In 2006, siblings Domu Narita (above, in pink) and his sister Mero pulled out a rare feat: both competed in the Olympics in the same sport. Domu, with his ponytail, and Mero, with her pink hair, might have appeared like your typical snowboarders, but not like the more conservative-looking Japanese athletes representing their country.
They also seemed happy—but they weren't.
As detailed in this 2006 New York Times piece, Domu and Mero first snowboarded during a trip to Canada. Soon after, their father started training them. While the siblings found success in snow-covered half pipes, the duo's home life was a mess. Their overbearing father-turned-coach drove them away: Domu found a new coach, and Mero actually took her mother's maiden name, Imai, to mark a complete break with her father.
Leading up to the 2006 Torino Olympics, both Domu and Mero were given the media push, soaking up the limelight. Big ad deals followed, and Mero was so popular that she even appeared in anime Crayon Shinchan. Her Olympic performance, however, ended disastrously, with Mero hurting her back and withdrawing after a nasty spill. Her brother, Domu, likewise disappointed at the Olympics, placing 36th. The country lost interest, and both vanished.
A year later, Mero found herself thrust back in the spotlight. Japanese tabloid Shukan Bunshun reported that she seemed to be working as a call girl in her native Osaka, running photos that looked a lot like her.
After Mero's injury, she never quite returned to form and apparently started spending all her free time (and money) at host bars, staffed with handsome men. To pay for her nightlife, the story went, she supposedly started working as a call girl. The rumors continued to hang in the air, even after she married in a shotgun wedding—a wedding that soon ended in divorce.
Mero's bother, Domu, on the other hand, continued to train for the Olympics, but seemed desperate to enter the entertainment industry. He tried to launched his celebrity career by writing 1,000 posts on his blog in one day. Domu recently appeared on Japanese television—he's reinvented himself as a giant otaku. Besides producing an idol group, Domu is working as a "subculture talent"—according to his official site, he'll apparently talk about nerdy things for money.
It's 2012. The Torino Olympics feel like they were a million years ago. Both of them were exceptional athletes. Maybe it was parental pressure that prevented them from achieving Olympic greatness—or, more importantly, happiness.
Domu was derided by someone online for his radical nerdy transformation. "This is horrific", wrote one. Others were less judgmental. "Well, he seems happy," wrote another. Life for Mero, now the mother of two small children, appears to have calmed down. She did, however, recently write that she got a pin-up photo shoot offer—her first in four years. Hopefully, she's happy, too.
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(Top photo: MBS/Shukan Bunshun/Getty)