The Underground Tunnel at the National Olympic Stadium of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics: Innovation that Hasn’t Been Seen Since

National Olympic Stadium and underground tunnell
Blueprint for the National Olympic Stadium for the 1964 Olympics, including underground tunnel. Source: Japan Sport Council

In his book, No Bugles No Drums, Olympic track legend, Peter Snell of New Zealand, wrote about an underground tunnel at the National Olympic Stadium, where he competed at the 1964 Olympic Games.

“Ten minutes before the gun, we were led through an underground tunnel which took us right underneath the track diagonally to a point at the beginning of the back straight. Then a walk around to the start.”

Ollan Cassell, lead runner on the US 4X400 men’s team that won gold in Tokyo, also noticed the underground tunnel. “The Japanese thought of everything,” he wrote in his book Inside the Five Ring Circus. “They even built a tunnel under the stadium track so athletes and official going to their events on the infield did not cross the track.”

 

National Olympic Stadium and underground tunnell 2
A picture of the 1964 tunnel at that time. Considerable work had been done afterwards to hide the pipes and cables. Source: Japan Sport Council

Cassell asked me to confirm that his memories were correct, so I did some digging. After a few emails exchanged between me and The Japan Sport Council, the government body that manages and operates some of the largest sports facilities in Japan, including the National Olympic Stadium, I was pleasantly surprised to get confirmation on the tunnel.

Not only that, the Japan Sport Council was kind enough to provide a schematic and photos.

An underground tunnel that allows officials and athletes to get to the infield or across the stadium without crossing a track seems like a great idea. You would think that all stadiums would be designed that way. But Cassell wrote to me that in fact Tokyo’s National Olympic Stadium was unique. “I have attended every Games since then, thru 1996 and never found anything like what they did. I missed 2000 and 2004 but attended all other games and did not hear anything about a tunnel from those who attended the 2000 and 2004 games.”

The National Olympic Stadium has been torn down, a new one set to rise (once a plan is finalized). But the old one apparently had a trick under its sleeve. It will be missed. To see what the stadium looked like just before it was torn down, check out these 360 views of the stadium.

National Olympic Stadium 360