Bicycles – One of the Enduring Memories of the 1964 Olympics Part 1: A Most Valuable Commodity

Olympic Village Theater and Bicycles_Asahi Graf_23Oct
Olympic Village Theater and Bicycles, from the October 23, 1964 edition of the magazine Asahi Graf

The Olympic Village of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics really felt like a community. After all, it was, up to 1964, the gated neighborhood for US military families, a symbol of the continued American military presence in Japan.

Without a doubt, one of the lasting memories of the Olympians’ positive experience of the 1964 Summer Games was the availability of bicycles throughout the Olympic Village. The Tokyo Olympic Organizing Committee had bicycles donated by Marukin Bicycle Manufacturing and Matsushita Electric Industrial and had them placed in all parts of the Village. The concept was if you saw an unattended bicycle, you could get on it and ride it anywhere in the Village. When you got off it and parked it, the bicycle was then available to any other person in the Village.

Members of the French Olympic Team on bicycles_Bi to Chikara
Members of the French Olympic Team on bicycles, from the book, Bi to Chikara

Olympian rower, Ted Nash, expressed his appreciation of the bicycles and Japanese hospitality in this post.

The reception was spectacular, the cleanliness and orderly fashion amazed us, the thoughtfulness of our hosts – the Japanese – was a constant surprise – They provided 750 new bicycles within the Olympic Village grounds on a “no-owner” basis. We simply found a vacant bike, rode it anywhere, left it there, and it was fair-game for anyone else – the seats never had a chance to cool off. Bus schedules, tours, eating and training facilities, were excellent with no measure spared to make the athletes feel at home.

Olympians rode the bicycles to the bus stops, to the dining areas, to the movie theaters and to their dorms. The books and magazines of the time were filled with pictures of Olympians smiling and socializing in the Village on those bicycles. One Olympian, who will remain anonymous, told me that it was their escape vehicles when they pinched the Turkish flag from that country’s living quarters.

Soren Svejstrup_bicycles
Members of the Danish team, from the collection of diver Søren Svejstrup.

The report by the Olympic Committee stated that there were actually over 1,000 bicycles allocated to the Olympic Village, but whether there were 750 or 1,000, there were simply not enough. An American gymnast told me that he often ran to open bicycles to make sure no one beat him to them. 5,000 meter Olympic champion, Bob Schul, wrote in his autobiography, In the Long Run, that the bicycles were so valuable that “they’d be hidden in bushes and other secret places, waiting on the athlete who had placed them in hiding the night before. We were among the few who arose so early that there were always a few within reach.”

Canadian field hockey player, Victor Warren validated that by telling me that “when our goalkeeper had to pack up our stuff we made it a point to take a bicycle and hide it in our dorm room so we could transport our stuff to the bus easily.”

The master of the psych out, four-time gold medalist Don Schollander, explained that one could get so worked up about whether a bicycle would be available, that he had to very consciously tell himself not to be bothered if he could not find a bicycle, as he explained in his autobiography, Deep Water.

I made up my mind not to let anything upset me. the Japanese had provided bicycles to help us get around the Village, but there were never enough. If I couldn’t find a bicycle, I would wait or walk. I was careful to take the right bus to training, so that I wouldn’t be too late and have to hurry, or too early and have to hang around. If I couldn’t get into the pool exactly when I wanted to, I told myself it didn’t matter. Whatever happened – that was fine with me. it rained a lot that week; if I got caught in a rainstorm, it was no big thing.

In the end, in so many of my interviews with 1964 Olympians, one of the most enduring memories of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics were the Village bicycles.

Ada Kok on bicycle in Tokyo Olympic Village
Members of the Dutch team.