Sports Illustrated’s Medal Predictions for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics Part 1: The US and USSR Safe Bets in Track and Field

SI_5Oct1964 edited

Prediction is very difficult, especially if it’s about the future. – Nils Bohr, Nobel laureate in Physics


A good forecaster is not smarter than everyone else, he merely has his ignorance better organised.  – Anonymous

In Sports Illustrated’s preview of the Tokyo Olympics, the editors offered their very specific predictions for gold, silver and bronze medalists for each of the Olympic events. Not only did they provide the names and orders of victors, they offered a bit of analysis for practically each event.

If we consider that this is 1964, when the only practical way to share information real time was the telephone, and shorter term by telegram, telex and snail mail. Using their considerable global connections at the time, they put together a pretty impressive set of predictions.

Let’s take a look at the 17 track and field events shown at the top of this post. Of that 17, SI identified the actual gold medalist 11 times, as you can see the green check mark I applied to an accurate prediction. In four events (indicated by a gray check mark), they didn’t identify the eventual gold medalist, although the one they picked made it to the medal podium.

Predictions part 1_with checkmarks

In fact, on this particular page, SI got only the marathon and steeplechase gold medalist wrong. They picked Ron Clarke for gold in the 10,000 meters, who eventually took bronze. No one knew that a kid from Kansas named Billy Mills would come out of nowhere to take gold and become one of the darlings of the ’64 Games.

True, men’s athletics were dominated by the US and USSR, and the American press were very aware of the USSR stars, so maybe these selections weren’t huge gambles.

Still, I’d be happy with this success rate.