1964 Abebe Bikila Avery Brundage Basketball Billy Mills Bob Hayes Boycotts Closing Ceremonies Cold War Dawn Fraser Diving […]

Advertisements

Haripal Kaushik

Haripal Kaushik

Haripal Kaushik was a three-time Olympian and won two gold medals on the dominant India field hockey teams of the 20th century. An assistant captain of the team, he witnessed India’s string of six consecutive Olympic championships end at the 1960 Rome Olympics when Pakistan took gold, but was on the field when India defeated Pakistan at Komazawa Olympic Stadium in 1964. Karushik served in the Sikh Regiment of the Indian Army, and after the Olympics had a career as a field hockey administrator and television commentator. He passed away on January 25, 2018 at the age of 83.

 

Kaoroly Palotai_1964

Károly Palotai

Károly Palotai was midfielder on the Hungarian football club, Győri ETO FC, and was on the strong Hungarian national team that won gold at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics.

Palotai went on to a long and successful career as a referee, on the field officiating at the 1974, 1978 and 1982 FIFA World Cups, as well as the 1972 and 1976 Olympics. Palotai died on February 3, 2018 at the age of 82.

 

 

Sir Durwold Knowles_1964

Durwold Knowles (right)

Durward Knowles

Durward Knowles was a sailor from the Bahamas who, with Cecil Cooke, won the first Olympic gold medal for the Bahamas in the Star class at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. The native of Nassau died on February 24, 2018, nearly 4 months into his 100th birthday. Knowles was an 8-time Olympian, first representing Great Britain in 1948 before representing the Bahamas from 1952. It was thought that the 1972 Munich Games was his last, until Knowles returned to competition at the 1988 Seoul Olympics, becoming one of only four Olympics to have competed over a span of 40 years. Knowles was, at the age of 80, easily the oldest competitor at the Seoul Olympics and was the Bahamas flag bearer in the opening ceremony.

 

Sven-Olov_Sjödelius_1960

Sven-Olov Sjödelius

Sven-Olov Sjödelius was a two time gold medalist in the K-2 1000-meter canoe event representing Sweden at both the 1960 Rome and 1964 Tokyo Olympics. The native of Svärta, Sweden. Trained as a mechanic, Sjödelius also served as a member of the Swedish Olympic Committee. He died on March 29, 2018 at the age of 84.

 

Jan Cameron
Janice Cameron

Janice Cameron

Janice Cameron (née Murphy) won a silver medal at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics on the Australian 4×100 freestyle swim team. The native of Sydney, Australia went on to coach swimming in Australia, Canada and the US before settling into a long career as coach and sports administrator in New Zealand. She was appointed national coach for the New Zealand swim team in 2001. Cameron passed way on April 30, 2018 at the age of 71.

 

Irena Szewińska 1964
Irena Szewińska

Irena Szewińska

Irena Szewińska, née Kirszenstein, passed away on June 29, at the age of 72. The native of Warsaw, Kirszenstein was one of the greatest women athletes of the 20th century, the only sprinter in history to have held the world record in the 100, 200 and 400-meters. She competed in five Olympics from 1964 to 1980, winning three golds, two silver and two bronzes in the sprints and the long jump. The “Athlete of the 20th Century in Poland” was a busy sports administrator from the mid 1980s, serving on the IAAF, the EAA as well as the IOC. She was also a stage actress before focusing on athletics, once portraying Ophelia in Hamlet.

 

Hans_Günter_Winkler_1966
Hans Günter Winkler_

Hans Günter Winkler
Hans Günter Winkler was an equestrian show jumper who appeared in six consecutive Olympics from 1956 to 1972, compiling five old medals, a silver and a bronze, primarily in team jumping. Representing Germany, and then West Germany, Winkler won his sole individual jumping medal at his Olympic debut at the 1956 Stockholm Games where his mare, Halla, carried him to victory despite a painful groin strain. Winkler went on to a successful career as a representative in a pharmaceutical company and a US mail-order company. Winkler passed away on July 9 at the age of 91.

year of the boar japan 2019

2019 is the Year of the Boar (in Japan) and Year of the Pig (in China). More specifically in the Chinese Zodiac, it is the Year of the Earth Pig, which waddles into the spotlight once every 60 years.

And it was 60 years ago on May 26, 1959 in the last Year of the Earth Pig, that members of the IOC met in Munich, Germany for the 55th General Session of the International Olympic Committee to decide which city – Brussels, Detroit, Tokyo or Vienna – would host the 1964 Tokyo Olympics.

In a decisive vote that required only one round, the IOC selected Tokyo, which took a majority 34 votes of the possible 58. Detroit came in a distant second with only 10 votes.

What were the reasons given for Tokyo’s winning bid in 1959?

Successful Asian Games: in 1958, Tokyo hosted the Asian Games, where over 1,800 athletes from 20 nations participated in 13 different events. As the Detroit Times wrote the day after its selection, “Tokyo, a strong favorite in recent months, after the world-wide fanfare it received after its holding of the recent Asian Games, was given the 1964 award.”

Fred Wada: Wada, a Wakayama native, was a Japanese American who hosted the Japan swimming team when they competed at the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics, and was instrumental in lobbying IOC members in Latin America in support of the Tokyo bid for the 1964 Olympics.

Cancellation of the 1940 Tokyo Olympics: Tokyo was awarded the right to host the 1940 Summer Olympics, but the threat of global conflict made the organization of those Games untenable, so they Olympics were cancelled in both 1940 and 1944. Avery Brundage, the president of the International Olympic Committee, would mention that they lost their chance to stage those Games because of “unfortunate circumstances,” implying that 1964 would be a second chance.

Avery Brundage: Brundage was a dominant president of the International Olympic Committee from 1952 to 1972. And he was someone deeply familiar with Asia, particularly its art. After visiting an exhibition of Chinese art in London in 1935, he began to amass a collection of Asian art, much of which would be donated to the new wing of the Memorial Museum in San Francisco. In his speech at the opening of the new wing, Brundage professed his admiration for Asia.

We think in terms of years, Orientals think in terms of generations, or of centuries, and some Indian philosophers even think in terms of five thousand year cycles. The great religions all originated in Asia. The Chinese invented silk, paper, gunpowder, porcelain, printing, and a hundred other things, and had a well developed civilization when Europe was in the throes of the dark ages and most of America a wilderness, inhabited only by savages. (From The Four Dimensions of Avery Brundage, by Heinz Schobel.)

Avery Brundage Visiting an art exhibition in Tokyo, 1958
Avery Brundage Visiting an art exhibition in Tokyo, 1958, from The Four Dimensions of Avery Brundage

Supporters of the Detroit bid didn’t take kindly to what they perceived as Brundage’s outsized influence and bias for bringing the Olympics to Asia. One of the leaders of the Detroit bid, Fred Matthaei, was quoted as saying, “We got the impression the committee wanted to hold the Games on another continent.”

The editorial in the May 27, 1959 editorial page of the Detroit Times was blunter in its criticism of Brundage.

Brundage is a native Detroiter. The local delegation hoped that fact might help their campaign. It didn’t. It merely proved how little they know the egotistic Mr. Brundage. He insists piously and repeatedly that his position as president of the IOC prevents his taking sides. But he made no secret of his leaning toward Tokyo. His explanation for the about-face in principle is that Tokyo lost the 1940 games because of the war. He indicated he deemed it an accident of fate. He ignored the argument that in 1940 the Japanese were engaged in an aggressive war and, accordingly, deserve no special consideration.

Whatever the reason, the Olympics came to Tokyo in 1964, thanks to that crucial vote in 1959, the Year of the Earth Pig.

1964 Paralympics_wheelchair dash.jpg

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.

Tim Harris_1964 Tokyo Paralympics.JPGBut 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.”

Opening Ceremonies Ticket_front
A ticket to the Opening Ceremony of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics.

Tickets for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics won’t go on sale until the Spring of 2019. But the ticket prices have been announced. And if you want to have one of the best views to the biggest global must-see event of 2020 – the Olympics opening ceremony – then you need to shell out 300,000 yen. But if you just want to take your family of 5 to witness a bit of Olympic history, like the marathon, then all you need is to pay 2,500 yen per person.

Based on the price list released by Tokyo 2020, here’s What’s Hot, and What’s Not for the Tokyo Summer Games:

What’s Hot

  • Opening Ceremony: JPY12,000 ~300,000
  • Closing Ceremony: JPY12,000~220,000
  • Track and Field: JPY3,000~130,000
  • Swimming: JPY5,800~108,000
  • Basketball: JPY3,000~108,000

What’s Not (or rather, What’s More Affordable)

  • Modern Pentathlon: JPY2,500~4,000
  • Shooting: JPY2,500~5,500
  • Marathon: JPY2,500~6,000
  • Weightlifting: JPY2,500~12,800
  • Sailing: JPY3,000~5,500
  • Taekwando: JPY3,000~9,500

Note that there will be affordable tickets at JPY3,000 for such “hot” sports as Track and Field and Basketball. But I imagine those tickets could move quickly.

Another note to note  on the 2020 site: “Tickets prices as of 20 July, 2018. Prices may change based on the Games plan and competition schedule.”

1964 Paralympics_US vs Japan basketball
1964 Paralympics_US vs Japan basketball. from the book 1964 Tokyo Olympiad, Kyodo News Agency

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.

 

1964 Paralympics_youtube video of wheelchair holding onto bus
Wheelchair Paralympians hitching a ride at the back of a bus; a screenshot from a video about the 1964 Tokyo Paralympics; click on the image to watch.

 

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.

1964 Paralympics_wheelchair fencing
Wheelchair fencing at the 1964 Tokyo 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.

don schollander_Life Magazine_30Oct1964

He had a Beatles’ moment, even before the Fab Four would land in Tokyo two years later. It was October, 1964, and Don Schollander had just landed in Haneda Airport.

The plane put down in Tokyo and for a second I had that fatalistic feeling in my stomach. Outside it was daylight and hundreds of reporters and photographers and spectators were there to greet us. We pulled ourselves together and straggled down the ramp. I hadn’t slept at all and I was one tired guy, coming down that ramp with the rest of the team. Then all of a sudden I heard it, all around me there were Japanese people and they were shouting, “Schollander! Schollander!” They remembered me! The guys laughed and kidded me about it but I felt good. I felt at home.

As five-time gold medalist, Don Schollander explained in his autobiography, Deep Water, he had a deep appreciation for Japan, even before his arrival for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. Swimming competitions had brought him and his Team USA swim teammates to Japan twice before, in 1962 and 1963. He was a 16-year old his first time in Japan and Schollander felt that the Japanese loved young people, although it may be more accurate to say, they loved young, handsome blonde people in particular, as they may have represented the idealized Hollywood version of America they read about in their literature.

Perhaps more significantly, he was a winner, having never lost a race there, and so expectations were high when he landed in Japan. “Looking back on it, I guess I felt sort of like a gladiator going into the arena, wanting to get into the fight and yet nervous about going out to face it.”

By the time the XVII Olympiad in Tokyo had ended, there were very few more popular people in Japan than Don Schollander. The slim, six-foot 18-year old from Oswego, Oregon, who was to become a freshman at Yale after the Summer Games, was a star.

Here is how the San Francisco Examiner described it:

As far as the Japanese are concerned, Don Schollander is the indisputable hero of the Olympic Games. Whether it’s his almost white hair or his four gold medals or his Adonic looks, he had caught the fancy of this tight little island.

don-schollander-signing-autographs_the-spectacle-of-tokyo-olympics-1964
Don Schollander signing autographs, from the book, The Spectacle of Tokyo Olympics 1964

That article from October 23, 1964, went on to say that Schollander was receiving letters and packages that filled a room:

On one side were at least 500 packages. On the floor were three large baskets filled with letters and telegrams. “With few exceptions, these are all for Schollander,” (J. Lyman Bingham executive director of the USOC) said. “This is the greatest expression of goodwill for an individual I have ever seen in my life… He is so young, strong, handsome and appealing Japan has just decided he is something of a god in a land where worship is complex religion….”

Schollander could not go anywhere without being stopped for autographs or having his photo taken. “Even to touch him was considered as a rare privilege.”

Schollander wrote in his autobiography that after his last golden victory in Tokyo, he was exhausted and finally got to be at 4:30 in the morning. Three hours later, photographers from Life Magazine banged on his door to wake him, resulting in one of the iconic photos of the 1964 Olympics.

I opened my one eye. My roommates were nowhere around; I didn’t know whether they had come and gone or hadn’t come in yet. Life wanted more pictures.

“Come back later,” I mumbled.

“No,” they said. “We want to get a picture upon the roof and now the sun is right. Come on. We’ve got your medals.”

I pulled on my sweats and at 7:30 in the morning, up on the roof, they shot that picture that appeared on the cover of Life.

So many Olympians from 1964 have told me how much they loved their experience in Japan, that the Japanese people in particular made their time in Tokyo so special. Many who have been to multiple Olympiads cite the 1964 Games in Tokyo as their favorite. I wouldn’t be surprised if Schollander felt the same:

After my race they had mobbed me as though I were one of them, and someone told me that the Japanese people had sort of adopted me. I had come to japan when I was fifteen, completely unknown, and I had had my first big victories there and things had gone so well for me ever since. The Japanese people felt that I got my start there and that Japan was lucky for me. They even used my name and address in a school textbook to illustrate how to address letters in English. I think this genuine affection on the part of the Japanese people was very good for me.

don-schollander-with-fans-back-home
Don Schollander, winner of 4 Olympic swimming medals for US in Tokyo Olympics, is congratulated by home town high school students.
French fencers Jean-Claude Magnan and Cathérine Rousselet-Ceretti on bicycles_Bi to Chikara
French fencers Jean-Claude Magnan and Cathérine Rousselet-Ceretti on bicycles, from the book Bi to Chikara

The bicycles of the Olympic Village were the invaluable commodity of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. Olympians scrambled to find or keep a bicycle so that they were ensured of easy transport around the vast grounds of the Village.

But bicycles, even in the hands of the best athletes in the world, were sometimes considered an accident waiting to happen.

American gymnast, Makoto Sakamoto told me of one night in an area that was so dark, he ended up “running (my bicycle) into a three-foot pond”. Gold medalist distance runner, Bob Schul, explained in his autobiography, In the Long Run, that the bicycles were not exactly one size fit all, which could be dangerous to the big athletes.

The bikes didn’t last long, however, as the rate of breakdowns was very high. On one occasion we witnessed a comical sight involving just such a “breakdown!” A Russian weight lifter, who weighed close to 300 pounds, attempted to ride a bike. To top it off he placed his friend on this shoulders. Almost immediately the bike broke in two pieces with this huge man and his friend tangled among the works. Fortunately no one was hurt, but this was one bicycle that would not be ridden again during the Olympiad.

Dawn Fraser on a bicycle_The Olympic CEntury XVIII Olympiad
Australian swimmer Dawn Fraser on a bicycle, from the book The Olympic Century XVIII Olympiad

According to an October 19, 1964 UPI report, US swimmers were banned from using the bicycles for fear of injury.

None of the athletes cycling about the Olympic Village – on the more than 700 available bicycles – are U.S. swimmers. Bicycle riding, the most popular form of transportation among Olympic sportsmen and women, is strictly forbidden to American swimmers – at least until after they have competed in the games. The no bicycling edict came from the team’s swimming coaches, who claim that bicycling tightens up a swimmer’s muscles instead of relaxing them for competition.

I doubt the US swimmers heeded that ban. But marathon legend, Abebe Akila, may have wished his coach banned him from bicycles. In a biography about Bikila, the barefoot champion of the 1960 Rome Olympics, who went on to repeat his golden performance at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, would get around on the bicycles like everyone else. Unfortunately, he wasn’t a very experienced cyclist. Here’s how Tim Judah explained, in his book, Bikila – Ethiopia’s Barefoot Olympian, how a bicycle caused the marathoner more grief than he needed.

Abebe Bikila on a bicycle_Bi to Chikara
Marathoner Abebe Bikila on a bicycle, from the book Bi to Chikara

Bikila, not used to riding one, tried one out and the experience almost ended in disaster. On the second day Bikila came in with a bandaged hand. He had fallen while bicycling. He had gone to the hospital where he had been spotted by some journalists. Terrified, Bikila had not dared ask the hospital to take care of his knee, which was more seriously hurt, and so he had hidden the injury until he could get Niskanen (his coach) to look at it.

In the meantime, vastly exaggerated reports of Bikila’s condition were flashed around the world, prompting a telegram from Addis Ababa, expressing concern, Niskanen wrote. “They had made a mountain out of a molehill. There was no more cycling for Abebe. It was bad enough getting over his appendix operation.” In the days that followed there was no let up in the pressure. Bikila was a world sporting celebrity and Niskanen had to fight hard to give him space.

don-schollander-swimming-100-meter-freestyle
Don Schollander swimming 100 meter freestyle
The 18-year old from Oswego, Oregon became the Golden Boy of the 1964 Olympics. Before there was Mark Spitz, there was Don Schollander, who won four swimming gold medals at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. In fact, Schollander became the first person to win four golds in a single Olympics since 1936, when a man named Jesse Owens blazed to glory a the Berlin Olympics.

But the four gold medals was in some part hinging on a race strategy of deception, in a competition that Schollander was not commonly a participant – the 100-meter freestyle. Schollander was dominant in the middle and long-distance competitions of the 400 and 1,500 meters. And as he mentioned in his 1971 autobiography, Deep Water, only Olympic champion Johnny Weissmuller had won both the 400 and 100-meter races. “The two races are just very different and training for them is different. In the 100-meter, the emphasis is on speed, in the 400, on endurance. In the 1,500 the emphasis is also on endurance, obviously, and the 400 and the 1,500 are a fairly common double. But I had made up my mind to swim the 100.”

The press believed there was a likelihood that Schollander could win gold in the 400-meter freestyle, the 4×100-meter freestyle relay and the 4×200 meter freestyle, in addition to the 100-meter freestyle. But the 100-meter freestyle, arguably the marquee swimming event, was the first one, which put pressure on Schollander, who had little experience at this distance.

…because it was my first event, I felt that this race could make me or break me for the rest of the Games. If I won, I would be ‘up’ for the rest of my events – my confidence would be flying high. If I lost, I would be ‘down.’ That sounds temperamental, but I have seen an early race work this way on swimmers. So this 100 free took on much more importance than just another event.

Because Schollander was seen as more of an endurance swimmer, who took advantage of his extraordinarily strong kick to dominate in the latter half of a competition, it was a foregone conclusion that Schollander’s strategy would be to win in the second half of the 100 meters. And Schollander made sure everyone believed that was how he planned to swim his race, even though the conventional wisdom was to take the first 50-meters and hold on for the latter half. Schollander pointed out a couple of reasons why that was a valid strategy.

don-schollander-with-his-first-gold-medal_deep-water
Don Schollander with his first gold medal, from the book “Deep Water”
A hundred meters is a short distance, so a quick lead can be maintained to the end. The second more important reason is that in the 100-meters, all swimmers hit the wall at the 50-meter mark at nearly the same time, which creates a tremendous amount of backwash at the wall. If you’re behind the top swimmers, the backwash can hit you hard enough to slow you down enough to cost you in a short race. As Schollander explains, “any swimmer who is even a split second behind turns right into this wash. And swimming against it is like swimming against a rip tide. This was is peculiar to the sprint.”

So Schollander knew he had to be out in front with the leaders at the mid-point to have a chance at leveraging his advantage of endurance. But he thought it would be better to let his competitors think that he was a second-half swimmer.

So I began to talk about my second lap. Whenever someone would ask me how things looked in the 100 free, I would emphasize my second lap. I would say, “well, I’m a middle-distance swimmer and I may not have much speed, but I have a good last lap.” Or, “You know, I’m a come-from-behind swimmer. I’ve always got my last lap.” Even my friends began to talk about my last lap. I wanted everyone in that race to think that if he was going to beat me, he had to do it early – because he would never do it on the second lap.

Schollander was strong and confident enough to play this ruse through the preliminary rounds. In the qualifying heats, he swam the first 50 in 25.9 seconds, while those winning the early heats were doing so in 25.1 or 25.2 seconds. And true to the script, Schollander powered to a finish strong enough to advance. So when it came to the finals, Schollander was in the final eight, along with teammates Mike Austin and Gary Ilman, Alain Gottvalles of France, Hans Klein of Germany and Bobby McGregor of Great Britain.

True to his secret plan, Schollander blasted into the pool, not in the lead, but just behind. If his plan worked, he hoped to get into the heads of his competitors.

All week I had worked to convince everyone that I was a dangerous man in the second lap. In the heads and in the semi-finals I had held back at the start and shot ahead in the second lap. Now I burned up that first lap, hoping to be right with them at the turn. I hoped that for an instant they would panic and think, “What’s wrong? Did I go out slower than I thought? If he’s right here with me now, what will do to me in the second lap?

Five swimmers hit the 50-meter wall at about the same time of 25.3 seconds, far better than the standard of 25.9 seconds Schollander wanted the others to see in the preliminary races. Ilman hit some waves off the wall and that may have thrown him off. Schollander could tell he was pulling away in the second half of the race and thought he would win, until he noticed the speedy Scotsman, McGregor, actually ahead of the Oswegan.

Going back, on the second lap, because I could breathe to the right, I could see that I was ahead of all of them and pulling away. But I couldn’t see McGregor, to my left, in lane two. Ten meters away from the wall, I actually had the thought – and I’ll never forget it – I’m going to win! I’m going to win! But at that point, although didn’t know, it McGregor was actually ahead of me. With 5 meters to go he was still ahead. He had gone out so fast that, if I had not gone out as fast as I did, there would have been no way I could have caught him. But he had gone out too fast, and during those last 10 meters he was decelerating and I was accelerating. And I just touched him out. I just touched him out – by one-tenth of a second.

It was day two of the competition and Schollander unexpectedly took gold, setting up the prospects of at least 3 more. As he told the AP after the race, “It’s the greatest feeling of my life.”