killanin and samaranch 2_NYT In 1980, Samaranch succeeded Lord Killanin of Ireland, left, as I.O.C. president. Associated Press

When Soviet troops marched into Afghanistan in December, 1979, Juan Antonio Samaranch was Spain’s ambassador to the Soviet Union. After two years of cultivating a trusting relationship with Soviet leadership, Samaranch, an International Olympic Committee (IOC) member with a strong desire to become president of the IOC in 1980, was angered when the Spanish government expressed their support of the American call for an Olympic boycott.

As Andrew Jennings wrote in his book, “The New Lord of the Rings,” Samaranch was forbidden to attend the Moscow Olympics by his government, which could put his election to the IOC presidency in jeopardy. Certainly, he’d lose the Soviet vote. Samaranch hurriedly returned to Madrid and persuaded/strong-armed the Spanish National Olympic Committee to ignore the government and accept the IOC’s invitation to participate.

On Wednesday, July 16, 1980, three days before the start of the 1980 Moscow Olympics, Juan Antonio Samaranch was elected president of the International Olympic Committee, replacing Lord Killanin, who retired at the end of the 1980 Olympics.

Over 60 nations boycotted the 1980 Moscow Olympics in support of the American government’s protest of the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan, and some suspected that stronger leadership by Lord Killanin might have influenced fewer nations to boycott. As an AP article noted on June 10, 1980, Lord Killanin did not compare favorably in style to his predecessor, American Avery Brundage, whom Killanin had replaced after the 1972 Munich Olympics.

Avery Brundage_cover of The Four Dimensions of Avery Brundage
Avery Brundage, from the cover of the book, The Four Dimensions of Avery Brundage

The reporter noted that when the West German National Olympic Committee voted in Duesseldorf on May 15, 1980, or when the United States Olympic Committee voted in Colorado Springs on April 12, 1980 to support the boycott, Brundage would not have stood for that, and instead would have met members of those Olympic committees and challenged them to stand up to their governments. Citing a long-timer reporter of the Olympic Movement, John Rodda of the London Guardian, the article explained what Brundage might have done.

If Brundage had still been president, he would have been in Duesseldorf for this meeting. If Brundage had still been around, and living up to his reputation, he probably would have been defying governments right and left at this movement. He was always the purist, depending the ideals of the Olympic Games as a supranational movement outside of governments and politics, uncompromising in his idealism and abrasive in his public comments. He never once faltered in this defense of the Olympic Charge in his 20 years as IOC president. Brundage, if true to form, might have gone to Colorado Springs to harangue the US Olympic Committee and call its leaders to ignore the White House and send athletes to Moscow. He might have gone to Dusseldorf. He might have been jet-hopping to Tokyo and Sydney, whipping into line NOCs of Japan and Australia.

David Kanin, who was a CIA Analyst in the American government during this time, agreed that different leadership was needed in these times, and that the IOC believed a more politically savvy person was needed at the top of the IOC. Kanin explained in a podcast called “Sport in the Cold War: Carter’s Olympic Boycott,” that one of the myths the 1980 Olympics exposed was that politics and the Olympics were separate. In fact, politics and the Olympics were coming together in a way that was financially lucrative for all involved.

(The 1980 Olympics) ended that fiction. And the best evidence of that was the movement away from Lord Killanin, who was from the old school, and I think a bit over his head, to Juan Antonio Samaranch of Spain, who was a seasoned diplomat. He wanted to get the Olympics for Barcelona and did. He understood geo-politics. He knew that the Games and politics were mixed. He knew and everybody else in the Olympic movement knew they could make a lot of money and get a lot of attention and a lot of influence by accepting that, and basically embracing the political side, even while they reject that publicly.

And while Samaranch could not strongarm the Soviet Union and her allies to participate in the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, he was able to bring the world together again at the 1988 Seoul Olympics. At the next Summer Games, Samaranch presided over an Olympics in his home country, opening the doors wide to professionals in basketball with the introduction of the American Dream Team at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics.

The Olympics were again a party everyone wanted to join.

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Avery Brundage_cover of The Four Dimensions of Avery Brundage
Avery Brundage, from the cover of the book, The Four Dimensions of Avery Brundage

The dry weather and powerful winds of California combine to threaten America’s most populous state with frightening wildfires that seem to appear out of nowhere, taking on a violent and devastating life of their own. The fires that suddenly broke out in Northern California on October 9, 2017, have resulted so far in dozens of deaths, and untold financial loss – one of the worst fires in recent memory.

Unfortunately for Californians, wildfires in summer are a potential threat to life and property every year.

On September 22, 1964, a brush fire broke out in the mountains east of Santa Barbara, a city north of Los Angeles. It is also where the then-President of the International Olympic Committee, Avery Brundage, lived. Only weeks prior to the commencement of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, Brundage was actually in San Francisco, getting ready to leave for Tokyo when the fires began their assault. By the time Brundage got to his home in La Piñeta, the damage to his mansion was done. Here is the September 25 report from AP:

Santa Barbara, Calif. (AP) – A massive, uncontrolled brush fire yesterday killed one firefighter, burned 34 others and left scores of homes destroyed, including the mansions of educator Robert Maynard Hutchins and the Olympic Games’ Avery Brundage.

Some 1,800 firefighters braced for the predicted return of hot wind form the interior – the so-called “devil wind” of California lore. Wednesday night it whipped the fire to spreading fury and caused mass evacuations of more than 5,000 from their homes.

The Forest Service, after helicopter surveys yesterday, reported 78 homes destroyed. They ranged in value from $12,000 to the $100,000 – $200,000 residential palaces in the exclusive suburb of Montecito.

The fire that destroyed the Brundage home_The Four Dimensions of Avery Brundage
The fire that destroyed the Brundage home, from the book, The Four Dimensions of Avery Brundage

Brundage’s home was likely at the $200,000 range. But what caused him particularly heartache was the loss of his art collection. Famed for his expertise in Asian art, Brundage had such a huge collection that he needed to find new homes for it. A good part of it ended up in the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, which is fortunate, because around a thousand pieces were destroyed in the fire.

As explained in the book, The Games Must Go On – Avery Brundage and The Olympic Movement, by Allen Guttman, staff from the nearby Montecito Country Club, which Brundage owned, were able to save only a few items of his collection, “but the house and almost all of the art treasures in it were destroyed.”

When he surveyed the ruins in person the day after the fire, he told reporters “the whole house was filled with irreplaceable treasures Mrs. Brundage and I collected from all over the world. There were dozens of pieces she particularly liked. And there were ancient Greek and Japanese pottery, Etruscan works, Japanese swords and Roman and Egyptian sculpture.” He was quite naturally, “sick at heart.”

Guttman explained that Brundage’s wife was already in Tokyo awaiting her husband, and that Brundage’s friends in Japan were doing everything they could to keep the news of the fire and their home from her.

Brundage arrived in Tokyo, filled with ambivalence, keeping the sadness at bay from his wife, and preparing himself for the opening of Asia’s first Olympiad.

Guttman wrote of Brundage’s appreciation for Asian philosophies and poetry. This one is by Lao Tzu in his collection of poems The Way of Life:

How can a man’s life keep its course

If he will not let it flow?

Those who flow as life flows know

They need no other force:

They feel no wear, they feel no tear,

They need no mending, no repair

The first home_ of Avery Brundage_The Four Dimensions of Avery Brundage
The home of Avery Brundage destroyed by the fire, form the book, The Four Dimensions of Avery Brundage

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.

roc-under-protest-1960
The Republic of China Olympic Team competing at the 1960 Olympics “Under Protest”

On December 2, 2016, Donald Trump took a phone call from the president of Taiwan, Tsai Ing-wen. She was simply offering her congratulations to the American president-elect. And yet, this simple phone call established the possibility of a radically different Sino-American diplomatic relationship.

Wang Dong, an associate professor at the School of International Studies at Peking University, was quoted in The New York Times as saying, “this is a wake-up call for Beijing — we should buckle up for a pretty rocky six months or year in the China-U.S. relationship. There was a sort of delusion based on overly optimistic ideas about Trump. That should stop.”

In fact, it was 38 years ago today (December 15) when then President Jimmy Carter officially recognized The People’s Republic of China, and Beijing as the sole government of China. A year later, the US cut off ties with Taiwan.

But in the 1950s and the 1960s, neither the People’s Republic of China (PRC), nor The Republic of China (ROC) in Taiwan were officially recognized by the United States. The International Olympic Committee, however, recognized both. The IOC invited the PRC and the ROC to the 1952 Helsinki Olympics. The ROC withdrew in protest of PRC’s Olympic debut. In subsequent Olympics, the ROC decided to participate, so it was the PRC’s turn to boycott the Games, which they did until 1980. In 1952, the president of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), Avery Brundage, was viewed by the PRC as a puppet of the United States.

Brundage was the president of the IOC in the 1950s and 1960s, and had to deal first hand with the China issue. As the head of the Olympic Movement, and thus symbolic proselytizer of the Olympic Charter, Brundage wanted to “contribute to building a peaceful and better world” by ensuring as many different nations participate in friendly sports competition. In his mind, he needed a logical way to bring both the PRC and the ROC to the Games.

avery-brundage
Avery Brundage

To that end, he got the IOC to vote and approve a decision that would force the ROC Olympic Committee to change their name from The Republic of China to either Taiwan or Formosa, which is another name for the island of Taiwan. According to David Maraniss and his seminal book, Rome 1960: The Olympics That Changed the World, Brundage’s argument was that the smaller ROC was in effect not able to represent the vast majority of China.

Brundage and the Marquess of Exeter, the strongest Western proponent of the name change within the IOC, said it was a practical decision arrived at free from ideological pressure and without political overtones. The political act came from those who insisted on calling it China when it was not China, they argued. “We cannot recognize a Chinese committee in Taiwan any more than we can recognize an Italian committee in Sicily or a Canadian committee in Newfoundland,” Brundage said.

As Brundage quickly found out, the United States government was not keen on the IOC interfering in international diplomacy, and viewed Brundage, to his surprise, as a communist sympathizer. As Maraniss wrote, “the U. S. government, which recognized Chiang’s Nationalist China but not Mao’s mainland government, viewed this as a major symbolic victory for the communist bloc, and thought Brundage had been naïve and manipulated by the Soviets, who had initiated the proposal.”

Brundage was a puzzled man. He believed himself to be a staunch anti-communist. And yet he found his name bandied about in the press as a communist sympathizer, with calls for his resignation from the IOC. But Brundage remained in role. The ROC competed as Formosa at the 1960 Olympics, and Taiwan at the 1964 Olympics.

In 1979, after the United States officially recognized the PRC, the IOC recognized the Chinese Olympic Committee from the PRC, and passed a resolution that the ROC team from Taiwan be designated Chinese Taipei at subsequent Olympics.

So you can understand why Taiwan hasn’t felt all that respected in the latter half of the 20th century. And this has continued despite the fact that Taiwan emerged as one of the great Asian economic stories in the past 30 years, and is currently the 22nd largest economy according to the IMF.

So the phone call that was accepted by President-elect Donald Trump was not just a simple courtesy call. For the tiny island nation of Taiwan, aka The Republic of China, it was a gesture of respect and recognition.

You can bet, though, this political football game is far from over.

JOC head, Katsuji Shibata (seated, glasses) at press conference post-JOC vote to boycott JOC head, Katsuji Shibata (seated, glasses) at press conference post-JOC vote to boycott_Mainichi

In 1989, the Japanese minister of transport, Shintaro Ishihara wrote an essay that Japanese needed to be more assertive, speak up and say “no.”

In the case of the cold war rhetoric between the US and the USSR, Ishihara wrote that USSR missiles could hit their targets within 60 meters, while Americans bragged US missiles were accurate to 15 meters. Ishihara emphasized that Americans could make that claim thanks to Japanese technology.

“if Japanese semiconductors are not used, this accuracy cannot be assured,” wrote Ishihara in the 1989 book, The Japan that Can Say No.  “It has come to the point that no matter how much they continue military expansion, if Japan stopped selling them the chips, there would be nothing more they could do.”

Japan That Can Say NoIn the late 1980s, the Japanese economy was challenging the American economy, books on Japanese productivity and quality was must reading in MBA programs, and Japanese people were omnipresent globally, quietly confident about Japanese ways.

If the Moscow Olympics had taken place in 1988 instead of 1980, perhaps Japan would have had the confidence to say “no” to an American boycott of the Olympics. However, in 1980, that was not the case. Despite the fact that many of America’s biggest allies in Europe decided to go to participate in the Moscow Summer Games, Japan waited until the last possible moment before finally saying “yes” to America and the boycott.

On Saturday, May 24, 1980, the day before the deadline when national Olympic committees had to accept or decline their invitation to the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow, members of the Japan Olympic Committee(JOC) met to vote. The president of the JOC, Katsuji Shibata, clearly wanted Japanese athletes to compete in Moscow. But the odds were stacked against him.

  • Since January, 1980, officials from the Japanese government expressed a strong view that Japan must boycott the Games, although they were diplomatic enough to say that the final decision rests with the JOC, as per IOC rules.
  • In an opinion poll taken in late February, 40% of the public were against Japan sending a team to Moscow.
  • A week later, an informal poll of JOC members revealed that the committee was far from making a decision as 12 members were in favor and 13 were against, although 14 refused to provide a response.

Shibata hoped that an outside force would convince the Japanese government to change its position and pleaded with the president of the International Olympic Committee, Lord Killanin, to negotiate with American President Jimmy Carter and Soviet secretary general Leonid Brezhnev to find “an effective solution to the present crisis of the Olympic movement.”

Even a week after the United States Olympic Committee voted on April 12 to support the Carter administration and boycott the Moscow Games, Shibata was still telling the press that Japan should go to the Moscow Games “in principle.”

In May, Japan Prime MinisterMasayoshi Ohira reiterated the government’s position to boycott the Olympics, while Finance Minister Noboru Takeshita said that financial assistance will no longer be available to sports organizations wishing to send athletes.

Grasping at straws, Shibata sent JOC officials to Asia and Europe to gather information, and perhaps uncover support for Japan to send a team.

But finally, the day of the May 24 vote came. And despite the tearful appeals of Japanese athletes, the JOC voted 29 to 13 in favor of the boycott. “With a heavy heart, I report to you that the JOC has voted to boycott the Games,” said Shibata in a Japan Times report.

One of the most promising medalists for Japan, distance runner Toshihiko Seko was present. Said Seko, who made it to the meeting after a 25-km practice run, “I am despondent but after all I suppose we have to follow what the government says because there would be no sports without a government.”

Alas, 1980 was not yet a time when Japan could say no.

Yuji Takada, wrestler, reacts to JOC vote to boycott the 1980 Olymipcs_Mainichi Yuji Takada, wrestler, reacts to JOC vote to boycott the 1980 Olympics_Mainichi

 

Thatcher Eat Your Heart Out
“Thatcher Eat Your Heart Out,” BBC

Sebastian Coe was in Singapore in July, 2005 to convince the IOC that London was the best choice for the 2012 Summer Olympics. He believed he could speak with conviction about Great Britain’s commitment to the Olympic movement – after all, Team GB has never missed a date, as he related to The Guardian.

I don’t think I would have been able to stand up in Singapore in front of the International Olympic Committee and say what I said with credibility if I had boycotted in 1980. I was able to say that Britain had sent a team to every winter and summer games. Had I not gone in 1980 it would certainly have been seized upon and exploited by rival cities.”

Coe helped convince the IOC to make London the host of the 2012 Olympics, taking heart in the fact that Great Britain did not boycott the 1980 Moscow Olympics.

Boycott Challenges

President Carter felt that the invasion of Afghanistan by the USSR threatened the national security of European nations and in particular the NATO allies. But getting the commitment of other countries, particularly American allies, was a challenge.

“The foreign reaction (to the proposed boycott) was something else,” said CIA analyst, David Kanin in a podcast about Carter and the boycott. “There was always a quizzical response – why? There was skepticism. There was support from some allied governments. There was support from allied Olympic committees, but not many. And it was clear that the athletes were dead set against it. It was a complicated situation.”

The complexity that the Carter administration was trying to grasp was the multi-faceted leadership of the Olympic movement, as Kanin went on to explain. He noted that the Carter administration initially didn’t understand much about Olympic movement, and “how the tripartite system with all the federations worked.” What was not clear at first to many was that governments don’t officially determine whether a national team goes to a given Olympics or not – in fact, it’s the national Olympic committees. That is why American vice president Walter Mondale went directly to the US Olympic Committee on the day of their vote, as explained in post 2 of this series.

European Resistance to the Boycott

In the case of Great Britain, prime minister Margaret Thatcher was in agreement with American president Jimmy Carter – that a boycott would sent a strong message to the Kremlin. But in Europe, governments were supportive of whatever decision their Olympic committee chose.

Early on, the French Sports Minister Jean Pierre Sottson said that “The Olympic Games ae not organized by the governments but by the International Olympic Committee which chooses a city, and not a country,” he said in a January 19, 1980 UPI article.

In early February, 10 national Olympic committees in Europe gathered in Frankfurt, West Germany and released a joint communique stating that “National Olympic Committees had sole responsibility to decide on the participation of their athletes at the Summer Games.” (AP, February 3, 1980)

Still, Thatcher believed that a boycott was the right thing to do, as did the Parliament. On March 17, 1980, after 7 hours of debate, the House of Commons voted overwhelmingly for Great Britain to boycott the Moscow Games.

Allan Wells of Scotland was a sprinter expected to compete in the 1980 Olympics, and thought that the British government went overboard in trying to influence the athletes that Moscow as a bad idea, as he related in this Guardian article.

We received maybe half-a-dozen letters from 10 Downing Street trying to put us off. I opened one. There was a picture with a letter saying this is what the Russians are doing. It showed a dead Afghan girl with a doll. I can still see the picture even now as if it were yesterday. It made me feel very angry that we were being pressured to this extent. I think deep down the government wanted us to go but also wished to please the Americans. My first thought was, “What’s going to happen if I don’t go? A Russian soldier isn’t going to say, ‘Oh, Allan Wells isn’t coming. I’m not going to shoot somebody.”

Sport Endures

In the end, the British Olympic Association voted to go, and the British government did not put up barriers to their athletes’ participation. Although West Germany’s Olympic committee voted to boycott, France, Spain, Italy, Sweden, Iceland and Finland joined Great Britain and sent teams to the 1980 Moscow Olympics.

Allen Wells would go on to win gold in the 100 meters, as well as silver in the 200 meters. But it was the duels between famed British middle distance runners, Sebastian Coe and Steve Ovett that captured the imagination of the British public, and could be seen as defeat for Thatcher, according to Paul Corthorn, senior lecturer at Queen’s University Belfast, in this podcast.

A large part of the public debate had taken place earlier on in the 1980, January through March. The Games were held in the summer. A certain amount of time had passed. Other things had happened, have risen to prominence. I think in terms of the way in which the British successes were portrayed in the media, there is simply a case of interest in those competitions themselves, and a desire to celebrate them instead of hark back to an earlier debate.

Closing Ceremonies_Mixing_Games of the XVIII Olympiad_IOC
From the book, Games of the XVIII Olympiad_IOC

On Saturday, October 24, a national effort to restore pride to a defeated nation and demonstrate to the world that Japan was indeed back, ended at the Closing Ceremonies on the final day of the Tokyo Olympiad.

The ceremonies began with Emperor Hirohito entering the National Stadium. And then began the march of the athletes – perhaps less march, more flood. Here’s how it was reported in The Official Report of the XVIII Olympiad:

The flags of all participating nations were marched into the Stadium by standard bearers at 5 o’clock with the names of the nations held high. The athletes followed into the field behind them without distinction of nationality and like a flood water released from its gates. All lined up together in an orderly manner in the area behind the flags. There was a feeling of deep emotion with the completion of the Games, and a peaceful hush descended on the Stadium.

Closing ceremony 6
From The Official Report of the XVIII Olympiad

When the athletes had all entered the stadium, the national anthem of Greece was played as that nation’s flag was raised, followed by the flags of Japan and Mexico, accompanied to the playing of the Mexican national anthem. The president of the IOC, Avery Brundage, then officially closed the Tokyo Summer Games, and proclaimed hope for a successful Games in Mexico City four years later:

I call upon the youths of all countries to assemble four years from now at Mexico City and there to celebrate with us the Games of the XIX Olympiad. May they display cheerfulness and concord so that the Olympic torch will be carried on with ever greater eagerness, courage and honor for the good of humanity throughout the ages.

Closing Ceremonies_IOC Flag_Games of the XVIII Olympiad_IOC
Fromthe book, Games of the XVIII Olympiad_IOC

As The Tokyo Olympic Hymm B played, the Olympic flame dissipated into the blackness of the night. In the dark and the quiet, the Olympic flag was lowered and carried off the field by members of the Self-Defense Forces, their solemn march highlighted by a single spotlight.

And suddenly, blossoming from the dark canvas of the field, red-orange flames ignited from hand torches held by hundreds of female college students who formed an oval around the stadium track. As Auld Lang Syne wafted through the Autumn air, the students rotated and waved tehir torches that “made a most impressive and magnificant spectacle as their flames…rotated like a gigantic undulating wave,” according to the Official Report.

Closing ceremony 5_Tokyo Olympiad_Kyodo News Agency
From the book, Tokyo Olympiad_Kyodo News Agency

It was finally time to leave. As the athletes marched out of the stadium, the electronic signboard lit up with the words “Sayonara! We Meet Again in Mexico City in 1968!” The Emperor left the stadium, and then the evening sky exploded in a blaze of fireworks.

Closing Ceremonies_Sayonara_Games of the XVIII Olympiad_IOC
From the book, Games of the XVIII Olympiad_IOC

Thus ended one of the most significant milestones in Japan’s march to recovery and prosperity in the 20th Century.

Fuji Film 1_Hoisting of the 97 participating nations' flags

It was minutes before the commencement of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, the flags of 93 nations rising into a clear blue sky. The above photo was snapped and compiled into a set of photos by Fuji Film commemorating the XVIII Olympiad’s opening ceremony, which began at 2pm on Saturday, October 10, 1964, 53 years ago today.

Fuji Film 2_Japanese Delegation Entering the Stadium

The athletes would have to deal with cold and wet conditions for much of the Tokyo Olympics, but that day, the 5,500 athletes marched into the National Stadium under perfect conditions. As tradition has it, the host nation’s team marches into the Stadium last. Expectations were high for Team Japan, with a goal set of 15 gold medals. They actually achieved 16, third best after the US and USSR.

Fuji Film 3_IOC President Avery Brundage's Welcome

The President of the Organizing Committee for the Games, Daigoro Yasukawa, can be seen above introducing the International Olympic Committee President, Avery Brundage. In the official report which offered a post mortem of the Games from an operational perspective, Yasukawa expresses gratitude to the people of Japan.

…it was because Japanese in all walks and interests of life worked together in close and harmonious cooperation—all with one basic goal—that these Games might be an unqualified success. This spirit permeated into the Organizing Committee, and was to be found also in the sports associations and the many cooperating organizations involved. This surely is the only factor that enabled success in our organization efforts.

Fuji Film 4_Emperor Hirohito opens the Games

At the end of the Second World War, in the aftermath of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings, the Emperor’s voice was heard over the radio for the first time by his Japanese subjects. The Emperor asked his people to surrender, to “bear the unbearable, and endure the unendurable.” Nineteen years later, the Emperor is presiding over the Olympics, an event symbolizing peace and unity, in a city that was unrecognizable from its bombed-out shell in 1945. As noticed in this Japan Times article, the scene depicted in this photo may have been striking to many Japanese as the only person standing in the stadium was the Emperor – a role reversal of sorts in a very different time.

Fuji Film 5_Hoisting of the Olympic Flag

After the Emperor declared the XVIII Olympiad open, the Olympic Flag was brought into the stadium by Japanese self-defense forces, the embroidered satin flag initially brought in by the Mayor of Rome, the site of the XVII Olympiad. The flag was raised exactly 15.21 meters into the air. That was the distance Mikio Oda hopped, skipped and jumped to win the gold medal in the triple jump at the 1928 Amsterdam Olympics, Japan’s first ever gold medal.

Don Paige_Track and Field Magazine Track & Field News cover page of Don Paige, August 1979

He had pulled off a rare double – winning the 800 meter and 1,500 meter track finals at the 1979 NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships – on the same day, with only 35 minutes in between finals. Don Paige, a student at Villanova University, was priming himself for a spot on Team USA for the 1980 Moscow Olympics.

But when President Jimmy Carter announced at the White House in March 21, 1980, in front of 100 American Olympic hopefuls, including Paige, the 23 year old was in shock.

Fortunately, Paige’s coach at Villanova was James “Jumbo” Elliott, and “Mr. Elliott,” as his track team called him, had a plan. As recounted in the book, Boycott: Stolen Dreams of the 1980 Moscow Olympic Games, Paige’s coach laid out two plans:

Plan A: This plan assumed that the boycott wouldn’t happen. After all, the USOC had not yet declined the invitation to the Games. Paige would then win the indoor nationals in the 1000 meter, win the 800 in the outdoor season, earn a sixth NCAA title, place in the top three in the Olympic trials, and then march in the Opening Ceremonies in Moscow.

Plan B: This plan was taking control of what Paige could control – competitions he could enter. Assuming Team USA did not go to Moscow, Elliott said that Paige would win every 800 meter competition he entered that year, win the US Olympic trials, and run the fastest 800 in the world. Paige would also compete in Europe after the Olympics, gunning for Sebastian Coe, the world record holder in the 800 at the time.

Coe-Ovett

At the 1980 Moscow Olympics, the 800-meter and 1,500 meter finals are now the stuff of Olympic legend. The British compatriots Coe and Steve Ovett were fierce rivals, with Coe setting world records in the 800 and Ovett in the 1500.

Coe was favored to win the 800 meters, but on July 26, 1980, he found himself boxed in by a couple of East Germans, had to fight his way through them, run wide, and kick his way to a silver medal, losing to Ovett. Coe said in this Guardian article that it “was just a f@%k-up from beginning to end”, and calls it “the very worst 800 meters of my 20-year career.”

Ovett was favored to win the 1500 meters, especially after his unexpected triumph in the 800. But on August 1, 1980, East Germany again impacted the outcome. Jurgen Staub set a fast pace. It was Coe, not Ovett that kept pace, in fact passing Straub, and wondering where Ovett was. Coe cracked the tape and won the 1500 meter, covering his face with his hands. His knees buckling, Coe fell to the track, his head touching the track surface for a moment before he raised himself for a victory lap.

Plan B

Paige followed his coach’s plan. He won the 800-meter finals at the US Olympic trials on June 23, running a world best at the time of 1:44.53. And after the completion of the 1980 Olympics, he went to Europe. Fortunately, his friend had entered him that Spring in a track meet in Via Reggio in Italy, where Coe was scheduled to race on August 14, only 11 days after the end of the Moscow Games.

According to the book, Boycott, Paige was surprised to hear from officials that he had not been entered into the 800 meter competition. He pleaded with race officials. He pleaded directly with Peter Coe, the father of Sebastian Coe, but to no avail. Paige essentially demanded to be in the race, giving an ultimatum:

Here’s what’s going to happen. I’m going to warm up for the 800, take my sweats off, and go to the line,” recalls Paige. “You’re going to have to remove me from that line. When you do, I’m going to hold a press conference explaining to them how my good friend Marty Liquori entered me in this race months ago and you two wanted me out because you thought I might beat Sebastian Coe.”

According to Paige in this CNN article, he went to the starting line and no one asked him to leave. So he finally got his wish – a head to head with the Olympic champion. And with 300 meters to go, Paige was in the lead. “We come off the turn, 100m to go, stride for stride,” said Paige. “Fifty meters, 20 meters. Before the line I’m thinking, ‘God darn it, we are going to tie!’ ”

It wasn’t a tie. Paige beat Coe by two one-hundredths of a second.

Sports Illustratted_Sebastian Coe_11August 1980 Sports Illustrated, Sebastian Coe cover, August 11, 1980

The Debate and The Irony

Within teams that boycotted the Olympics, there is always speculation. Would Yasuhiro Yamashita of Japan have won gold in judo? Would Edwin Moses have continued his Olympic dominance in the 400 meter hurdles? Would Don Paige actually have defeated both Ovett and Coe at the 1980 Moscow Olympics?

Yes Paige defeated Coe in Italy. But one can argue that Coe had already peaked, while Paige trained to peak in Italy, as explained in this Let’s Run forum discussion:

Coe was exhausted after running several races post Olympics. Paige was geared up to meet Coe and edged him out by o.03. A one off race. Coe’s PB was 1.42, Paige’s best was 144.5. Paige may well have taken bronze in Moscow. Ovett beat Paige in 83 easily – in the year that Paige had set his 800M PB. Ovett was well past his peak in that race.

Coe also proved himself again at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, winning gold in the 1500 meters and silver in the 800 meters again, with Paige no where to be seen.

At the end of the day, Paige is realistic about his place in history. “I was No. 1 in the world, but Sebastian Coe was a better half-miler than me,” Paige said in 2010 in this Philadelphia Inquirer article. “I just beat him that day. There’s only one Olympics. That was just a great competition that I was fortunate to win.”

But he does hold out hope that the boycott had meaning. Paige was, perhaps ironically, an American athlete who supported President Carter’s decision to pull Team USA from the Moscow Games. In 2010, he wrote an article that explained why he supported the boycott, and explained this view to Track and Field News.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing in this world, and [Carter] had to make a tough decision which I’m sure crushed him when he had to make a stand worldwide . . . There will always be politics in sports, and I believe Jimmy Carter made the best decision he could at the time . . . I still say maybe because Don Paige did not go to the Olympics, maybe I spared one life in Afghanistan. And if I did, I sleep really well at night because of that. It makes me feel good and proud.