press pass _revisedThis was my father’s identity card for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. Through his work for NBC News, and NBC’s sustained relationship to the Olympic Games, I was a fan of the greatest sports competition in the world. I was only one years-old at the time of the Tokyo Olympic Games, and of course remember nothing of it. But come 2020, when the Summer Games return to Tokyo, I will be there.

I won 2nd place at a chess tournament, which took place at the famous Manhattan Chess Club, when I was 13 years old. I still have my trophy. And trust me, if there were more than 3 competitors in that tournament, I’m sure I would have done equally well!

Ioannis Malokinis
Ioannis Malokinis

Perhaps that’s what Ioannis Malokinis, Spiridon Chasapis and Dimitrios Drivas told themselves as they swept the medals in their swimming event – the 100-meter Freestyle for Greek Sailors. Yes, this was an event at the revival of the Olympic Games, held in Athens, Greece in 1896. Yes, this was an event only Greek Sailors could compete in. And yes, only three sailors jumped into the Bay of Zea for this competition.

Eleven Greek sailors had signed up for this unique and partisan event, but the water was said to be so cold that others likely begged out. According to The Complete Book of the Olympics 2012 Edition, the gold medalist from the 100-meter freestyle event (the one open to all nationalities and occupations), a Hungarian swimmer named Alfréd Hajós said, “the icy water almost cut into our stomachs.”

Alfred Hajos
Alfréd Hajós

Hajós also competed and won the 1,200-meter swim. He had smeared a thick layer of grease in an attempt to ward off the effects of the icy waters, and still barely completed the race. The very quotable Hajós had said, “My will to live completely overcame my desire to win.”

So while Hajós won silver in the 100-meter freestyle swimming event, only one other person may have completed the event – Otto Herschmann of Austria. The other 8 competitors who reportedly entered this competition were not awarded medals. It simply may have been too darn cold to bother.

The 100-meter freestyle event has become one of the must-see events at the Summer Olympics. However, needless to say, the 100-meter freestyle for Greek Sailors did not make its way beyond those 1896 Olympics.

usain bolt mcnuggets

After the 2012 London Olympics, one of the most famous people on the planet revealed in his just-released autobiography something that likely made the hearts of MacDonald’s executives flutter with pride and joy.

In his book, Faster than Lightning, Jamaican Usain Bolt, sprinter nonpareil, said that at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, he essentially lived off of Chicken McNuggets, consuming an estimated thousand of the fried chicken chunks during his time in Beijing. Bolt won gold medals in the 100- and 200-meter sprints, as well as the 4×100 relay. You can be sure that McNuggets were on his menu for his subsequent triumphs at the London and Rio Olympics.

By virtue of being a TOP Sponsor of the Olympics, MacDonald’s had exclusive rights to market itself as a global Olympic sponsor, preventing any other food provider of associating itself with the Olympics. This privilege provided MacDonald’s the opportunities to create the biggest and best MacDonald restaurants in the world right inside the Olympic Villages over the past decades, a favorite dining area for athletes.

But after 41 years as an official sponsor of the Olympics, MacDonald’s and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) decided it was time to part ways.

Perhaps there was a persistent hum of discontent within the IOC that fast food should not be seen as the fuel for so many healthy world-class athletes, which may have needled the executives of MacDonald’s. “The brand relevance is simply not there anymore,” said Patrick Nally, one of the of the architects of the IOC’s revamped marketing model established in the 1980s. “At every games you see a storm of criticism in the media about McDonald’s being present at the Olympics, and that’s just gotten worse.”

Perhaps it was a matter of the bottom line. According to Business Insider, the CEO of MacDonald’s, Steve Easterbook, has been working on a plan to revamp its menu, employ greater digital innovation to its business processes, and cut costs by about half a billion dollars by the end of 2018. The TOP sponsorship is a hefty USD 25 million per year. MacDonald’s exited it’s contract with the IOC three years before the contract’s completion, so that’s a saving of USD75 million in the next three years.

MacDonalds in Olympic Village of 2012 London Games
Athletes Binging on MacDonalds in the Olympic Village After Completion of 2012 London Games

Perhaps it was a revision to Rule 40. This rule was established by the IOC to prevent over-commercialization of the Olympics by anyone who could draw the five Olympic rings or a close approximation of them. By creating a rule and a process for protecting the Olympic brand, the IOC has been better able to ensure TOP Sponsors that they would truly have exclusive marketing rights within their particular industry category.

However, as a concession to athletes, who are heavily supported by their own sponsors, and who have grown increasingly irked by the hammer hold the IOC and TOP Sponsors have on the ability to prevent their own sponsors of even a splinter of exposure around the time of the Olympics, the IOC decided to relax Rule 40. As explained in this Sports Illustrated article, in February 2015, “the international Olympic Committee decided to relax its guidelines to allow ‘generic’ or ‘non-Olympic advertising’ during the Summer Games. This also allows for athletes to tweet and post on social media about non-official sponsors as long as they do not use any Olympic properties or references. The U.S. Olympic Committee has to grant approval to American sponsors and brands.”

Rule 40 enforces a blackout period for the above-mentioned marketing of personal non-official sponsors, that extends from 9 days prior to the Olympic Games to three days after its completion. However, this did not seem to please MacDonald’s. According to Reuters, John Lewicki, the man who oversees MacDonald’s TOP Sponsorship relationship with the IOC, was reported to say last year that “the company would reevaluate its Olympic relationship after changes to a rule that ended a marketing blackout for companies that sponsor athletes rather than the event itself.”

So while athletes won’t have Big Macs or McNuggets to chow down at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, skiers and skaters will be able to enjoy their fast food fix at the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics in South Korea. MacDonald’s still has an agreement with the South Korean national olympic committee, providing them with marketing rights and access to the Olympic Village. If they can convince Bolt to start a career as a bobsledder like his famous countrymen from of the 1998 Calgary Winter Games, he can be a one-man-marketing machine for MacDonald’s, one last hurrah for a long-time Olympic sponsor.

Weightlifting Bending under the weight

The IOC sought to inject youth and improve gender diversity into the 2020 Tokyo Olympics by adding events, while keeping the total number of invited athletes the same. In addition to the five new sports added in August, 2016 (baseball/softball, karate, skateboarding, sport climbing and surfing), the International Olympic Committee (IOC) announced the addition of 15 new events to existing sports.

And yet, to keep to a limit of 11,090 total athletes at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, cuts had to be made. The IOC made decisions that resulted in the elimination of 285 quota slots for various sports. Much of this was driven by a need to improve gender ratios, particularly in sports like cycling, judo, rowing, sailing, shooting, swimming and water polo.

But the biggest losers? Wrestling with 56 cuts, weightlifting with 64 and athletics with 105 cuts.

Perhaps messages are being sent.

Wrestling was actually dropped from the Olympic menu of core sports in February, 2013 because the rules were considered vague.  Wrestling’s scoring system was too difficult to understand, which in turn made it difficult to engage the average television viewer. Somehow, through significant lobbying efforts, wrestling was reinstated as a non-core sport for the 2020 Games, but the latest decision to cull the wrestling numbers may be a reminder that wrestling has to work at its game.

Athletics, with its high profile events and global track stars, also suffers from a deep and dark history of doping. Most recently, the IAAF banned the entire Russian track and field team from the 2016 Rio Olympics. All of this may have made it easier for the IOC to prioritize cuts in athletics.

As for weightlifting, the dark clouds of doping have hung over this sport for decades. The IOC dropped an entire men’s weight class on its way to eliminating 64 quota slots for Tokyo 2020. Said Japan Weightlifting Association President Yoshiyuki Miyake in this Mainichi Daily News article, It’s a shame. I’m confused why they would make this kind of decision without any discussion.”

The New York Times wasn’t confused, as they stated in this piece entitled, “Freshening Up the Olympics. Sorry Men’s Weight Lifters.”

In the men’s 94-kilogram class at the 2012 London Games, Poland’s Tomasz Zielinski finished ninth. A disappointment, to be sure, but Zielinski was eventually awarded the bronze medal after six of the lifters ahead of him failed drug tests.

Wonderful story, right? Not so much. Zielinski, who obviously didn’t win a medal for his ability to learn from other’s mistakes, was kicked out of the 2016 Rio Games when one of his own tests came back positive.

IOC president has been explicit that he is sending messages, according to that same article:

Bach called weight lifting’s punishment in Friday’s reordering of the Games “a strong signal” to the sport. Good for him. Standing up to cheaters, and meting out real punishment, is common sense. If one sport’s athletes can’t follow the rules, other athletes from other sports should get a chance.

YOG winner of inaugural triathlon team relay - Europe 1
Youth Olympic Games winner of inaugural triathlon team relay – Europe 1

A triathlon team relay? A normal Olympic triathlon lasts about 2 hours. Would a relay version last 8 hours? That’s definitely not must-see television.

On June 9, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) announced that the triathlon relay will be a part of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. But it isn’t as long as I had initially imagined. The specs for this particularly relay is that each of four team members run mini-triathlons. Instead of say, swimming 1.5 kilometers, cycling 38.48 kilometers, and then running for 2.5 kilometers like they do at the Olympics, the relay triathletes will instead each swim for 250 meters, cycle for 7 kilometer, and run for 1.7 kilometers. With those significantly shorter distances, four triathletes can complete a race in less than 90 minutes.

Where did this idea come from? The IOC, in a way, has their own innovation lab called the Youth Olympic Games (YOG). As a reaction to growing concerns of obesity in children, the IOC created the Youth Olympic Games, a smaller-scale Olympics for athletes aged 14 to 18. The first YOG was featured in Singapore in 2010, where 3600 athletes from over 200 nations came together to compete in 26 sports.

One of those sports was the Mixed Triathlon Relay. Another was 3-on-3 basketball.

What’s on the horizon? AT the 2018 Buenos Aires 2018 Youth Olympic Games, athletes will compete in dance sport -more specifically, break dancing.

Will you be 14 to 18 in 2018? Are you an amazing at headspins, airflares, robot moves and the baby swipe? Then here’s your chance to compete in Buenos Aires at the Youth Olympic Games, and potentially, legitimize breakdancing as sport to the point where the IOC asks, “so you think you can dance at the Olympics?”

Gender Equality IOC

Imagine if we had the 4×400 Mixed Relay at the Rio Olympics. Imagine 400-meter bronze medalist LaShawn Merritt passing the baton to 400-meter gold medalist, Allyson Felix, for the finish.

At the Tokyo Olympics, we no longer will have to imagine as the International Olympic Committee (IOC) announced on June 9, 2017 the addition of 15 new events for the 2020 Games, including the 4×400 Mixed Relay track event.

The IOC has worked to inject the Olympics with youthful enthusiasm with additions of such sports as skateboarding, surfing and sport climbing. And they have also worked towards gender equality, recently announcing in March 2017 the start of a study entitled “Gender Equality Review Project . The aim of the study is to produce recommendations to raise awareness and “further assist us to remove the barriers that continue to prevent women and girls in sport in general and elite sport in particular.”

Along those lines, the IOC has worked towards ensuring equality in Olympic events by ensuring that there are no events that only men compete in, or only women compete in. For example, the IOC announced the addition of the men’s 800-meter freestyle swimming and women’s 1500-meter freestyle swimming to balance out the gender ledger. And with the elimination of a men’s weightlifting class, and now ensuring that canoeing, rowing, shooting and weightlifting have equal number of men and women participants, the Tokyo2020 Olympics will approach a 50:50 male:female athlete representation. Considering that women made up 44.2% of athletes at the 2012 London Olympics and 45.6% at the 2016 Rio Olympics, getting to nearly 50% by 2020 is impressive.

Additionally, the Games will be reinvigorated with the mixed competitions. In addition to the 4×400 mixed relay footrace, the IOC is adding a 4×100 medley mixed swimming relay, a mixed archery team event, a mixed judo team event, mixed fencing team events, mixed doubles table tennis and, intriguingly, the mixed triathlon team relay.

Said gold medal breastroker, Adam Peaty, in this BBC article, “it’s something that would make things [at the Olympics] a little bit more fun. Obviously it’s very serious, but it’s great to mix things up from what they’ve been for so long as it adds a little spice and they’re great to watch.”

Watch the video for a fascinating look at what happens when women and men compete against each other in a relay race, particularly in the third and fourth legs.

Nigel Talton likely imagined himself breaking the tape at a championship track meet, or even the Rio Olympics, but he probably didn’t imagine himself winning a sprint at SunTrust Park…between innings at Atlanta Braves games…in a teal-colored spandex suit with big blue goggles.

But when you’re an aspiring track star, you do what you must to pay the bills.

Working two jobs in order to afford to keep training in track, the 26-year-old from Fort Valley, Georgia had a moment on Friday, June 9, 2017 that most people or companies can only dream of – a video that goes viral.

Talton’s job is to play a superhero-like character called The Freeze, who races from the left field pole at SunTrust Park, around the warning track in front of the outfield fence to a finish line in right center field, against a fan who has a 200-foot head start. The Freeze almost always wins, but in this particular case, the fan celebrated just before reaching the finish line, only to be passed by The Freeze. The fan’s shock and subsequent face plant made the video must-see viewing, and made The Freeze a star.

According to track blog, FloTrack, while Talton is employed part-time by the Atlanta Braves as a ground keeper and The Freeze, he is a legitimate sprinter, with solid personal bests, including 10.47 in the 100 meters and 21.66 in the 200. But as FloTrack explained, world-class track is a highly competitive world. “Talton came out of college as an accomplished athlete, but in the cutthroat world of track and field, his times were not good enough to secure a sponsorship.”

And yet, Talton loves to run and does not want to give up on his dreams. In fact, he aims to make the 2018 World Indoors. “I just want to make a team before I’m done,” said Talton. “My route to that path was detoured, and this came upon me, so right now I’m just continuing to train… just training and saving up for next year.”

Nigel Talton and his alter ego The Freeze
Nigel Talton and his alter ego The Freeze
Except for the elite, most of those who have finished with college and the support it provides for track and field athletes have to enter the rat race. People like Talton have to scrape by to continue the dream.

“I just want to have the opportunity to train as a professional track runner,” Talton said in FloTrack. “I wish there was a program for us athletes. It’s so hard for us athletes that don’t have sponsors that have potential. It’s very hard, that’s why I work two jobs. I’m going to continue to keep my faith and continue working for the indoor season… It’s not about me, I’m just doing it to inspire others and to entertain.”

There’s no doubt that RaceTrac, the company that operates convenience stores throughout the southern part of the US, and sponsors this between-inning activity for the Atlanta Braves, has lucked into a marketing bonanza in promoting a frozen drink called “Numbskull.” The question is, can Talton leverage his 15-minutes of fame into sponsorship, and make it a little easier for this world-class sprinter to take his game to the next level.

“I never know what’ll happen out of this ‘Beat The Freeze’ contest,” Talton said in this Washington Post article. “I’m just blessed and waiting, waiting for whatever opportunity come across my way.”

Winners of the first FINA 4x100 mixed medley relay- Great Britain
Winners of the first FINA 4×100 mixed medley relay- Great Britain

In the history of the Olympics, both Summer and Winter versions, athletes who have compiled the highest medal hauls over their Olympic careers tend to be gymnasts and swimmers. In fact, of the top 20 greatest career medal recipients, seven are swimmers, including the all-time record holder, Michael Phelps, and his 28 total medals.

It just got a little easier for swimmers to add even more medals.

On June 9, 2017, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) announced the addition of another 15 events for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, including the men’s 800-meter freestyle, the women’s 1500-meter freestyle, and the intriguing 4×100 mixed medley relay, in which 2 men and 2 women form a single team and swim the butterfly, backstroke, breaststroke and freestyle in succession.

Phelps reacted strongly when he heard the news, stating that the additional swimming events would “(take) away from the sport,” according to this NBC Sports article.

What else are we going to add? Are we going to do, like, 75m frees? How many other events are we going to add? When you add something like an 800m for men and a 1500m for women, and you’re adding mixed relays and 50s of strokes. I don’t want to say it, but it seems like there’s too much going on. It seems like, so then we’re going to grow the team by a handful of other people? I don’t like it. I don’t think it’s what swimming has been through all of this time, and hopefully we don’t have it for too long, but it’s not in my power. I can’t really do anything. I’ll just sit and watch.

It’s a bit of a ramble from Phelps, but it’s clear he’s unhappy. One could speculate that the IOC made it easier for some young swimmer to have more chances to earn medals, and perhaps one day, overtake Phelps’ 28 medals.

On the other hand, British gold medalist in the 100-meter breaststroke, Adam Peaty, expressed dissatisfaction with the fact that the IOC didn’t add even more swimming events as he thought that people wanted to see more sprints, for example, 50-meter races in the breaststroke, backstroke and butterfly. Perhaps more accurately, Peaty believes that the emphasis should have been on speed over distance, as he said in this BBC article.

Sprints engage people more than distance events. I don’t like that there’s another distance event and I don’t think that’s what’s needed. I’m a bit disappointed. Maybe they could have both just done a 1500m and then done away with the 800m. You can’t please everyone and I know I’m a sprinter but they’re the races I always remember growing up watching the Olympics.