The “Pre-Olympics”, AKA 1963 Tokyo International Sports Week Part 1: A Dress Rehearsal of Olympic Proportions

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Tokyo International Sports Week in October 1963_Mainichi Daily News

The Autumn sky was not clear and blue, but cloudy and gray. Most of the athletes were dressed up smartly, some in normal track suits. When the athletes marched into the National Stadium, there appeared to be huge gaps within and between teams, as opposed to the immensely dense succession of national teams usually expected on their heroic march at the commencement of an Olympic Games. And in this case, they marched past the Crown Prince, not the Emperor of Japan. The jets maneuvered and etched out the five rings of the Olympic emblem, but the circles weren’t quite right.

No one carried a torch into the stadium and lit an Olympic cauldron.

In fact, you couldn’t even see the word Olympics anywhere. This was not a sporting event sanctioned by the International Olympic Committee (IOC), so no one could officially use the label “pre-Olympics”, which were what most people were calling the event.

But that was just fine. After all, this was not the opening ceremony of the 1964 Tokyo Olympiad, it was the opening ceremony of the Tokyo International Sports Week in 1963, exactly one year before the start of the actual Olympics.

Demonstrating the wisdom and extraordinary planning capability of the Tokyo Olympic Organizing Committee (OOC) in the early 1960s, they committed to running a dress rehearsal of the Olympics a year in advance. At a budget of USD1 million, the OOC organized a competition for 20 different sports, invited about 4,000 athletes from 35 different countries, including over a dozen world-record holders.

There were, of course, issues, according to the Mainichi Daily News.

At the yachting events in Hayama, the Thai team (led by a Prince Bira of Thailand) were regaled by the Costa Rican flag at the venue, which employs the same pattern and colors, but the colored stripes are in different orders.

  • The canoeing venue at Lake Sagami was too far away, the 4-hour bus ride a headache.
  • The shotput balls, which were manufactured in Japan, were apparently too small.
  • The high jumpers found the soft rubber clumps in their landing area to be unsafe, particularly after the world’s best female high jumper, Iolanda Balas, sprained her ankle in it after a jump.
  • The walls that provided back drop at the shooting site were brown, which caused eye strain, as opposed to yellow or gray which the shooters were more accustomed to.
  • Taxis were hard to get a hold of at the stadium.
  • And most prominently, the interpreters on site were not effective.

All of which proves why it was so important to have a rehearsal, so that the organizers could note potential issues when the real Games come to town. Perhaps more significant, a major objective of the Tokyo International Sports Week was to infuse confidence in the organizers, the IOC and probably the entire nation of Japan – after all, there was some doubt that Japan could pull off the first Olympic Games in Asia.

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Iolanda Baras complained of the landing area at TISW_Mainichi Daily News_October 1963

After the completion of the dress rehearsal, any doubt disappeared. The 7-day Tokyo International Sports Week was a success.

According to Sports Illustrated, over 20,000 police and over 1,200 firemen were mobilized by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government during the Sports Week. And when the 68,000 spectators spilled out of the National Stadium at the end of the Opening Ceremony on October 11, 1963, it reportedly took only 18 minutes to do so (which is mindboggling), and about 50 minutes to restore traffic to normal conditions around the National Stadium on a Friday afternoon.

Here’s how the Mainichi Daily News put it:

The criticisms from the foreign and Japanese delegations and press, in fact, came as a “blessing” to the Tokyo Olympic organizers, who had intended the TISW “actually and truly as a rehearsal or trial” and nothing more. The lessons they learned are to their advantage in preparing for next year’s Olympics. Reflecting and weighing the evaluations, good and bad, the OOC is rolling up its sleeves to remedy these flaws and to improve, whatever possible, on the countless details that need to be perfected by Olympic time next year. Many of the suggestions have already been accounted for. The Japanese have demonstrated that they have the ability to stage a big-scale sports festival by their splendid organization of the spectacularly successful Third Asian Games in Tokyo five years ago. And they can do it again. The world can be confident that the Japanese with their ingenuity and determined efforts and favored by experiences in the TISW will clear all hurdles successfully to realize their hopes and dreams to make Asia’s first Olympic Games the greatest ever held.

 

 

The “Pre-Olympics”, AKA 1963 Tokyo International Sports Week Part 2: How Was Their English? It Depends on Their Interpretation

The “Pre-Olympics”, AKA 1963 Tokyo International Sports Week Part 3: Hal and Olga Connolly Accept A Most Gracious Invitation