Abebe Bikila Avery Brundage Basketball Billy Mills Bob Hayes Boycotts Closing Ceremonies Cold War Dawn Fraser Diving Japan […]
It’s February, 1964 and Fred Hansen is fiddling with his grip.
The then-world record holder for the pole vault, fellow American named John Pennel commonly held the 17-foot pole nearly 15 feet up from where the tip hits the vault box. Hansen’s coach, Augie Erfurth, is trying to coax Hansen to place his grip higher than 14 feet. It’s scientific reasoning. “We’ve got him gripping at 14-2 and 3,” explained Erfurth to a reporter of the Fort Worth Star Telegram. “If the pole reacts, he’ll have more bend.”
Since George Davies won a pole vault competition using a fiberglass poll in May of 1961, it became clear to all that the space age technology of fiberglass was more flexible and stored more kinetic energy in the pole than the more traditional materials of bamboo, steel and aluminum.
If you watch gold medalist, Don Bragg, win gold at the 1960 Rome Olympics, you can see his aluminum pole bend, maybe, 45 degrees at best, as he lept to an Olympic record of 15′ 5″ (4.70 m). Pennel, Hansen and other pole vaulters vying for a spot on the Olympic team to compete at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics were routinely getting over 16 feet, trying to figure out how to get their poles to bend 90 degrees, and maximize the kinetic energy stored in the pole that propels them over the bar as the pole unbends.
The higher the athlete holds the pole, the greater the potential in bend. But as the Rice University graduate, Hansen explained in the article, “vaulting is just like a golf swing. There are so many things to remember.”
You have to be clear in the number of steps you take down the runway, when to hit maximum speed and where to plant your foot when you slip the pole vault into the vault box. You have to be conscious of the position of your arms as you launch to get maximum bend, and of your legs as you approach the bar, efficiently rotating your body vertically so that you are upside down as you climb. Then you have to time your hip extension just as your pole is unbending and releasing its stored energy, sending the athlete to his or her maximum height. Rotating the body horizontally at the right time so that you come down feet first without touching the bar is the final act of the complexity of the pole vault.
In other words, you have to be muscular and flexible in all the right places. Hansen’s training routine was becoming more sophisticated – in addition to isometrics, weightlifting and running, Hansen added a full program of gymnastics, thanks to advice from a fellow American competitor, Brian Sternberg of Seattle, Washington.
“I went to an all-comers meet in California,” Hansen told me. “Brian beat me. He had the most beautiful form I had ever seen – this guy’s got something, I have to find out more.” When Hansen approached the Washington native, Sternberg said he did a lot of gymnastics training, and Hansen thought he should start doing the same to keep up. “I devised a program that was gymnastic oriented. I trained on gymnastics apparatus – the seven phases. I would replicate vault movements on the various apparatus. I don’t know if anybody else was doing that.”
Anybody other than Sternberg, who was a trained gymnast who pole vaulted. Leveraging his gymnastics background and the power of the fiberglass pole, Sternberg twice set a world record in the pole vault in April and June of 1963. The twenty-year-old Sternberg was at the top of his game, very close to being the first person to clear 17 feet, with his coach speculating he could fly over 20 feet one day. Certainly, Sternberg was a shoo-in for the Olympic team headed for Tokyo, destined for golden glory.
Until tragedy struck.
Sternberg did a lot of training on the trampoline, and was training for a competition in the Soviet Union. It was July 2, 1963 and he was doing flips and turns on the trampoline, when he attempted a double-back somersault with a twist. It’s a difficult move, according to this article, that Sternberg had made thousands of times. This time, he landed in the middle of the trampoline, on his neck. The accident turned Sternberg, the best pole vaulter in the world, into a quadraplegic.
“This is a change,” Sternberg said ten months after his accident to AP. “Any change can be a good sign. The pain is mine: I must endure it.” And beyond the expectations of medical science at the time, Sternberg endured it, in pain, for 50 years, passing away on May 23, 2013.
“Brian helped me out with several things I was doing wrong when he was the world’s best,” Hansen said in a Seattle Times article about Hansen’s Olympic triumph in Tokyo. “The only thing that could make me happier at this moment would be if he were here too.”
The first medals won at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics were in weightlifting, held in the first few days of the Games. On October 11, Aleksey Vakhonin of the Soviet Union won the bantamweight (56kg) title, lifting his left leg stork-like in his final lift, putting an exclamation mark in a thrilling finish.
But it was the eight-place finisher who may have lifted, figuratively, way above his weight. Martin Dias was the sole representative of his country, British Guiana, at that time, still a colony of Great Britain. As journalist, Roy Moor of the Daily Mail wrote in an article entitled “The One-Man Team,” Dias had to overcome significant obstacles in his home country and in Tokyo to get to eighth place.
In the early 1960s, British Guiana (today known as Guyana) was in the throes of socio-economic chaos – race riots, worker strikes – that created challenges for all citizens, as Moore explained, let alone those who were entertaining trifling thoughts of joining the Olympics.
They were anxious days in British Guiana in the months before the opening of the Olympic Games in Tokyo. Internal political differences had led to wide-spread sniping in the country, and athletes training to win places in their national Olympic team risked coming under fire if they ventured out on fitness runs. These were not ideal conditions for building world beaters for Tokyo-nor, for that matter, for raising funds to send athletes half-way across the world in search of Olympic glory. But the brave little British Guiana Olympic Committee were determined not to let the internal upset stop their country from being represented in the Games. With the aid of a few sports socials, jumble sales and collecting boxes, they managed to raise sufficient money to send one competitor to Tokyo.
Dias was that one man. Known as the Mighty Midget, bantamweight weightlifter Dias won bronze at the 1962 Commonwealth Games, gold at the Central American and Pan American Games in 1963, and so was an easy choice amidst the number of world-class sportsmen able to train, let alone compete, during those challenging times in British Guiana.
According to this site, Dias was not arriving in Tokyo under ideal conditions. While most athletes would arrive at least a week in advance, giving themselves a chance to overcome jetlag, get accustomed to their surroundings and train in prep, Dias arrived on the day of the opening ceremonies after a series of flights that took him from NY, to San Francisco, to Honolulu and Tokyo, marched in the parade of athletes, and then had to get ready for his competition the next day.
The battle of the bantamweight weightlifting competition was really between Vakhonin, Imre Foldi of Hungary, and Shiro Ichinoseki of Japan, but Dias held his own, but not without drama. As Moor explained, Dias weighed in a half-pound overweight, so just before going into competition, he had to sit in a sauna to work off that weight. Drained somewhat from the rush to lose weight, generally uncomfortable in the cold of Tokyo compared to the heat of British Guiana, Dias still represented his nation well. Of 24 competitors, Dias ended up in 8th place. And Moor wrote that he could have finished as high as sixth, if not for some in-competition controversy, and a severe lack of funds.
Had it not been for an unfortunate experience at the start of the press series, Dias might well have finished in the top six. Judges refused his first press of 221 lbs. and coach Ronald Blackman wanted to protest, but had not the thousand Yen (£ 1 sterling) needed to make an official protest, and he could not find an interpreter in time to help him get the money. This so upset Dias that he was not at his best for the next attempt, and failed. But he succeeded with the lift at the third attempt – only to have it turned down again by the judges. This time coach Blackman had the money ready for an immediate protest. And the protest was upheld. The success of the appeal so heartened Dias that he went on the equal his personal best for the snatch with 225 lbs. and exceed his best jerk with 292 lbs.
It would take two more years before British Guiana would gain its independence, another 16 years before Guyana would celebrate its first and only Olympic medal – a bronze medal for Michael Anthony in boxing. But in 1964, according to Moor, Dias “had won the hearts of many sports lovers in Japan, and proved to the world how worth-while it is to send even a one-man team to the world’s greatest sporting festival-the Olympic Games.”
Hiromi Miyake recently won the women’s 48-kg bronze medal at the weightlifting world championships in Houston, Texas. The silver medalist from the London Games in 2012 is the daughter of Yoshiyuki Miyake, who won a bronze medal at the Mexico City Olympic Games.
It is Hiromi’s uncle, Yoshinobu Miyake, who started the family dynasty. Yoshinobu won silver in Rome in the 56 kg bantam weight class, and then took gold in both Tokyo and Mexico City at the 60kg featherweight class.
In 1964, when the Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc dominated weightlifting, taking 15 of a possible 21 medals, Yoshinobu Miyake was the sole champion outside that Communist bloc. Miyake was so dominant that he was the only gold medalist weightlifter out of seven weight classes not to fail a lift. In other words, his competitors didn’t come close to pushing Miyake.
Yoshinobu Miyake had a technique named after him, like the “Ali Shuffle” or the “Fosbury Flop”. In fact, there were two names for that technique: the “Miyake Pull”, or more famously, “Frog Style”. When the 1.5 meter (5 foot 1 inch) man from Miyagi, Japan settled in front of his weights, his heels would sit close together, with his knees spread and toes pointed outwards at a 60 degree angle – as the picture below shows, he is said to resemble a frog. This frog style helped Miyake set 25 world records, reigning as the champ through much of the 1960s.
But Miyake worked at his technique. As a member of the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force, making some 12,000 yen (then $33) a month, he borrowed 80,000 yen (then $240) to buy a movie camera to film himself lifting, leading to a perfection of his technique, and eventually Olympic glory.
You can watch the frog style technique in this short video. You can see Miyake lifting at 18 second mark.
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:
- 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.”
We gathered at the prestigious Singapore Cricket Club on May Day, and enjoyed fish and chips and beef Guinness pie reminiscing about 1964. I had the honor of having lunch with three Singaporean Olympians who went to the Tokyo Olympiad:
- Canagasabai Kunalan, who held the fastest 100-meter time in Singapore for over 30 years, and competed under the Malaysian flag at the 1964 Olympics, as well as under the Singaporean flag in 1968,
- Hamid Supaat, who competed in the grueling individual cycling road race in the chilly hills of Hachioji at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, as written about here, and
- Anwarul Haque, who was a goalie on the 1964 Malaysian field hockey team, went on to become a lawyer, as well as serving eight years as president of the Singapore Cricket Club, where we ate and reminisced.
In 1964, Singapore was undergoing political upheaval, having gained independence from Britain in 1963, and joining a federation of states that became Malaysia. Previous to that, Singapore had been a colony since Stamford Raffles arrived on the tiny island in 1819 to claim it as a trading post for the East Indies Company and the British empire.
Before independence, Singapore was a bustling harbor town, its population growing quickly, but still relatively small at 1.5 to 1.8 million in the first half of the 1960s. So it’s quite understandable that in the sports history of Singapore, only 5 medals have been won by Singaporeans in the history of the Olympics, the first one – Singapore’s first silver – in 1960 and the last one – Singapore’s first gold – in 2016.
Tan Howe Liang migrated with his family from southern China to Singapore and at an amusement park saw an exhibition of weightlifters and was hooked. He joined a weightlifting club, and soon became internationally competitive, finishing ninth in the lightweight category at the 1956 Melbourne Olympics, and then gaining confidence by winning gold at the 1958 Commonwealth Games, the 1958 Asian Games and the 1959 SEAP Games. In Rome, Howe Liang brought glory to Singapore with a silver medal in the lightweight category.
Even earlier, at the 1948 London Olympics, Singapore had a representative as a part of British crown colonies. His name was Lloyd Oscar Valberg, and he competed in the high jump as Singapore’s sole athlete in the first Olympics after the Second World War. Valberg came in 14th. But he set the Singapore record for the high jump at the age of 17, and is a symbol of how far Singapore has come. Valberg’s nephew was Colin Schooling, and his son saw his famous relative as a role model.
Inspired by his grand uncle, Joseph Schooling went on to take gold in the 100-meter butterfly in one of the most dramatic races at the 2016 Rio Olympics. Schooling beat a very strong field, including his childhood idol, Michael Phelps to win Singapore’s first gold medal.
Abebe Bikila strolled into the National Stadium like he owned it. And he did. The lithe Ethiopian, a member of the Imperial Bodyguard of his nation, was about to meet expectations at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics – to become the first person to win marathons in two consecutive Olympics.
The first time Bikila did so, he was an unknown, and made headlines by running barefoot on the roads of Rome in 1960 to win marathon gold. When he crossed the finish line in Tokyo, amazingly over 4 minutes earlier than the second place finisher, the audience marveled at how fresh Bikila was – so fresh that he did calisthenics and jogged in place as if he were readying for the start of a marathon.
In other words, the actual competition in the marathon was for second. And in the race for second, Japan was ready to explode in celebration.
Like the Brits, with Brian Kilby and Basil Heatley, the Australian Ron Clarke, the other Ethiopian Demissie Wolde, as well as Americans Billy Mills and Buddy Edelen, the Japanese had a trio of strong marathoners in the competition, Toru Terasawa, Kenji Kimihara and Kokichi Tsuburaya.
As explained in this detailed article, at the 10K mark of the 42K race, Clarke was setting a pretty fast pace at 30:14, with Jim Hogan of Ireland and Bikila following. Around the 20k mark, Bikila took the lead and never looked back. The race for 2nd was on, with Clarke and Hogan about 5 seconds behind Bikila, and a second pack including Wolde, Tsuburaya, Jozsef Suto of Hungary and Antonio Ambu of Italy.
With about 7 kilometers to go, Bikila, Hogan, Tsuburaya and Suto were in the lead, with Heatley rising to fifth. Amazingly, Hogan dropped out of the marathon despite being in position for a silver medal, leaving the Japanese from the self defense forces, Tsuburaya in second. Heatley and Kilby were coming on, passing Suto with only 2 kilometers to go.
Heatley was advancing and could envision a bronze-medal finish, but didn’t think he could pass Tsuburaya. “I didn’t expect to catch him,” Heatley recalls, “but he was a target.”
Bikila entered the National Stadium triumphantly, winning with an ease that both shocked and surprised the crowd. But the crowd went wild a few minutes later when Tsuburaya entered the stadium. At their home Olympics, Japan had medaled in wrestling, judo, boxing, weightlifting, gymnastics and swimming among others, but not in track and field. Tsuburaya was about to change that, in front of the biggest crowd possible.
And yet, soon after Tusburaya entered the stadium, so too did Heatley, only about 10 meters behind. Just before the final curve of the stadium’s cinder track, Heatley turned on the jets and sprinted by Tsuburaya. For a 2nd place battle that took over 2 hours and 16 minutes, Tsuburaya lost his chance for silver by four seconds.
Writer, Robert Whiting, was watching this match on the television, confident that Tsuburaya would make Japan proud with a silver medal only to see that expectation burst before the eyes of an entire nation, as he explained in this article.
The cheering for Tsuburaya was building to a crescendo when suddenly Great Britain’s Basil Heatley came into view and proceeded to put on one of Olympic track and field’s great all-time spurts. He steadily closed the gap in the last 100 meters, passing Tsuburaya shortly before the wire, turning the wild cheering in the coffee shop, and in the stadium, and no doubt in the rest of Japan, into one huge collective groan.
Bob Schul, who three days earlier, became the first American to win gold in the 5,000 meter race, watched the end of the marathon with some dismay.
Abebe entered the stadium to great applause. He finished and went into the infield and started doing exercises. Finally the second guy, Tsuburaya came, and the crowd roared. But so did Heathley of England. Sharon asked if Tsuburaya could hold on to 2nd place. I said I didn’t think so. Heatley caught him about 150 meters before the finish. And the crowd became very quiet. The Japanese guy was going to get third. And when he did finish, the stadium did erupt. And that was the only medal they won in track and field.
When Kokichi Tsuburaya was a boy in elementary school, he competed in an event common throughout Japan – a sports day, when children compete against each other in a variety of activities, like foot races. After one such race, Koshichi Tsuburaya, the young runner’s father, chewed him out for looking behind him during the race. “Why are you looking back during the race. Looking back is a bad thing. If you believe in yourself, you don’t need to do so.”
Many years later, with over 70,000 people screaming in the showcase event of the Olympics, people were yelling, “Tsuburaya, a runner is behind you! Look back! Look back! He’s close!” Was Tsuburaya recalling that childhood scolding from his father? Would it have made a difference if he did?
While Tsuburaya’s very public loss of the silver medal must have been the source of pain, not only for Tsuburaya, but also of the nation. But in the end, there were no hard feelings. After all, Tsuburaya won Japan’s only medal in Athletics, a bronze in the marathon, an achievement beyond the nation’s initial expectations. Writer Hitomi Yamaguchi wrote of this pain and pride in a 1964 article.
Tsuburaya tried so very hard. And his efforts resulted in the raising of the Japanese flag in the National Stadium. My chest hurt. I applauded so much I didn’t take any notes. Since the start of the Olympic Games, our national flag had not risen once in the National Stadium. At this last event, we were about to have a record of no medals in track and field. Kon Ishikawa’s film cameras were rolling, and newspaper reporters were watching. People were waiting and hoping. So when Tsubaraya crossed the finish line, we felt so fortunate! When I saw the Japanese flag raised freely into the air, it felt fantastic. Tsuburaya, thank you.
You can watch the dramatic second-place finish to the Tokyo Olympics marathon at the 5:38 mark of this video:
Note: Special thanks to my researcher, Marija Linartaite, for finding and translating the last quote.
- The Triumphant Tragedy of Marathoner Kokichi Tsuburaya Part 2: Never Give Up!
- The Triumphant Tragedy of Marathoner Kokichi Tsuburaya Part 3: The Wedding Engagement Break Up and the Suicide
- The Triumphant Tragedy of Marathoner Kokichi Tsuburaya Part 4: A Suicide Note that Captures an Essence of the Japanese, and Endures as Literature
It’s a game of grams. Waldemar Baszanowski of Poland and Valdimir Kaplunov of the Soviet Union battled through the three events that make up weightlifting competition: the military press, the snatch and the clean & jerk.
The world record holder at the time, Baszanowski, trailed behind two other favorites, teammate Marian Zielinski and Kaplunov, after the completion of the military press. But Baszanowski got back into a tie for the lead with the Russian after the snatch. In the final round, both Baszanowski and Kaplunov ended lifting the same weight in the clean and jerk, resulting in a world record tie, a total of 432.5 kg over the three weightlifting events.
After the final lift, the final ruling was out of their hand. Here’s how Neil Allen in his book, Olympic Diary Tokyo 1964, told the story.
The moment of victory was most unclear in the weightlifting over at Shibuya Hall where Poland’s Waldemar Baszanowski beat Russian Vladimir Kaplunov by the margin of 10.5822 oz. (300 grams) This was the difference in his body weight and that of Kaplunov and it was the only way of dividing two men who both broke the world lightweight record with a total lift of 953 1/2 lb. (432.5kg) Baszanowski held the previous record of 947 3/4 lb. (429.9kg) But it was only after an enervating tactical battle, and records beaten in all three movements, that he was able to give the mixed smile of relieve and exhilaration which is the right of the champion.
That’s right – the tiebreaker in weightlifting is the difference in body weight. The lighter of the two, in this instance was Baszanowski. Only three hundred grams separated gold from silver.
While Baszanowski would win gold convincingly four years later in Mexico City, Kaplunov in 1964 may have been wondering what he had for breakfast that fateful day.
It was an image that went round the world – a smallish man lifting a huge amount of weight, and then lifting one leg like a stork, lounging about in a lake.
Alexey Vakhonin, competing in the bantamweight class (56kg or less) was attempting a clean and jerk of 142.5 kilograms. If he succeeded, he’d win gold. Imre Folde of Hungary had already lifted 137.5 kilograms in the clean and jerk to take the lead. In fact, the Folde camp thought they had gold locked up.
In 1964, at the Tokyo Summer Games, there were three types of lifts required in the weightlifting competition: the press, the snatch and the clean and jerk. The best of the three lifts were totaled to determine the winner. Folde had started well, pressing 5 kilos more than Vakhonin, and 10 more than the Japanese favorite, Shiro Ichinoseki. Vakhonin lifted 105 kilos in the snatch, 2.5 kilos more than Folde, so Folde was leading by 2.5 kilos before commencing the clean and jerk.
Vakhonin had to lift 140 kilos to tie Folde, or 142.5 kilos to win. Lifting 142.5 kilos would also result in the highest weight total ever lifted in bantamweight competition up to 1964.
Here’s how eyewitness and British journalist, Neil Allen, described the lift in his book Olympic Diary, Tokyo 1964:
He walked fast, the little man from Shakhty City, across the platform. Like some cowboy film hero in a hurry to get the gunfight over. He breathed out, breathed in, and down went his hands wrapped round the bar. It came up to shoulder level and Vakhonin’s face was blank with concentration. Then his neck strained, his eyes started from their sockets, his face slowly turned purple. But the bar went up.
Slowly the normal colour returned to the new Olympic champion’s face. At the same time his introvert behaviour changed to that of an extravert. As he stood there under the load of iron he gently lifted first his right foot and then his left to show that it all had been comparatively easy.
Officials in Japan are aiming for 16 gold medals at the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games.
“Medals will encourage athletes,” Olympics minister Toshiaki Endo was quoted as saying in this November 27 Japan Times article. “It will be better to have a goal, so that the state can support (those who would be able to) offer hopes and dreams to children.”
Fifty-six years ago, on the eve of the start of the 1964 Summer Games in Tokyo, Kenkichi Oshima, head of the Japanese Olympic delegation, said basically the same thing, stating that Japan must win at least 15 gold medals as “an encouragement to this country’s upcoming generation.”
The Japanese team pulled in 16 gold medals in 1964, with the third highest medal haul in those games. It is common for the host country to do well in the medals race, but the Japanese team continued its success vis-a-vis other countries through the early 1980s, as you can see in this table.
But as the number of countries rose, as did the level of competitiveness, Japan began to slip in the medal rankings between 1988 and 2000. With a renewed effort, Japan matched its 16 gold medals in Athens, and more recently in London grabbed 38 overall medals, more than it had ever done before.
Over the years, judo, gymnastics and wrestling have been Japan’s strongest competitive advantages, with assists from weightlifting and archery, but in recent years, Japan has become a power in swimming.
Is a target of 16 gold medals in 2020 reasonable for the third largest economy in the world? Rio in 2016 will give us a clue.