My Dream: Bringing the 1964 Olympians Back to Tokyo in 2020


A sign at Haneda Airport in Tokyo, the point of arrival of most Tokyo Olympians in 1964

Bob Schul planted the seed in my brain.

At the end of a wonderfully long interview in early 2015, the 1964 gold medalist of the 5,000 meter track competition mentioned it would be nice if Olympians who participated in the 1964 Tokyo Games could return to the Tokyo for the 2020 Games. He wasn’t suggesting that the government or anyone pay for their expenses. He was just wondering, wouldn’t it be nice if they could get assistance in finding accommodations or meals, for example.

That would be nice.

But it would be nicer, frankly, incredibly inspiring actually, to find a way to bring ALL 1964 Tokyo Olympians back in 2020. I have interviewed over 70 Olympians from the 1964 Tokyo Summer Olympics. I would estimate well over 90% of them, without prompting, described their time in Japan and at the Olympics as a wonderful and special experience. Many have said they would love to come back to Japan for a visit, particularly in 2020.

Imagine the stories that these Olympians would tell about 1964, about their memories of Japanese graciousness, resiliency, efficiency, and pride. There is little doubt that bringing the 1964 Olympians would result in a mutual lovefest. There could be opportunities for fundraisers dedicated to the 1964 Olympians, educational opportunities for Olympians to share their memories at schools or museums. And it would be another opportunity for embassies and chambers of commerce to embrace their heroes from 1964, reliving their stories, and reinforcing cultural impressions.

How many Olympians would that be? Allow me to make assumptions (and use admittedly somewhat cold and clinical language about life expectancy).


According to this article in The Daily Mail, British athletes were offered free admission to certain events at the 2012 London Olympics. It was estimated that around 125 Olympians were eligible (ie: still alive). Since there were 404 Brits representing their nation at the 1948 Games, one could say that 31% of that group of Olympians were alive in 2012.

But the gap between the 1964 Olympics and the 2020 Olympics is smaller – 56 years to be exact. In other words, assuming an average Olympian age of 25, most 1964 Olympians would be in their mid-70s to mid-80s. Because of that, we could assume that more than 31% of all 1964 Tokyo Olympians could be healthy and ambulatory and interested in coming to Japan in 2020. For the sake of generating an estimate, let’s say 40%. That would mean, of the 5,151 worldwide Olympians who participated in the 1964 Games, a little over 2,000 Olympians could be here in Japan in 2020!

But alas, this is still only a dream. If London organizing committee’s offer were expanded to all 4,100 Olympians from 1948, it’s possible they would have had to extend their offer to over 1,200 Olympians. I am not aware of such a program to bring all the 1948 Olympians back to the 2012 Games, but I imagine the organizing committee considered it, and I’m sure they knew the challenges. How do you contact all those Olympians? How would you finance it? At a time of peak capacity for the city, how do you accommodate so many people who deserve respectful attention and may have special needs due to their age?

Good questions all.

But it all starts with a dream.