Kalani Simpson Sidelines

Kalani Simpson

Montana has
nothing on Nakama

DO yourself a favor.

Go, today, to the Punahou Pool.

You've always wanted to say that you saw a sports legend. You'd give your right leg to meet a sports legend. To shake hands with a Pete Rose. You'd leap onto the back of a moving bus for a glimpse at Kareem.

You'd sneak past a pack of drooling Dobermans for Joe Montana's autograph.

Go to the Punahou Pool.

Today there will be a sports legend. And his story tops them all.

TODAY IS THE final day of the 55th Keo Nakama Swimming Invitational. For 55 years they've had this meet. They've honored this man. For a long time this was the biggest meet around. They had parades and marching bands. John Wayne was in the audience.

In the very first meet, Mr. Nakama's old Ohio State team came.

The next year, Michigan. Soon, Olympians.

Today there are clubs, kids.

Those days are long in the past.

But Keo Nakama is still there. He'll be there today when they have the ceremony, when they pass out the awards.

He's still a sports legend.

And at age 83 his story just gets better.


Because it really happened, it really did.

He once swam faster than anyone in the world, when that really meant something. Twenty-seven times, he was national champ.

He won golds at the Pan-American Games.

And then he went down to Australia for their big meet, and he dusted them all.

The Olympics? Well, there was this thing called World War II, when the world had more important things on its mind.

Timing, that's all. Didn't matter. He was still the best. The first world champion from Maui.

And soon there would be a handful more.

Keo Nakama led the charge.

He grew up in the plantation camp. They swam naked in the irrigation ditches, he said, scurrying into the tall cane when the luna came, with his horse and his whip.

But Soichi Sakamoto caught them instead. It turned out their local elementary school science teacher was the world's greatest coach, and soon he had 70-something kids swimming in those ditches, against the current and the debris. All working tirelessly, all dreaming Olympic dreams.

More than a few of them would eventually come true.

Plantation kids in irrigation ditches. But it happened. It was real.

Keo Nakama broke a world record.

Keo Nakama led the way.

Today he's in the International Swimming Hall of Fame.

Today he's here, at the Punahou Pool, at 83 still a sports legend in the flesh.

(Forget that almost as an afterthought, he became the first to swim from Molokai to Oahu in 1961 at the age of 41.)

This is your chance. The real thing.

THERE WERE ONLY a few people who were there to see what really went on in that scorer's tent, and none of them were you, me, or B.J. Wie.

But looking from the outside in, it would seem there is blame on both sides of the great Michelle Wie controversy. Especially with Wie's father now saying that playing partner Danielle Ammaccapane did not, in fact, get physical with his daughter as he had previously claimed.

If all Ammaccapane did was give Wie some harsh scoldings -- a grizzled vet letting the rookie know the way it is -- I don't have a problem with that.

No, being right doesn't mean you have to be rude. But with the tournaments she's played, with some of the statements she's made, Michelle has given up her "just a little girl" card. These pros aren't kidding around, and in case she didn't know that, she has the message now.

It should have been a learning experience, and leave it at that.

Yeah, sometimes competitors yell at each other. It's probably happened to all of us, and it never feels good. But having your parents burst into the principal's office the next day more often than not only makes everyone cringe.

So perhaps Ammaccapane could work on her social skills.

And maybe Michelle should carry herself more like a pro.

And B.J. needs to make sure that "caddie-father" doesn't turn into a dirty word.

See the Columnists section for some past articles.

Kalani Simpson can be reached at


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