His arrival at Dartmouth College didn't exactly create excitement, but when Chiharu Igaya graduated, it was a sad day in Hanover. That's because Igaya took six NCAA individual skiing titles with him.
Chiharu Igaya would never intentionally mislead during his Dartmouth entrance interview. But lacking confidence in his English, he thought his best bet was to give yes or no answers whenever possible. Unfamiliar with the admissions process, Mr. Igaya showed up for his interview with the President unsure of whether he had already been admitted. He opted to play it safe.
Thus, when President James Dickey asked Igaya if he was familiar with the sport of skiing, Igaya stuck to his plans and simply answered "yes." Apparently unconvinced, President Dickey proceeded to explain the basics of the sport. Igaya listened politely and never let on that he had competed in the Stockholm Winter Olympic Games the year before and was the Japanese national champion. It was only after reading the newspapers the following morning that President Dickey learned of Igaya's skiing acumen. "He told me that he had never before been humiliated by a student like that. But I heard him tell the story many times afterwards and he was always laughing," Igaya says.
Igaya may have entered Dartmouth as an unknown but he left as one of the best skiers in collegiate history, his six NCAA titles the most ever won by an individual athlete. The three titles he won his sophomore year in 1955 tie him with several others for the most won in a single NCAA Championship. He led Dartmouth to the runner-up spot in the NCAA Championships in both 1955 and 1956.
In 1956 Igaya returned to the Winter Games and won the silver medal in slalom, becoming the first-ever Japanese Winter Olympics medalist. He remains the lone Japanese medalist in skiing. He returned home to a hero's welcome, with thousands of people greeting him at the airport upon his arrival. "I felt very fortunate to be Japanese because if I had been American, or Italian or Swiss, for example, my silver medal would have quickly been forgotten."
It is no surprise that as a senior he was awarded the Dartmouth Cup, given to the "senior athlete who on and off the field reflects the greatest credit to the College." Since then Igaya has continued to bring credit to his alma mater. In 2006 the college awarded him an honorary degree.
After a third trip to the Olympics in 1960 Igaya pursued a career with the international insurance company AIU (later known also as AIG), an opportunity offered by the founder of the company, well-known American businessman Cornelius Starr. Starr, an avid skier, met Igaya by chance in 1951 and Starr became something of a booster of Igaya's, helping him find a European training base prior to the 1952 Oslo Winter Olympics, inviting him to the U.S. National Championships after the Games, and eventually suggesting that Igaya apply to Dartmouth.
Igaya honored Mr. Starr for his assistance by agreeing to work for AIU in 1959, and he never left. He rose to the position of Chairman of AIU Japan and is now Honorary Chairman.
Paralleling his business career, Igaya has been equally busy as a sports diplomat. He joined the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in 1982 and served two terms on the Executive Committee before being elected as a Vice-President in 2005. He has also served on the IOC's Ethics commission, and site evaluation committees for several Winter Olympic Games. His latest IOC role is his recent appointment as Chair of the Site Evaluation Committee for the 2014 Winter Olympic Games.
In addition to the IOC he has founded, chaired or been involved with more than a dozen sports organizations and international societies, including the Japan Olympic Academy, International Triathlon Union, Far East, Alpine Skiing, International Ski Federation, Japanese Olympic Committee, and Advisory Council for Studies on Sports Culture.
Mr. Igaya, who once aspired to be a diplomat, is well-suited to all of this. But how does he manage his involvement in so many different organizations? "I always make sure to have a very strong second in command," he says, "so that I always know good work is being done even if I am not there."
When Mr. Igaya enrolled at Dartmouth World War II was less than a decade removed, and he was the first Japanese student at the college after the war. He is candid in recounting that both he and his family had some apprehension about how he would be received in America. Happily, their concerns were not borne out. "As soon as I enrolled the worry was gone. Everyone was so nice and I felt very much at home. The only time I felt different was each morning when I washed my face and looked in the mirror. The other 23 hours and 59 minutes of the day, I felt American."
He continues to feel fortunate for the kindness he experienced at Dartmouth and in the town of Hanover. "I want to say thanks to the American people for their friendship and all of the support of the townspeople, my college mates and the friends I made through sports. What I am today owes a lot to the American people and for that I am very grateful."
— Meredith Rainey Valmon