1964 Abebe Bikila Avery Brundage Basketball Billy Mills Bob Hayes Boycotts Closing Ceremonies Cold War Dawn Fraser Diving […]
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.
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.
It is so hard to find footage of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, beyond a few newsreel samples and clippings from Kon Ichikawa’s documentary of the 1964 Olympiad. One of the few, great samplings of footage from the 1964 Olympics is a film produced by George and Lilian Merz, amateur filmmakers.
Not only do you get to see a few great events and athletes, you get a feel for the atmosphere in Tokyo and in the stadiums.
Part 1 of this breakdown of the Merz’s documentary focuses on the athletes and the competitions. Part 2 focuses on the opening and closing ceremonies, as well as things happening beyond the cut-throat world of high performance competition. The numbers below are the minute marks of the video where you can find what I am describing.
- 100-Meters Men’s: 8:51 – Watch Bob Hayes in the first semi-final heat of the 100-meter spring in lane 6. You can see Bob Hayes again at the 24:33 mark in this exciting 4X100 meter finals, with Hayes coming from behind to win gold for the US handily.
- 100-Meters Women’s: 14:17 – Wyomia Tyus wins 2nd heat of 100-meter sprint in a spirited race.
- 200-Meters Men’s: 15:50 – Here’s great film of the finals of 200 meter dash, American Henry Carr, pouring it on at the finish
- 400-Meters Women’s: 16:14 – At this mark, you can see Australian Betty Cuthbert beat Brit Ann Packer in the women’s 400 meters final
- 80-Meter Hurdles Women’s: 17:56 – Men and women run hurdles on a slick track. The Merz’s show footage of a Canadian woman being carried off the track. They call her “Miss Wengerson”, but I suspect it is someone named Marion Snider of Toronto, whom I wrote about here. The film returns to the women’s hurdles at the 20:44 mark.
- Women’s Pentathlon: 12:08 – Here is the 80-meter hurdles part of the pentathlon
- 400-meter Hurdles Men’s: 13:59 – Watch American Rex Cawley win in the 400-meter hurdle finals
- 800-Meter Women’s: 21:45 – Great footage again of the women’s 800 meters final, with Ann Packer taking gold, coming from behind to win.
- 1500-Meter Men’s: 23:27 – Here we can see double-gold-medalist, New Zealand’s Peter Snell, winning the men’s 1500, going from last to first. The race started in misty, low visibility conditions, but by the end of the race you can see Snell victorious by 10 meters.
- 3,000-Meter Steeplechase Men’s: 10:38 – Great footage of a 3k steeple chase heat
- 5,000-Meters Men’s: 18:31 – Great film of the rain and slick track that Bob Schul and other 5000 meter runners had to deal with, as well as Schul’s great streak at the end to win gold.
- 10,000-Meters Men’s: 6:30 – The Merz’s spend their greatest length of footage on the incredible 10,000 meter race, which Billy Mills won in a surprise finish. The film goes on to show IOC president, Avery Brundage, awarding Mills with his gold medal, kimono-clad medal bearers behind Brundage.
- 20K Walk Men’s: 10:14 Here is the start of the 20K walk, with the finish at the 11:37 mark, Brit Ken Matthews emerging victorious, whose victory hug of his wife captured the hearts of the Japanese.
- Pole Vault Men’s: 9:13 The Merz’s spend time watching pole vaulters warming up and practicing, with a bit of slo mo.
- Discus Throw Men’s: 11:18 – Here’s footage of the men’s discus competition, including US Olympic legend, Al Oerter.
- Triple Jump Men’s: 12:40 – Watch triple jumpers Labh Singh of India, and slo mo of Ira Davis of US
- Javelin Women’s: 13:30 – See a few throws in the women’s javelin
- Shot Put Men’s and Women’s: 15:11 – Footage of the men’s shot put finals, including gold medalist Dallas Long; with the women’s shot put at 21:19
- Shot Put Women’s: 19:48 – Day Five brought great weather, and the Merz starts with women’s discus throw. You can see the only American women’s shot putter, Olga Connolly, at the 20:19. For some reason, Merz calls Connolly Polish born, when actually she was born in Czechoslovakia.
- High Jump Men’s: 25:03 – Here’s footage of the men’s high jump competition, featuring Valery Brumel and John Thomas.
- Hammer Throw Men’s: 17:28 – Rain dominated Day Five, with rain hammering the fans as the hammer throwers slipped around their ring as they tossed their hammers
- Equestrian Jumping: 26:18 – Here’s something I hadn’t realized. One of the equestrian events were at the National Stadium, not at the venue in Karuizawa. The infield were set up for the complex set of jumps for the Grand Prix Jumping competition.
2019 was a milestone year for me, publishing my book:1964 The Greatest Year in the History of Japan – How the Tokyo Olympics Symbolized Japan’s Miraculous Rise from the Ashes. Here are a few of my favorite articles about 1964.
- Reiko and Theo: A Tale of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics and The Youth of Japan Re-Energized
- Wyomia Tyus First Ever Back-to-Back 100-meter Olympic Sprinting Champion Part 1: Fastest Woman in the World at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics
- The End of the Heisei Era: The Emperor and Empress’ Powerful Connection to Sport and the Paralympics
- To Defect or Not to Defect—That Was the Question for Hungarian Canoeist Andras Toro at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics
- Not All Olympic Champions Receive a Medal
- Two Seminal Songs of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics: “Konnichi wa Akachan,” and “Ue o Muite, Arukou”
- Seiko—Seizing the Moment, Making a Difference as Official Timer at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics
- Japan Falls in Love with the Brave Blossoms: Shades of the Women’s Volleyball Team at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics
He powered through his long walk, entering the National Stadium first and alone, winning gold in the 20-kilometer walk race at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. And when Brit Kenneth Matthews reached his goal, his wife Sheila was there to greet him with a joyous hug. She continued to walk with her husband around the track as the crowd cheered. The great race walker from Birmingham died on June 2, 2019. He was 85.
Two-time Olympian and two-time medalist in sailing for USA, Lowell North passed away on June 2, 2019. He was 89. The Springfield, Massachusetts native was one of three crewmen who competed in the Dragon class competition at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics which won Bronze. At the 1968 Mexico City Olympics, North partnered with Peter Barrett to take gold in the Star class competition.
Günter Perleberg was paddler who won the silver medal in the kayak K-4 1000 meter competition as a member of the United Team of Germany at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, adding to his gold medal in the K-1 4×500 meter relay won at the 1960 Rome Olympics. An East German from Brandenburg an der Havel, Perleberg defected to West Germany via Austria in 1963, this making his selection for the Unified German team a topic of animosity between the Cold War powers. Perleberg passed away on August 1, 2019, at the age of 84.
American Roy Saari was selected for two different sports for the 1964 Tokyo Olympic: swimming and water polo. Having to choose one, Saari chose swimming where he won silver in the 400-meter individual medley, and gold in the 4×200 freestyle relay. That relay team set a world record. He also held the world record in the 1500-meter freestyle. His father was the famed water polo coach, Urho Saari. Saari passed away on December 30, 2018 at the age of 63.
One of the great Belgian cyclists of the 1960s, Patrick Sercu of Roeselare, West Flanders, took gold in the men’s 1,000-meter time trial at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. Racing primarily in the 1960s and 1970s, Sercu won over 1,200 track and road races in his career, including 88 championships in the grueling Six-Day tournaments.
One of New Zealand’s greatest athletes, Sir Peter Snell, passed away on December 12, 2019 at the age of 80. Snell’s heroics started with his gold medal triumph in the 800 meters at the 1960 Rome Olympics. But at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, the native of Opunake, New Zealand became the only Olympian since 1920 to win gold in both the 800-meter and 1500-meter distances in the same Olympics.
Yoshihisa Yoshikawa (吉川貴久) was the Chief of Police for Yawata Nishi in his home prefecture of Fukuoka, Japan. But he was more well known as the four-time Olympian, who won bronze medals in men’s free pistol 50 meters at the 1960 Rome and 1964 Tokyo Olympics. Yoshikawa was 83, when he passed away on October 12, 2019, nearly 55 years to the day when he won his second bronze medal in Tokyo.
I started this blog on May 1, 2015 with the hopes of publishing a book on the 1964 Tokyo Olympics before the start of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. I achieved my goal, with time to spare.
- My book – 1964: The Greatest Year in the History of Japan – came out in July, 2019.
- The audio version of my book, read by actor David Shih, was released in March, 2020.
- And the Japanese version of my book will come out on May 15, 2020. Here is the title in Japanese:
For more information in Japanese, click here.
It certainly was disappointing to see Tokyo2020 postponed to 2021. But my fingers are crossed that the world will still come to Japan in July 2021 for the Olympics, and August, 2021 for the Paralympics.
As I explained to Kyodo News, Tokyo2020 could be a great Games:
If the world is able to come to Tokyo next July without concern for their health, leaders will be able to speak out proudly about the resilience of the human spirit, and many will likely agree. On top of the natural celebration of sport and achievement, there will be stories of how individuals, teams and nations overcame the pandemic that will further inspire.
Best of The Olympians 2020 So Far
- The New National Stadium: First Views
- 2020 Olympic Banners Lining the Streets of Tokyo: Design Linking 2020 to 1964
- Tokyo2020 Ticket Designs: Modern Traditional
Learning from Olympians Online
- Swimmer Breeja Larson Gives a Zoom Lesson in High Performance Goal Setting and Inspires
- Bobsledder Lauren Gibbs Stares Down the Icy Abyss and Emerges Stronger and Happier
- Irish Sailor James Espey Helps You Track “Cat’s Paws” and Increase Your “Bar Karate” Prowess
- The Shock, Anger and Resistance to Coronavirus: Are the Cancellations and Suspensions of Major Sporting Events
- eSports Puts Pedal to the Metal: One Business That is Not Letting CoronaVirus Take it Down
1964 and 1980
Basil Heatley, who streaked to silver in the marathon at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, passed away on Saturday, August 3, 2019. He was 85.
The gold medal in that marathon went to Abebe Bikila, who simply outclassed the field of 78 to become the first to win two straight Olympic championships in the marathon. At the halfway point, Heatley was 12th, laboring in the high humidity of the Tokyo air and with a cramp in his rib cage. He thought his careful pace may have lost him the race, but he built up his speed and overtook his competition one by one, setting up a most dramatic Olympic marathon finish.
After Abebe finished in world record time in 2:12:12, the 70,000 spectators bubbled like water ready to boil over as Japanese Kokichi Tsuburaya entered the National Stadium. No Japanese had medaled in athletics and the crowd was anticipating a silver medal in this marquis event the day before the end of a very successful Olympics in Tokyo.
And yet, the unassuming Heatley entered the stadium and doused the flame, as I described in my book 1964: The Greatest Year in the History of Japan.
And yet, soon after Tsuburaya entered the stadium, so, too, did Heatley, only seconds behind. The Brit knew this was his chance. “Fifteen years of racing told me that, at that moment, an injection of pace was necessary, and possible, to overtake the runner in front of me,” he said. Just before the final curve of the stadium’s cinder track, Heatley turned on the jets and sprinted by his rival. For a battle that took over two hours and sixteen minutes, Tsuburaya lost his chance for silver by four seconds.
(Watch above video from 2 minute 12 second mark to see end of marathon.)
I never met Heatley face to face, nor talk with him, but I did have the honor to exchange emails with his wife Gill who transcribed Heatley’s answers for me. I learned that he was a reluctant marathoner, and the 1964 Olympics was only his sixth marathon ever. Heatley liked to run on the track, 1 milers to 6 milers, up to 10k, as well as 12k cross country races.
After winning the 1956 Midlands Marathon, his first ever marathon, he felt that marathons were not only punishing, they were cruel. “…when I looked round the dressing room and saw everyone in an awful state, I remember saying that if we were four-legged, the RSPCA (Royal Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) would ban the Marathon.”
And yet, Heatley realized that he was not fast enough for the shorter distances if he wanted to compete at the Tokyo Olympics. He realized that he had the fortitude and discipline to excel at the marathon and focused his energy there. He told me that he would run to and from work, and compete in a race every Saturday, running some 100-120 miles per week, the equivalent of four to five marathons a week.
With qualification for the Tokyo Olympics on the line, Heatley entered the Polytechnic Marathon in June, 1964, and set the world record with a time of 2:13:55.
Despite his success, Heatley told me that he did not like the marathon. And yet, he felt his track experience was critical for his success in the 26-mile race.
I did not like the marathon. Perhaps I was more than a little scared of it. Especially after so many years of racing 1-6 miles. I think that my regime of fast road running was in fact better marathon training than it was for 10km on the track for which I was doing it. Looking back, I can see that Tsuburaya ran himself to a standstill. Had the race ben 25 miles he would have been second. Had it been 27 miles he maybe would not have finished, and for that I salute him.
Heatley was not one to boast or play to the crowd. He was famous for avoiding the press, and he told me that he got little satisfaction winning Olympic silver, and had no intent to run again in Mexico City as Tsuburaya famously promised.
Any feeling of elation was tempered by both my own tiredness and the knowledge that Bikila had beaten us all by over 4 minutes. On the medal stand I was confused. How do you celebrate a second place if you are so far behind the winner? I never wanted to go to run a distance race in Mexico City. Simply – altitude.
But he was proud to have represented Team GB in 1964, which he said was one of the best Olympic squads in his nation’s history.
“We had been a very successful team,” he said in the video interview below. “In 64, I still regard that we were the best British team to leave these shores.”
I’ve researched the 1964 Tokyo Olympics for four years. I published an original blog post everyday for over a thousand days straight in the course of my research. And I finally completed the manuscript of my book, “1964: The Greatest Year in the History of Japan – How the Tokyo Olympics Symbolized Japan’s Miraculous Rise From the Ashes.” Here are a few of the articles I wrote in 2018 relevant to those Games in 1964:
- Olympic Sprinter Rich Stebbins Part 2: Gold Medal, Social Studies, Middle School
- 1964 than Pole Vaulter Fred Hansen Part 1: Winning Gold on a Long Day’s Journey into Night
- Ralph Boston Leaps to Gold, Silver and Bronze Part 3: Under Dark Tokyo Clouds, Lynn Davies Sees Golden Linings, Boston Silver
- To All Olympians from October, 1964: Did You Get this Kokeshi Doll?
- Olympic Ransom and the Terror Attack of the ’64 Olympics that Never Was Part 3: The Hotel New Otani – Once the Tallest and the Flashiest in Japan
- Japan Rising from the Ashes Part 1: The Aftermath of the Bombing Raids on Japan at War’s End
- Japan Rising from the Ashes Part 3: Grave of the Fireflies
An excerpt from the book, 1964: The Greatest Year in the History of Japan – How the Tokyo Olympics Symbolized Japan’s Miraculous Rise from the Ashes
In 1959, when Tokyo was awarded the XVIII Olympiad by the IOC, Seiko’s President, Shoji Hattori, was determined to make Seiko the official timer of the Olympic Games. In 1960, he sent a telegram to one of his watch design section managers, Saburo Inoue, with instructions that would forever change the fate of the Japanese watch company—”Intend to handle official timing duties. Go to Rome Olympics in August and observe timing procedures.”
Inoue was deeply skeptical of the idea, and for good reason. “I’d never seen timing devices for the Olympics,” he said. “I didn’t know how they used their stopwatches, or what types they would need. We couldn’t do computer simulations, so we had to work out every single thing by trial and error.”
But again, as explained in the 2012 The Daily Telegraph article, ignorance proved to be bliss.
In those days, it was the prerogative of the local organizing committee to select the company that would supply the timers, and it was likely they would choose the tried-and-true Swiss watchmakers—Omega or Longines. Up till then, they were the only firms trusted with ensuring accurate times in Olympic competition.
In contrast, Seiko’s experience in building timers specifically for sports was zero. Such was the confidence of Hattori and Japan at the time—that anything was possible if they tried.
Without assurance of a contract for the Olympics, Hattori asked his three group companies to work on Olympic-related projects: large clocks, stopwatches, crystal chronometers, and a new idea, a device that could print the times of competitors right after the end of a race. They were called printing timers, and this revolutionized the way results of competitions were determined.
In only two years, Seiko was producing sports stopwatches that passed the standards of the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) Technical Committee. In a track and field competition in Belgrade, Yugoslavia, the IAAF was witness to a successful test, as the Japanese-made stopwatches proved accurate and reliable.
Seiko had already successfully developed quartz technology for small watches, and used this crystal technology for long distance races, like the marathon among others. Developing this quartz technology was key to developing Seiko wristwatches of the future that would stay accurate over longer periods of time.
More significantly, perhaps for the athletes, was Seiko’s development of the printing timer, a machine that would electronically time and print the results of an event, up to 1/100 of a second for track events.
This machine had a significant impact on a high-visibility competition at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics—the women’s 80-meter hurdles final.
On October 19, at the National Stadium, Karin Balzer of Germany and Teresa Cieply of Poland settled into their starting blocks. When the pistol shot rang, an electric signal was sent via wire to a printing timer, as well as a signal to a camera that would take special photo finish pictures, and a signal to a large spectator clock that set the second-hand in motion.
In a stunning finish, Balzer, Cieply, and Australian Pam Kilborn hit the tape seemingly in a dead heat, all three timed by officials at 10.5 seconds. Despite numerous officials with hand stopwatches that measured in tenths of seconds, officials could not determine a winner.
The officials preferred not to hand out three gold medals, and fortunately, had a fallback plan—the latest timing technology from Japan.
When the runners arrived at the goal, a picture was taken by a slit camera, manufactured by Japan Photo Finish Co. Ltd. After thirty seconds, the image’s negative was transmitted as a reflected image, and converted in three minutes to a positive print. The information from Seiko’s printing timer was integrated into an image noting times in hundredths of seconds. The photo would show not only the athletes, but time, and thus the order in which they finished.
Thanks to the printing timer, it was revealed that Balzer completed the race in 10.54 seconds, 0.01 seconds ahead of Cieply, who was also only 0.01 seconds ahead of Kilborn. While the IAAF officially recognized times to the tenth of a second, in this case, they accepted the recorded electronic time to the hundredth.
The printing timer contributed mightily to the evolution of timed sports, and led to the creation of the famed, global printing company—EPSON—its name a simple mash-up of the words “son of electronic printer.”
1964 was Seiko’s time.
The novel, Olympic Ransom, (Orinpikku no Minoshirokin) by Hideo Okuda, weaves a story about the imagining of an attempted terrorist attack during the Opening Ceremony of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. (See previous two posts for details.)
Inspector Masao Ochiai is searching for clues regarding a series of small explosions in Tokyo. The start of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics is only weeks away, and the explosions are concerning to the authorities overseeing security of Tokyo and the Olympics, wondering if this is the start of something more sinister.
Tadashi Suga is the son of the head of security for the Tokyo Olympics, and since his red sports car was seen near one of the explosions, he was targeted as a potential witness. Ochiai tracks Suga down at the poolside of the Hotel New Otani, one of the most remarkable new structures on the flat landscape of Tokyo. In fact, in 1964, the Hotel New Otani was the tallest and flashiest building in Japan.
As Bruce Suttmeier wrote in his essay, Held Hostage to History: Okuda Hideo’s Olympic Ransom:
The Hotel New Otani was built in the run-up to the Tokyo Olympics, requested by the government in response to the perceived shortage of hotel space for visitors. As James Kirkup wrote after his visit to Japan in 1965, “From the monorail or the expressway, one’s first overall view of Tokyo is of a sprawling, squat city. There were no skyscrapers until the Hotel New Otani, with its revolving circular restaurant sixteen floors up, was opened just in time for the Olympics in September, 1964. Kirkup’s comments highlight that, until building height codes were lifted in 1963, all buildings in Tokyo were restricted to under thirty-one meters. The first major structure to exceed that limit was the Hotel New Otani at five times this limit – one hundred fifty-six meters (seventeen stories, the top floor housing the revolving restaurant.
The New Otani broke the mould, setting the precedence for taller buildings across Tokyo, as well as quickly becoming a photogenic symbol of Tokyo’s transformation to a city of the future. Watch the 1967 James Bond film, You Only Live Twice, and you’ll learn that SPECTRE’s headquarters in Japan was actually the New Otani.
Okuda wrote about the shiniest objects in the Tokyo landscape to create sharp contrast with the poorest parts of Japan. But he did so also to bring to life that feeling of optimism people in Tokyo felt at the time. He expresses this sense of marvel through the eyes of Suga and his girlfriend Midori, who wend their way through Tokyo in a red Honda S600, approaching the newly constructed elevated expressway that passes by the New Otani, as well as the Akasaka Prince Hotel.
Miyake Slope (Miyake-zaka) was up ahead, along with the newly finished elevated interchange. And perched high above was Metropolitan Expressway 4, like the Milky Way itself, sublimely stretching out across the sky. How beautiful were all these roads, winding in all directions. This is a city of the future, he thought.
The Akasaka Prince Hotel is no longer there – it has been replaced by a mixed-use office-hotel complex called Tokyo Garden Terrace Kioicho, where I work today. But the New Otani still stands, accompanied by taller companions developed over the decades, a legacy of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics.