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Fred Hansen with gold medal
Fred Hansen and his gold medal at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics.

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.

Brian SternbergSternberg 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.”

Life Magazine_30October1964_3

I recently bought a copy of Life Magazine’s October 30, 1964 edition, featuring a young Don Schollander staring off into the distance, his four gleaming gold medals draped around his neck. (Read about that here.) But equally interesting to me were the ads in the magazine, a time capsule containing artifacts of a consumer goods era long gone.

Polaroid: Polaroid saw the future was in instant images. Why wait days to get your print photos when Polaroid could do it in 60 seconds? Polaroid is still around, albeit more as a novelty. Although you can’t tell in this ad, this Polaroid Color Pack Camera expanded like an accordion, and appears very popular amidst the biggest names in rock and roll according to this site. Polaroid’s brand and IP is now owned by “The Impossible Project,” an organization dedicated to keeping Polaroid’s instant film legacy and business alive, a decade after Polaroid gave up on instant film cameras.

Life Magazine_30October1964_1

Encyclopaedia Britannica: Did you own a set of that massive collection of Western-centric knowledge? My family did. I remember chucking it into a dumpster as we cleared out the detritus of 20th century knowledge management, replaced ruthlessly by the Internet. The last paper version of this massive set of tomes – all 32,640 pages – was published in 2010.

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Yellow Pages: This was a directory of telephone numbers and addresses amassed by AT&T, a tome published every year to help find the contact information of a business in your area. This tome too is now a relic of the past – see Encyclopaedia Britannica.

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Admiral: In the early 1960s, Admiral was one of the leading names in electronics, famous for their televisions, radios and record players among a vast lineup of products. In their heyday, Admiral helped lead the transition from vacuum tube technology to transistors. Today, Admiral is still around as a television brand marketed by a company based in Taiwan. More interestingly, vacuum tube amplifiers today are all the rage.

Life Magazine_30October1964_6

Winston: I had thought that you couldn’t advertise cigarettes or tobacco products in American magazines, so I thought I’d highlight this antiquated ad for Winston Filter Cigarettes, with its iconic slogan, “Winston tastes good…like a cigarette should!” That ad made Winston the best-selling cigarette in the world in 1966, two years after this ad. While advertising tobacco products on the television and radio was banned in America in 1971, apparently, companies can still advertise tobacco products in magazines and newspapers. However, tobacco companies can get significant blow back if they try.

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.

Pyeongchang NBC logo

We live in a 24/7 always on world. When NBC delayed broadcast of premier sporting events at the Rio Olympics, so that they could present them during prime time in the evenings, their strategy backfired for many. After all, in today’s world, people can learn of the results instantly.

NBC recently announced that for the PyeongChang Winter Olympics in early 2018, all broadcasts will be live, no matter the time in the US.

“That means social media won’t be ahead of the action in any time zone, and as a result, none of our viewers will have to wait for anything,” Jim Bell, president for NBC Olympics production and programming, said in a statement. “This is exciting news for the audience, the advertisers and our affiliates alike.”

Since South Korea will be 14 hours ahead of the East Coast of the United States, if an ice hockey match starts at 8pm in Korea, then New Yorkers can watch it real time, but they’ll have to be up at 6 am to do so. Of course, if you’re a big hockey fan, trying to avoid hearing the score for another 12 hours before watching it prime time would be a pain in the neck, if not impossible.

This may actually be ho hum news for most people.

But in 1964, the prospect of broadcasting the Tokyo Olympics live to other continents was an exciting thought.

NHK camerman 1964 Tokyo Olympics
NHK camerman at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics
Live broadcasts in 1964 were not new. The 1936 Berlin Olympics were shown live on German television. The 1960 Rome Olympics were the first to be broadcast live across Europe. But, according to John Slater of Western Carolina University, Japan wanted the 1964 Tokyo Olympics to be the first broadcast live to another continent.

Slater wrote in this abstract that members of the Tokyo Olympic organizing committee wanted the Tokyo Games to be known as the Technology Games. And so they contacted the American government in Washington D. C. if they would be willing to adapt American communication satellites designed for telephone communications to relay television signals. American officials also thought it would be very cool to be the first Games to broadcast signals literally across the globe.

NHK, the Japanese Broadcasting Corporate, built a transmitter in Japan, and the US Navy made modifications to a communications facility in California, and NASA which operated the satellite Syncom II, moved its orbiting location from the Atlantic to the Pacific. And when they tested the ability to send visual and audio television signals from Japan to North America real time, it worked! But as Slater wrote, NBC, which owned the broadcast rights in the United States, got very defensive.

The U.S. Department of State coordinated the use of the necessary radio frequencies. The system worked, and the Communication Satellite Corporation offered to make satellite time available. Both CBC and the European Broadcasting Union signed up for an hour a day, at a cost of U.S. $150 a minute.

But NBC chose to protect its investment in exclusivity. It got hung up on NASA’s policy that programs sent via experimental satellites should be made freely available to all competing media. In the end, only the opening ceremonies were televised live in the United States, and then only in the East. During the competition itself, U.S. viewers had to wait to see next-day videotapes of the Games, while viewers in Canada and Europe got the full benefit of live coverage. The Canadians had embraced the new technology, while the U.S. broadcasters tried to fend it off as a threat to their commercial interests.

NBC got an earful for promising live broadcasts, but actually providing tape-delayed shows in the evenings.

But that was 1964. Today, on the eve of the PyeongChang Winter Olympics, NBC will be giving sports fans immediate gratification.

Flushing Meadows_five
Me, several years after the closing of the New York World’s Fair in Flushing Meadows.

First things first. Novelist and futurist, Isaac Asimov had a caveat. If the world is destroyed by a thermonuclear war, his predictions would be meaningless. Got it.

isaac asimov
Isaac Asimov

Since there has been no nuclear war of significance, here are a few of the predictions Asimov made in the New York Times in August, 1964. Asimov visited the huge, big-tent event in the world that year that was not the Tokyo Olympics – the World’s Fair in New York, which happened to be in my backyard of Flushing, Queens.

By 2014, electroluminescent panels will be in common use. Ceilings and walls will glow softly, and in a variety of colors that will change at the touch of a push button. A quick search reveals that available in the marketplace is electroluminescent advertising displays (which are paper-thin flexible panels), electroluminescent paint, electroluminescent wallpaper, and something more commonly known, electroluminescent fashion.

There is an underground house at the fair which is a sign of the future. Suburban houses underground, with easily controlled temperature, free from the vicissitudes of weather, with air cleaned and light controlled, should be fairly common. The reason Asimov gives for this idea is Man’s urge to control its environment, as well as expand the amount of land to grown more food to feed a growing world population. But another reason will be the Mega-city Trend, the continued massive migration to big cities that puts tremendous pressure on the infrastructure. Singapore, where I lived for a few years, has a population of 5.5 million people on a land mass of 710 square km, a country half the size of Los Angeles. The Red Dot, as it is affectionately called, will be considerably more dense as the government predicts the population to grow to 7 million in the near future. Singapore has built upwards with its skyscrapers, and outwards with land-fill areas, but is now planning underground working facilities on a scale not commonly seen. Designs for the 300,000 square-meter Underground Science City will be 30 to 80 meters below the surface, with plans to hold a working population of over 4,000.

Singapore Underground Science City
The planned Singapore Underground Science City

Robots will neither be common nor very good in 2014, but they will be in existence. The I.B.M. exhibit at the present fair has no robots but it is dedicated to computers, which are shown in all their amazing complexity, notably in the task of translating Russian into English. It will be such computers, much miniaturized, that will serve as the “brains” of robots. The way Asimov describes robotics, and I suppose, artificial intelligence is far less aggressive than his imagination in his novels. I haven’t read that many Asimov works, but I do know that he was one of the most significant minds behind a philosophical framework or set of rules regarding the relationship between Man and Robot: The Three Laws of Robotics. Additionally, I recall his brilliant character, Hari Seldon in Asimov’s Foundation Series, a man who developed psychohistory, a precursor, to me, of what we now call Big Data.

If you want to watch something historic, as well as geeks geeking out, here’s an incredible video of IBM’s Watson beating two humans at Jeopardy. The two humans are Jeopardy champions.

Much effort will be put into the designing of vehicles with “Robot-brains” vehicles that can be set for particular destinations and that will then proceed there without interference by the slow reflexes of a human driver. I suspect one of the major attractions of the 2014 fair will be rides on small roboticized cars which will maneuver in crowds at the two-foot level, neatly and automatically avoiding each other. Two obvious parallels to today’s technology: self-driving cars, which are all the rage, as well as maglev technology. By 2020, there are some who claim that Japan will have significant driverless transportation on the roads when the Olympians arrive.

The maglev train, which is already operational in Shanghai, will connect Tokyo to Osaka in an hour, achieving a speed of 500 kph, although it won’t be in operation until 2027.

Markus Rehm

Markus Rehm, a long jumper from Göppingen was left off the German national team being sent to the IAAF World Track and Field Championships, despite the fact that his jump is the longest by a German this year.

The reason? His right leg is a prosthetic limb, and the German Track and Field Federation “has used biometric studies to rule that his carbon-fiber prosthesis gives him an unfair advantage,” according to the Associated Press.

And so goes the cat-and-mouse chase between advances in technology and the authorities in charge of creating an even playing field.

In the 1960s, rigid steel poles gave way to carbon-fiber poles. While the pole vault leap increased during Olympic competition from 4.56 in 1956 to 4.70 in 1960, it lept to 5.10 in 1964 and again to 5.4o in 1968. First movers in the technology had the advantage.

When the full-body swimming suits were all the rage, and over 100 world records were broken in an 18-month period in 2008 and 2009, FINA, the international swimming federation, decided to ban certain suits made of polyurethane, according to this New York Times article.

And now, track and field organizations are trying to figure out when the artificial limbs on athletes are creating an advantage or not. There are likely to be fine lines, and difficult choices as the technology improves. Will a runner with an artificial arm be allowed to compete with full-body athletes?

And for that matter, can’t we say eyeglasses or contact lenses for riflemen or archers are a competitive advantage versus those who do not need them?

Has anyone asked?

Go to this link to see fascinating video of Rehm and his jumps.

Voskhod_1_004

The 1964 Tokyo Olympics were not the only news on October 13 and 14. The Soviet Union’s rocket, The Voskhod, orbited the earth 15 times from October 12-13 – the first spaceship to send more than one person into space. In a recorded conversation between Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev and mission commander, Valdimir Komarov, Khrushchev swelled with pride, while Komarov spoke with modest confidence of the need to complete the mission.

What is fascinating to me was the constant reference to the sound quality. In the 14 exchanges, 10 had references to the sound. Here are the last three exchanges of this very long-distance conversation, as published in this October 13 New York Times article:

KHRUSHCHEV: I could hear you wonderfully, absolutely wonderfully. Well, I wish you, dear comrades and friends, good luck in the cosmos. The most important wish is for a happy landing on earth.

COLONEL KOMAROV: Thank you very much, Nikita Sergeievich, we could hear you excellently as if we are talking in Moscow on a normal telephone. We understood you. Everything is in order here.

KHRUSHCHEV: I could hear you quite well. Just as everything is in order at this very minute I hope everything is in order at this very last minute of your flight. The people here are triumphantly excited and are proud of you. We are waiting here for you on earth. Good-by.

Competition between the Soviet Union and the United States was so intense in the early 1960s that the quality of the video and audio transmissions from space were scrutinized closely, a mini-technology Olympics of sorts. According to Kyodo-Reuters, they noted that “Western observers” were impressed with the video transmission, remarking that “the quality of the space TV relay was higher than when pictures were relayed to earth from American spaceman Leroy Gordon Cooper’s ship Faith 7 in May 1963.” However, “the quality of the recording was poor and individual speakers could not be distinguished….”

Voskhod Konstantin Feoktistov, Boris Yegorov, Vladimir Komarov
Voskhod Konstantin Feoktistov, Boris Yegorov, Vladimir Komarov

Were the Soviet leaders and cosmonauts lying about how clearly they heard each other? Were the reports by “Western observers” an exaggeration? Who knows. Cold War trash talking was de rigeur in the sixties.

At any rate, the achievements of the Voskhod appeared to be advantage Russia. After all, NASA did not send a two-man crew into space until five months later. This AP report on October 13 quoted a British newspaper, The Guardian, as stating:

It now seems certain the Russians will get to the moon before the Americans….the (Soviet) crew….will probably knew enough about the behavior of the human body in a weightless condition (and perhaps also in an artificial atmosphere containing helium instead of nitrogen) to predict something approaching certainty a date when prolonged space travel will be feasible. All men in all countries will accept the Russian’s achievements for what they are – a triumph not just for Communists but for questing mankind.

Another third party agreed that the Soviets may have taken the lead in the space race, but they added concern with the competition. The only nation to be devastated by the most technologically advanced weaponry of its time, the atomic bomb, the editors of The Japan Times explained in an October 14 opinion piece that continued technological one-upmanship between the two superpowers could eventually lead to wars among the stars.

Among the objectives of the Voskhod’s flight mentioned by Tass is the carrying out of an extended medico-biological research in the conditions of a long flight. We may perhaps take it for granted that Soviet Russia has by no means given up the idea of placing a man on the moon. Recently, this has been regarded as an American ambition rather than a Soviet one, and it may be that the Russians are more eager to place in orbit around the earth a space laboratory or even an orbital military station. We must wait the denouement – which may not be long in coming.

It is a sad reflection that in an age in which mankind has achieved the capacity to investigate outer space that we should have to think of the possible military use of the capabilities which are now being constantly added to, but we must accept the grim facts of our situation. There are still serious tensions on earth, and if these should ever burst into conflict we may be sure an effort would be made to use outer space for military purposes. While this possibility exits, the two great nations – the United States and Soviet Russia – feel the need to watch closely each other’s progress in space, if for no other reason.

The Americans and Soviets did not need added incentive to beat each other at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. And yet, the achievements of the Voskhod probably put a little spring into the steps of the Russians. At least for a few days. Only three days after the Voskhod successfully landed, leader of the Soviet Union, Nikita Khrushchev, the man who famously said to the United States “We will bury you,” was unexpectedly removed from power.

A clip from the film, The Right Stuff: a glimpse of the American sense of urgency in the space race of the 1960s.

drone-shot-surfing
Expect incredible drone shots of surfing at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

One of my favorite toys as a kid was Verti-bird, a Mattel product from 1973 in which you operated a mini-helicopter to stop the bad guys. You had to control the helicopter’s lift and descent as well as speed, but it was connected to a wire so its flight was limited to a circular route.

But it was very cool!

Today, drones are the modern-day Verti-bird. This is a very weak comparison because drones today are in the middle of cutting-edge advancements in logistics, the military, security, news and sports coverage.

I remember talking with a photographer who covered the sailing events at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics and he mentioned that it is hard for people unfamiliar with yacht competitions to show interest because of how hard it is to capture these competitions visually. Perhaps drones will change that.

Fox Sports made a commitment last year to provide broadcasts of golf and super cross using perspectives provided by drones. This has been made possible by adjustments to Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) guidelines in the US, which now allows the use of drones for commercial use.

Because drones, when controlled by a skilled technician, can provide unique angles, particularly from above a stadium or an athlete, or close ups of athletes who are far from areas where cameramen or spectators watch.

Drones can currently move at speeds of 64 kph (40 mph). They can venture as far as 1.2 kilometers (.75 miles) away from the controller, which is a pretty wide berth. And battery life for a drone is about 20 minutes. These specs are true as of this writing, but I’m sure it’s already an outdated reality as this technology will advance rapidly.

Yes, there are fears that a drone will plop out of the sky and interfere with an athlete’s performance. People will point to the drone falling just behind a skiier at the Sochi Olympics. But the benefit, in terms of the birds-eye-view images and up-close perspectives in sports where such access was not possible, will outweigh the risk.

Expect to see incredibly creative use of drones at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

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The competitor number for Andras Toro and his C-1 1000-meter competition at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics

When 1964 Tokyo Olympian, Andras Toro, rummaged through his decades of Olympian memorabilia with me last month, he uncovered his number. At his last Olympics representing his native Hungary as a canoeist, Toro wore the number 79, blue font on white material.

What caught my eye was that on the back of the material were the unmistakable pads of velcro. The reason it drew my attention is that I had always been bothered by the way athletes, particularly track and field athletes, have their numbers or names attached to their jerseys. They are sporting sleek, high performance jerseys, and yet their names or numbers are commonly printed on paper, and quite sloppily attached by safety pins. It’s not a big issue. It just doesn’t look cool.

alison-felix-and-name-card-fasteners

There has to be a better way.

At every Olympics, organizers are always looking for better ways to do things. Perhaps someone deep down in one of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics planning teams thought that velcro was a better way to help identify athletes.

Velcro was developed in 1941 by a Swiss electrical engineer named George de Mestral. The iconic story is that on a walk with his dog in the woods, he came home with burrs stuck to his pants, which made him wonder. When he looked at the burrs closely, he noticed that the burrs had tiny hook-like tendrils, which somehow caught themselves in the tiny openings of his pants material. Out of that insight, de Mestral patented the fasterner idea called velcro, which is a combination of the French words “velours” (velvet) and “crochet” (hook).

Velcro was seen as a light, flexible, non-metallic way to attach or seal things. In 1968, NASA used velcro in their space suits, sample collection bags and on their lunar vehicles, increasing its geeky cool cred.

So attaching name and number plates to uniforms with velcro makes sense, initially. Why are we not using that space-age technology today? My guess is that using velcro is a bit of an operational pain because it requires two to tango – you need to place the “vel” on one thing and the “cro” on another. Toro’s number plate had the “vel”. I can’t imagine the organizers at Lake Sagami requiring all canoeists to wear a special jersey that had the hook pads…but I suppose they did.

And so, the old-school pin fasteners…now they’re beginning to make sense.