn't appreciate it," said Keo Nakama, one of Hirose's Camp 5 playmates. "But after a while, he accepted it."

A few years later, Halo Hirose became nationally known in the world of swimming, the result of several AAU, Big Ten Conference and NCAA championships.

Hirose, a top pupil of legendary coach Soichi Sakamoto, died of a heart attack on Aug. 24 at age 79. He had undergone a kidney operation at the end of June and became anemic soon after, said his wife, Kiyomi.

"The last week, he was feeling very tired," his widow said. "Before (the operation), he was the healthiest man in the neighborhood."

In his younger days, Hirose was one of the fastest swimmers in the world. Like many kids in Pu'unene's sugar plantation, he began by swimming in irrigation ditches before joining Sakamoto's famed "Three Year Swim Club" in 1937.

Along with Nakama, Bill Smith, Jose Balmores, Charlie Oda and others who trained under Sakamoto, Hirose brought national acclaim to Hawai'i swimming.

At age 15, Hirose placed second in the 200-meter freestyle and fourth in the 100 free at the National AAU meet. Also that year, 1938, Hirose was a member of the United States' 400-meter freestyle relay team that set a world record in Germany.

"He became a national figure," Nakama said. "That was something that opened the eyes of the other camp boys."

In 1941, Nakama and brother Bunmei "Bunny," Hirose and Balmores won the National AAU's 800-meter freestyle relay championship in record time.

The 1940 Olympics had been canceled because of World War II, and Hirose later served as a member of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team and 100th Infantry Battalion. After the war, Hirose enrolled at Ohio State University and became a three-time All-American for the Buckeyes.

He was an NCAA champion in the 100 free and helped Ohio State win Big Ten, NCAA and AAU team titles. Hirose was inducted into Ohio State's Sports Hall of Fame in 1987.

After earning his degree in 1949, Hirose did graduate work in California and eventually returned to Hawai'i, where he was assigned to the 1st Circuit Adult Probation Division. Hirose later became the state's chief probation officer and retired in 1982.

In his spare time, Hirose started the Town Swim Club and also coached swimming at Iolani School, Punahou, St. Andrew's Priory and Manoa Swim Club.

"He really enjoyed it," said wife Kiyomi. "And the kids loved him because he treated everybody the same, no matter if you were the slowest swimmer or the fastest."

Smith, who won two gold medals in the 1948 Olympics and was Hirose's teammate at Ohio State, said Hirose carried on Sakamoto's legacy.

"He passed on all the attributes that coach gave to us," Smith said. "He was wonderful with the kids, and he was very likable. Everybody liked Halo."

Besides his wife, Hirose is survived by his daughter, Sono Hirose-Hulbert; sisters, Harriet Uchigaki and Yaeno Hirose; and two grandchildren. Services are scheduled for 4 p.m. Saturday at Hosoi Garden Mortuary.