Hank Iba is a basketball legend. He coached teams to NCAA championships in 1945 and 1946, and to medals in the Olympics in 1964, 1968 and 1972.
When he selected his team to go to Tokyo in 1964, he was immediately criticized. “The 12 men selected yesterday for the October duty in Tokyo have the best chance in history to lose one,” wrote columnist Georg Meyers of The Seattle Daily Times on April 6, 1964.
Iba knew he had a challenge as he indicated in an interview in Tokyo a few days prior to the men’s basketball finals. “Our big problem is that we have no one man who’ll get us 20 points every game,” he pointed out. “So it has to be a team effort. But when a team has played together as short a time as this one has, it’s bound to get sloppy at times.” (Traveler Sports, October 21, 1964)
Fortunately, Coach Iba was one of the toughest, most well-prepared coaches of his time.
Power forward/center, Luke Jackson, said that the team was constantly practicing. “Coach Iba wouldn’t let up. When we first came in the locker room, he gave each of us a notepad and said, ‘I want you to learn these plays. Those who don’t learn, won’t play.’ And then he walked out of the room. We practiced those plays. And those who didn’t learn them, didn’t play.”
“Those 5-hour practices a day – those were tough,” forward Jeff Mullins told me. “He had Iba-isms. If you had a turnover he would say in his raspy voice ‘Can’t have that, boys. Can’t have that.'”
The US team crushed the team from South Korea 116-50. Jackson said that after the game, “Iba took us to practice and worked us until our feet fell off. He said that we didn’t rebound well. He was just putting it on our mind that every game was important. You have to do things the same way every time. I’m sure we were hotdogging. And we realized that this guy was serious.”
Shooting guard Jerry Shipp and leading scorer on that team said that the men’s team in Tokyo was not selfish thanks to Coach Iba. “We passed well. We always helped each other, guarding a man and a half. If you didn’t play defense, you didn’t get on the floor.”
Mel Counts was a center on the team, and wrote this to the USOC about Coach Iba.
Many sports writers in the US predicted our team would not win the gold medal. We did not have any outstanding players. However we did have an outstanding coach that developed and presented an outstanding team. Hank Iba was the coach at Oklahoma State. He contributed outstanding leadership, incredible enthusiasm, an abundance of energy, a superior work ethic and the ability to impart belief in each player. Belief in our own abilities and the value we each brought to the team.
We practiced at Pearl Harbor for three weeks – two-and-a-half hours each morning and evening. When it came time to play in the Olympic Games, we were prepared physically and mentally – individually and cohesively. We won because we were coached to play as a team. We understood the value of teamwork. We won because of this one very important lesson taught by Coach Iba. We won because of the vision he inspired in us collectively. The credit, the victory belongs to Coach Iba.
The Indonesians and the North Koreans were in Tokyo. They were only one day away from setting foot in the National Stadium and parading before 70,000 cheering spectators at the opening ceremonies of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics on Saturday, October 10, 1964. But on Friday, October 9, the national teams of those countries, hundreds of athletes, coaches and administrators, abruptly turned around and went home. Many cried as they waited to board the trains away from Tokyo, and their chance at competing at the highest level.
Virachai Tanasugarn was on the Thai national Olympic team, a guard on his country’s basketball team. He was in Tokyo to play in a qualifying tournament with nine other national teams, with the chance to play in the beautiful Kenzo Tange Gymnasium Annex, and the hope of competing in the Olympics. And like the Indonesians and the North Koreans, he did not stay in Tokyo long enough to participate in the Games. But unlike the Indonesians and the North Koreans, he left with a sense of adventure and excitement.
From September 25 to October 4, ten teams vied in the qualifying round for four spots, in order to be a part of the 18 national teams to play in the Tokyo Olympics. Tanasugarn was on the Thai team, a spot player on the bench, who was simply excited to be in Japan. Despite starting off well, defeating Indonesia convincingly 85-50, the team proceeded to win only 3 of their 9 matches.
Tanasugarn, like his teammates, did not expect to make the cut. They were there to get experience, like so many of the other athletes from Southeast Asia. This was actually Tanasugarn’s second Olympic qualifier as a basketball player. When he was in Rome with hopes of helping the Thai team make the Olympics, he remembered looking at the spaghetti, cheese and ketchup and having no idea what they were or how to eat them. But when they came to Japan, they were happy to see more familiar food. They walked around Yokohama, went to Kamakura to visit the Big Buddha, and played lots of basketball against much better teams.
Tanasugarn was so confident that the Thai team would not qualify that he had already bought an airplane ticket for California to leave before opening ceremonies. After graduating from Thammasat University, he was encouraged to go to the United States by a cousin who graduated from the University of California Berkley, and was practicing as a medical doctor in California.
So unlike the Indonesians and North Koreans, Tanasugarn was excited to be leaving Japan just prior to the start of the Games. At the age of 26, with essentially no English ability, he was embarking on a new life in a new world. He went to a high school in San Francisco that had an adult education program where he learned English, and met his wife to be. He got his JD at the University of West Los Angeles School of Law, but could not find work in the legal field. Eventually, with his wife and mother, he opened up a Thai restaurant in Hollywood named Thai House, which he ran for 8 years.
Through a friend’s introduction, Tanasugarn was able to put his first daughter, Rose, in the Jack Kramer Club, where some of the best tennis talent was being groomed: Tracy Austin, Lindsey Davenport and Pete Sampras. Their coach was Robert Lansdorp, and Rose showed progress as a tennis player. However, after 6 years Rose decided she did not want tennis to be the primary focus in her life, and left competitive play.
While in the United States, Tanasugarn had divorced and re-married, having a daughter with his second wife that they named Tamarine. In 1982, he returned to Bangkok with Tamarine, then just 5-years-old. Tamarine began to focus on her tennis with her father as coach until she was 20, and then proceeded with professional coaches and increasingly competitive tournaments.
Tamarine would go on to become Thailand’s most successful female tennis player ever, reaching the quarter-finals in Wimbledon in 2008 and the Wimbledon doubles semifinals in 2011, climbing as high as #19 in the world, and competing in four Olympics, from 1996 to 2008.
Her father, Virachai, utilizing all the wisdom and insight he learned from observing Lansdorp and some of the best up-and-coming talent in the world at the Jack Kramer School in the 1970s, and watching first hand his daughter Tamarine rise to world-class levels, embarked on a career of tennis coach. At the Rama Gardens Hotel in Bangkok, he continues to coach tennis at the age of 80.
Little did he know in Tokyo what future lay before him as he embarked the Pan Am flight for America in October, 1964.
He looks at the tennis courts with pride, knowing that his daughter Tamarine, and the success she had, helped build the foundation for tennis in Thailand today.
It’s days before the start of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics and Olympic fever in Tokyo is rising. Athletes from all over the world were arriving days if not weeks in advance, filing off of planes and ships and filling the Olympic villages in Yoyogi, Enoshima and Lake Sagami.
For most Japanese, the Olympic villages were pop-up mini United Nations, places of such diversity to shock the mono-culture of Japan. They were drawn to the villages with the hopes of seeing the wide variety of shapes, colors and sizes of the world population, to shake hands with the foreigners, take pictures with them, and of course, get their autographs.
Certainly, to get the autograph of swimming siren Kiki Caron from France, or the amazing barefoot runner from Ethiopia Abebe Bikila, or the 218 cm giant center on the USSR basketball team, Janis Krumins would be a coup. But apparently, the Japanese would rush up to anyone who looked like a foreigner and ask for their autograph.
Hayes Jones was not just anyone – he was the 110-meter hurdles gold medalist. But when he wrote down his name “Hayes,” he would cause a ruckus beyond his expectation:
When I was going into town after the winning the gold in Tokyo, I was leaving the village to see my wife, and these Japanese kids were outside with the autograph pads and they saw me call me out, and this kid put my pen and paper in front of me. I started signing my sign, “Hayes”. …they started shouting “Bob Hayes” is here. I didn’t have the nerve to write “Hayes Jones”.
The “fanaticism” of the Japanese to get autographs was apparently wearing thin on athletes and officials alike, even before the Olympics opened, so much so that the press had words of caution for their readers. As you can read in the Yomiuri article of October 5, 1964 below, athletes were “outraged,” at risk of “writer’s cramp”! To be honest, it’s hard to tell whether the article was preaching, or teasing….
Some athletes have become so outraged that whenever they see these “fanatics” they raise their voices, yelling them to go away.
The great majority of the determined pack of autograph hounds consist of people assigned to the village. These are mostly defense force servicemen, interpreters and assorted workers who often show utter disregard for the time, place or mood of athletes in asking for autographs.
If this trend remains unchecked, many athletes will end up having writer’s cramp before they leave for home.
The 1964 Tokyo Paralympics, which ran from November 8 to 12, had an immediate impact on Japanese society.
Only a few weeks after the exhilarating Tokyo Olympiad, the Paralympics created an entirely new set of images and impressions on the Japanese psyche regarding notions of what disabled people can and can’t do, as well as the individual Japanese attitude towards disabled people.
Hundreds of foreign Paralympians were in Japan, serving as models in terms of performance and attitude, which was a jolt to Japanese society. Seeichiro Ide of the Ministry of Health and Welfare said, “Japan had the culture of shunning people with disabilities,” and that “making the disabled more visible in society” was a new goal for the new Japan.
A paper entitled The “Legacy” of the 1964 Tokyo Paralympics, from the Journal of the Nippon Foundation Paralympic Research Group, examined the areas of impact of the Paralympics on Japanese society. My labels for those impacts are: Confidence in Ability, Not Shame in Disability; An Emerging Independent Mindset; Paralympians as Athletes; Medical Shift from Curing the Disease to Rehabilitation; and Instant Advances in Equipment Technology.
Confidence in Ability, Not Shame in Disability
The Japanese athletes who were asked to participate in the 1964 Paralympics likely had very little time to prepare as the institutionalization of sports for disabled people had really only just begun in Japan in the early 1960s. But when placed in a situation that tested their skills on a n international platform, Japanese participants felt a rush of elation at being asked to stretch and compete. The paper, written by Kazuo Ogoura, quotes a Japanese fencer, Shigeo Aono, a Japanese discus thrower, Masayoshi Koike, on the Paralympics:
Some said we were out of our minds for trying to compete in fencing, a traditional western sport, after just eight months of practice. Yet, we rejected the naysayers, followed through with our intentions and managed to win the silver medal…, which gave us a powerful realization that we could do anything if we tried. That sense of confidence gave me strong insight and courage, which has been a guiding force of my life ever since. – Aono
I had so much fun, with my spirit lifted high into the sky. – Koike
An Emerging Independent Mindset
With confidence came the realization for Japanese athletes that they were not disabled, but enabled. They took heart in seeing the foreign athletes in Tokyo, and how they carried themselves, particularly in terms of being independent. The paper cites the example of the Paralympians from Argentina, who “upon arrival in Japan, refused to use a lift vehicle provided by Japanese officials, and used crutches or had their arm around the shoulder of assisting Self-Defense Force personnel to walk down the gangway stairs by themselves to the wheelchairs on the ground.” Ogoura concluded that
Most of the athletes from overseas had worked… and lived a life the same way as able-bodied persons did. This difference forced Japanese Paralympians to face the importance of developing an independent frame of mind.
This understanding extended to the need for disabled people in Japan to take care of their health, and strengthen their bodies.
Another demonstration of overseas athletes’ independent mindset was their day-today efforts to boost their physical strength and athletic abilities. Japanese athletes were reminded of the importance of maintaining and increasing physical strength in daily life, when they witnessed a large number of injuries sustained by their teammates during the Paralympics. Two Japanese athletes suffered Achilles’ tendon injuries and 14 others sustained a range of other injuries during their respective events.
More importantly, people saw in the example of visiting foreigners that it was normal in other countries for people with disabilities to be happy and full of life, quoting an administrator of the Paralympic village, Eiichi Machida:
We were stunned to see overseas athletes in wheelchairs, hanging onto the back of a slow-operating Athlete Village loop bus to hitch a ride. It was sheer astonishment to witness their energy, enjoying themselves at a dance party at the International Club, or catching a taxi at night and loading their wheelchairs as well to go to Shibuya’s entertainment precinct.
Paralympians as Athletes
The common attitude was to treat anyone with disability with kid’s gloves, people who needed constant care and careful handling. But at the 1964 Tokyo Paralympics, spectators and television viewers saw that the participants were athletes, not victims. Ogoura highlights this example of a Japanese swimmer.
One female athlete from overseas had to be carried by her husband to get into the swimming pool. When the race started, she was left behind the rest straight away. By the time the first swimmer finished the race, she had only just swum about 5 meters. She would start sinking, but get back afloat. Rescue staff was swimming about 2 meters behind her just in case. When she began sinking after so many times, the rescue staff proceeded to help, but her husband on the poolside used a hand gesture to tell them to stop. Two more meters to go…, one more meter… The progress was slow. Applause broke out in the spectators’ stand. After more than three minutes, she finally completed the 25-meter feat.” Episodes like this prompted eminent persons and sporting officials to express the opinion that “Disabled sports must be fostered as regular athletic events.”
Medical Shift from Curing the Disease to Rehabilitation
Another significant effect of the 1964 Tokyo Paralympics was the shift in the medical world, where more doctors and institutions realized the need to focus more on rehabilitation, not just on cure or prevention of the disease, that to ignore the state of the disabled, who may have the potential of athletes seen at the 1964 Paralympics, is to ignore the opportunity to bring confidence and joy to a significant part of the population. Ogoura quotes a healthcare worker:
Modern medicine focused too much on diseases and ignored people who suffer from them. It was the case of hunters being too busy looking for deer to look at the mountain itself, as they say in Japanese. Take spinal cord injuries for example. If medicine had focused more on achieving patients’ recovery than merely treating the condition, I have no doubt that those with spinal cord injuries today would have enjoyed a higher level of physical recovery, even joining in on the funfair of the Paralympics.
Instant Advances in Equipment Technology
The exposure to foreign equipment used by the disabled was hugely impactful. When the hundreds of foreign Paralympians, coaches and administrators came to Japan for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, they brought things that Japanese people had never seen, and immediately set the standard for Japan. Ogoura cited wheelchairs:
The greatest technological impact the Paralympics had was on the development and proliferation of equipment and tools for the care of those with disabilities, which were still underdeveloped in Japan at the time. There was a clear performance gap between foreign-made and Japanese wheelchairs and urine collectors, etc. Commenting on this matter, Yutaka Nakamura said, “The difference of wheelchairs was as clear as day. British sport-use wheelchairs weighed 13 kilograms, whereas Japanese wheelchairs were as heavy as 23 kilograms. Overseas players had wheelchairs made to suit their physique, while Japanese sport wheelchairs were the case of one-size-fits-all.
The Japanese could see the difference in performance based on the foreign athletes’ use of the wheelchairs compared to themselves: “Overseas players are bigger but very skilled at handling wheelchairs. We looked more like the wheelchairs were handling us. Then again, the experience gave us confidence that practice would improve our skills.”
The 1964 Tokyo Paralympics caused a monumental mindshift in Japanese culture. Dr. Yutaka Nakamura, one of the key players in making the Tokyo Paralympics happen, wrote in 1964 something that is the essential message of inclusion today:
Our society in general tends to underestimate the capability of people with disabilities. An event like this is significant in that it is a wonderful opportunity to demonstrate their capability to the rest of the society.
On Sunday, November 8, 1964, 53 years ago today, commenced the 1964 Summer Paralympics in Tokyo. Held over a five-day period, the competition was dominated by the team from the United States, with 123 medals, including 50 gold. The team from Great Britain was a distant second with 61 medals, including 18 gold.
Ron Stein of O’Fallon, Illinois won 8 gold medals. Rosalie Hixson of Crystal Spring, Pennsylvania won six gold medals and a silver. And Tim Harris of Rockford, Illinois took home 11 medals, including 3 gold medals. The total of those three Americans alone would have placed them in sixth place if they were their own country.
Harris contracted polio when he was only 18 months old, but learned how to get around on a wheelchair and crutches so competently that he was competing in wheelchair athletics by the time he entered the University of Illinois. Competing in football, basketball, track and field, swimming, ping pong and archery, clearly Harris was a natural athlete.
But at the 1964 Tokyo Paralympics, Harris was repeatedly in the shadow of his University of Illinois teammate, Stein. Harris finished second to Stein in the men’s wheelchair dash, the shot put, the discus throw, the pentathlon, and third to Stein in the javelin and club throw. “Ron earned eight gold medals,” said Harris in a Morning Star article from November 20, 1964. “This was his meet. I certainly never expected to earn 11 medals. I would have been real happy to win just one.”
Harris competed internationally for eight years since his first at the Stoke Mandeville Games in in London in 1963, collecting over 30 gold medals and setting seven world records in his career. He would go on to marry Judy Webb, who won two medals at the third Paralympics held in 1968 in Israel.
The 1960s saw the blossoming of the international competition for disabled athletes. The success of the Tokyo Paralympics helped the general public and organizers alike understand that the disabled were not a helpless class to hide away. “Someone told me before I left (the United States for Japan) that the Japanese left handicapped people out in the cold, but that sure wasn’t the case this year,” said Harris in the Morning Star article. “They went all out for you. The hospitality was simply overwhelming.”
Of Hixson’s accomplishments in Tokyo, Governor Scranton said in this AP article of December 13, 1964, “she is a shining example of the fact that in our state today a handicapped person is not a person without opportunity. Her accomplishment in the Paralympics is a marvelous tribute to her stamina and determination, and it gives me great pride to take this opportunity to salute her as well as her teammates and classmates from the Johnstown Rehabilitation Center on behalf of all my fellow Pennsylvanians.”
This is Part 2 of a breakdown of the amateur film by George and Lilian Merz.
The Merz’s, who won an award for their summary of the XVIII Olympiad in Tokyo, stayed primarily around the National Stadium, so their view of the Olympics was primarily track and field. But on occasion, they trained their cameras at events outside the National Stadium, as well as on non-sporting events. Their footage of the ceremonies have been more effectively captured elsewhere, but their human interest forays are interesting at times.
Opening Ceremony: 1:25 – It’s the Opening Ceremony at the National Stadium on October 10, 1963. At the 3:12 mark, the US team enters the stadium. The men on the US team are wearing cowboy hats, and it appears that is all you see in their sea of members. The women however aren’t wearing any hats. President Johnson, who is believed to have had the hats sent to the Olympians, probably didn’t think it was appropriate for women to wear these cowboy hats. What struck me was how small the female crowd was. When I looked it up, of the 346 people on the US Olympic squad, only 79 were women. And many of them were likely swimmers who had to compete in the next few days, so were likely not allowed to march in the opening ceremony. Interestingly, the men who dominated the US sailing team brought up the rear, not in cowboy hats, but in sailor caps. Also great footage of the balloon released, the Olympic flag raised and the cauldron lit, in a jam-packed stadium. At the 8:36, Merz has footage of the Emperor and Empress of Japan in the stands!
Huckster Girls: 12:25 and 13:56 – That’s what Merz calls the women selling food and drink in the National Stadium. I can’t tell what snacks they were selling, but they were selling a bottle of Coca Cola for 50 yen. At 360 yen to the dollar, that’s about 13 cents!
Nature Boy: At the 14:32 mark, Merz films an unusual looking Japanese man outside the National Stadium, whom he dubs “nature boy”. He’s bald headed and bare chested, except for a sash, and holding a banner. The sash says “Make Your Body as Naked as Your Face!”. His banner basically says the same thing, further emphasizing that nudity is healthy, and that he belongs to some sort of nudist association. In modest Japan, this is the last thing I would have expected to see in this documentary.
Rain Rain Rain: You can see at the 17:16 mark a sea of umbrellas. On certain days, it simply rained through the day.
Press Seats and TV Monitors: As you can see at the 16:44 mark, the press section in the National Stadium had little TV monitors so that the press could watch the action up close.
Eating Bento: I don’t know what the guy is eating, but I’m sure it was good! At the 23:16 mark you can see the spectators sitting on wood-slat benches, and this particular man enjoying a bento. He appears to be sitting in a covered section of the stadium too.
4×100 Swimming Relay Men’s: 5:26 – The Merz’s visit the National Gymnasium and fil the second heat of the men’s 4×100 swimming relay, which the Americans win handily.
Field Hockey Men’s: 25:24 – The Merz’s take a break from the National Stadium and head to the Komazawa Stadium to watch a field hockey match between Germany and Kenya.
Basketball: 25:48 – The Merz’s then head to the National Gymnasium Annex to see men’s basketball. Unfortunately, the footage is too dark to tell which players are from which countries.
Closing Ceremony: 27:38 – And finally, here was footage of the closing ceremony. The film is dark, but you can see the Olympic flame extinguished – a blurry light extinguished, the Olympic Flag lowered, to be send to Mexico City, and an fireworks display to cap off an incredible two weeks.
Imagine you have a sport growing in popularity, growing so quickly that it takes roots in countries all over the world, developing at different speeds, with slightly different rules depending on where it was played. When judo first began holding international competitions, a rift occurred between the rules that dictate judo in its birthplace, Japan, and the rest of the world.
Judo-ka in Japan were traditionally not classified by weight classes, so you would have a 90 kg judoka face off against a 60 kg judoka. International bodies believed that fairness could be better achieved by having people of similar weight compete, as has been done with success in boxing.
Who makes the rules? Who decides who goes to a national or an international competition? In the case of the Olympics in the post-war years in America, when money began to be invested in the development of sportsmen and women, it was the Amateur Athletic Union, otherwise known as the AAU, which emerged as the national governing body for many sports disciplines, including track and field, gymnastics, wrestling, basketball and many others.
According to the book, “History of the United States Wrestling Federation / USA Wrestling” by Werner Holzer, the AAU had become a very powerful entity, frustrating coaches and athletes alike due to perceived lack of funding and support. This frustration was particular true in the “smaller” disciplines of wrestling and gymnastics where AAU mindshare appeared much greater in track and field.
Top of the list of complaints was the perceived AAU disregard for the views and expertise of the coaches to identify and select athletes for major competitions. Holzer explained that “the 1964 Olympic Games selection process personified the problem of the AAU being the ruling body for the sports of gymnastics. The AAU gymnastics chairman, George Gulack, selected the internationally inexperienced Vannie Edwards as the women’s 1964 Olympic Team coach. He appointed his wife, Fay Gulack, who was incapable and unknowledgeable about gymnastics, as the team manager. It was an arrangement destined for disaster!”
Ron Barak, a member of the 1964 men’s Olympic Gymnastics team, and today a practicing lawyer and novelist, first met George Gulack in 1962, when Barak was a sophomore at USC. Barak competed in that year’s National AAU Championships which served as the trials to select the U.S. men’s team that would represent the U.S. in the 1962 World Gymnastics Championships. Natural grade inflation in subjectively graded sports such as gymnastics, diving and figure skating favored the more established veterans in those sports. It’s just the way it was, according to Barak. This was Barak’s first appearance on the national scene, he told me, and he personally had no expectations of making the 1962 World Gymnastics Team and so he felt he was there to pay his dues and gain experience for what he was really after, a chance to make the 1964 Olympic Team.
But something strange happened over the three-day trials. For the first two days, Barak said he flew under the radar, largely unnoticed. He recalled that he was performing well and scoring well, and yet still felt more like a spectator than a competitor. However, after two days, he found himself in serious contention to make the 1962 World Games Team. He began to believe that all he had to do was perform at the same level on the last day and score at the same level, and he would make the World Games Team. Barak said he performed even better on the third day than on the first two days, but strangely, he told me, his scores plummeted, and he missed the team by a slim margin.
Barak said that Gulack came up to him after the competition was over and said “Don’t worry about it, Ron, your time will come. Just be patient.” Barak wasn’t sure what to make of Gulack’s words. Literally, they were nothing more than innocent words of encouragement. But Gulack, Barak said, presided over that three-day competition like it was his personal fiefdom and he was calling all the shots. Gulack was used to having his own way. He could occasionally be pleasant, Barak recalled, but more often he was a bully, if not an outright tyrant. Did Gulack’s words to Barak signify something more than their plain meaning? Lots of innuendo but no way to know.
Come 1964, Barak won the NCAA All Around Championships and finished high enough in the 1964 Olympic Trials to make the team . “Gulack continued to act as if he were making all the decisions, but the fact was that the seven U.S. gymnasts who made the U.S. men’s Olympic team in 1964 were the seven best male gymnasts in the country that year. No one made that team who didn’t earn it and no one not on that team deserved to be there.”
Barak suspected that because the male gymnasts on the whole were a veteran team, most of whom would not continue to compete much after 1964, Gulack had little to threaten them with even if he could.
According to others, Gulack appeared to exercise significant influence in the selection of the women’s gymnastics team. During the Olympic Games, several weeks after the official trials had ended in the United States and the women’s gymnastics team roster had been set, Gulack re-set the team roster in an unscheduled competition.
Members of the women’s team were rankled, and itching to push back. A rebellion was brewing and would come to a head in Tokyo in October of 1964.
It was a far cry from years in the future when Canada embarked on a highly financed campaign to win a bevy of gold at the Vancouver Winter Olympics with their Own the Podium program.
In 1964, the basketball players on Team Canada paid their own way to Tokyo to compete in a qualifying tournament that took place a week prior to the start of the Tokyo Olympics. If Canada played well enough to finish within the top four in the 16-team tournament to qualify for the Olympic tournament, then the 15 players would be reimbursed for the S1,044 round-trip economy airfare from Toronto to Tokyo, according to a Yomiuri article from October 5, 1964.
On October 2, Canada got by The Philippines 68-64, which set up a match against Cuba. And on October 4 in Yokohama, Canada defeated Cuba 72-63. As the article describes, “Canada’s Olympic basketball team members are in the money, and far from keeping it quiet, they’re yelling their heads off jubilantly.”
Then there’s the adage “be careful what you wish for.”
After the opening ceremonies, and the commencement of the Olympics basketball tournament in the beautiful National Gymnasium Annex in Yoyogi, Team Canada quickly realized they had entered a slaughterhouse. Team Canada proceeded to lose seven games in a row.
To the delight of the hometown fans, Canada lost handily to a much shorter Team Japan 58-37, in what was considered at that time an upset. Japan in fact won 4 games in the tournament. Team Canada’s only consolation was in the consolation round, when they somehow defeated Peru 62-61, before falling to Hungary, and landing in 14th place out of 16.
The pictures are the first two pages of photo profiles of Americans on the US Olympic squad, from the summary report of American performance at the 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games. As you can see and likely understand, America at the time demographically was generally perceived to be white. But it was changing, as minority groups, be they black, latino or Asian for example, were growing in size. Consequently, their representation in American Olympic squads were also growing.
In 1964, diversity and inclusion were not buzzwords in corporate America. They were in some ways an alien concept, something that you might only visualize if you happen to be passing through the United Nations when it was in session. But there was one shining example of that on Team USA in 1964 – the Judo team – represented by a Caucasian Jew (James Bregman), a person of Native American Indian descent (Ben Nighthorse Campbell), a Japanese-American (Paul Maruyama) and an African American (George Harris).
Judo is not a team sport. It is very much mano-a-mano, and while you learn from others, training can be done independently. In other words, in the case of the 1964 Team USA judo squad, their diverse make up did not necessarily contribute to their actual performance beyond the fact that they were all good friends, four of the few foreigners who ventured to the mecca of judo in Tokyo to live and train.
But for James Bregman, who won a bronze medal in the middleweight class at the 1964 Games, the “rainbow team” was an inspiration to him.
“I grew up in a black ghetto,” Bregman told me. “I was a Jewish kid with white skin who was picked on by black kids who were brutes. I actually experienced segregation. My father had a grocery store in Green Valley, Virginia, and we lived above it on the second floor. Behind our store was Drew Elementary School, only two blocks away. I could play basketball with the other kids there, but in the 1950s I couldn’t go to that school. Instead, they bussed me out to Fairlington Elementary School in a white neighborhood 30 minutes away.”
Bregman didn’t object to being bussed out – he said he really wasn’t conscious of the socio-economic context of race relations at that time. But he did know that he was beat up in his neighborhood. Very often the bullies would be black, but Bregman told me that he was brought up not to judge, that he should be respectful to everybody and that a few bad guys did not represent an entire group.
And yet, he was getting beat up nonetheless.
Bregman was a small boy, often sick, dealing with bronchitis and asthma as a child. His parents thought that keeping him active indoors would help, so he got lessons in baton twirling, tap dancing, gymnastics, acrobatics as a kid. But one day, his parents learned of a judo club in the officers’ athletic club at the Pentagon in Washington D. C. that also was open to the public. Bregman’s parents took him to the club and suddenly, he was hooked on judo. And the officer’s club was also eye opening, the closest he would come to being inside the United Nations.
Although the Officer’s Athletic Club was located in Virginia, it was not segregated since the Pentagon was the Federal Government’s military headquarters. You had black, whites, hispanics, Japanese, Chinese, people from embassies all over the world. The club membership was multi-racial, multi-cultural, multi-religious. From the time I was 13 years old, those were the people I hung out with. Maybe it was subliminal, but it gave me an understanding that hatred based on these externalities was ridiculous.
In fact, what Bregman understood, as did his teammates on the US judo team, what brought them together was far more substantial than what set them apart. Harris, Campbell, Maruyama and Bregman had all trained together in Japan for 3 or 4 years, their tight friendship forged in the common experience of two-a-day training – relentless, punishing and exhausting training. According to Bregman, they were more interested in becoming waza-shi, or highly proficient in judo technique, than winning competitions.
Bregman felt that his team was the representation of an ideal America, a team built on merit and performance, not race or religion. “Being on the rainbow team had a tremendous impact on me personally. This team represented America, not the one I grew up in, but one I wanted to live in.”