In my research on the Olympics, I treasure diaries, and love first-person accounts in newspapers or biographies. They are personal, often insightful, sometimes poignant. In October, 1964, The Mainichi Daily News published a series of articles based on interviews with Harold and Olga Connolly, the celebrated Olympians famous for their gold-medal accomplishments at the 1956 Melbourne Games, as well as their romance and eventual wedding attended by 20,000 people in Prague, Czechoslovakia.
In this series, the couple, primarily Olga, shared the power couple’s thoughts on Japan and the Olympics. I’d like to highlight their views on the Japanese, and the Olympic Spirit:
Japan is well known for its service. The Japanese say it’s because of their “omoiyari”, which is a high level of empathy, a great ability to put their feet in the shoes of the other person and then act positively on that understanding. Olga Connolly, who won the women’s discus throw in 1956, pointed out in one of the articles an example of “extreme” omoiyari, giving an example of a Japanese boy who was in pain, but refused to show that he was in pain because he didn’t want the other person to feel bad.
The food in the village is excellent and so is the service. Everyone of the Japanese men and women who work in the dining rooms does his duty with the utmost diligence. They quickly clear dishes away from the tables and scrub them with soap and brushes. I noticed the hands of one of the boys who wash the mountains of plates and saucers – they are all red form the water and the detergent. But he only smiles and does not utter a word of complaint. I had a bad accident the other day – I spilled some of the hot tea on the waiter’s hand. I was very upset and sorry, but he only bowed and smiled. He didn’t betray any signs of pain though his hand was quite burnt.
Many non-Japanese love Japan because of the dedication to excellence. But sometimes that dedication can seem overwhelming. The anecdote below made me smile.
At Meiji Park, too, some of the athletes feel a little uneasy, because of the extreme Japanese hospitality. Imagine a 120 kg giant weight man walking alongside a 65-kilo weighing Japanese attendant who insists on carrying his equipment. They mark your throws, bring your discus back and polish it shiny after every throw. The other day I got a little irritated when I wanted to throw and a fellow would not give me my discus until he had removed a stubborn stain.
Harold Connolly, hammer-throwing gold medalist in 1956, appeared in four Olympic Games from 1956 to 1968. Olga Connolly threw the discus in five straight, from 1956 to 1972. They live and breathe the Olympic Spirit. Here is their explanation of why they believe the Olympics are so important.
Here the whole world which shrank into seven thousands of Olympians shrivels still more – into a most interesting mixture of some five or six hundred who crowd in the hall. There are people of all shapes and sizes, speaking all languages, dressed in all kinds of clothes. On their emblems there are the most surprising inscriptions. Here a boy from Uruguay talks to a girl from India, a fellow from Cameroons engages into discussion with one from Turkey and United Arab Republic, while two Finns and a Korean stand by a listen to the conversation. Most people talk in some kind of English – I don’t think there is any other language in the world which is spoken with such a variety of foreign accents.
Sometimes we wonder what would happen if for some reason everybody had to remain in the Olympic Village for let’s say, six months or a year. Would it illuminate and solve the problems of the world or would it prove they are unsolvable? We believe that all the human beings here have so much in common, that it proves that the people everywhere belong into the same family, however it may quarrel.