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Toda Rowing Course in 1964

At the Tokyo International Sports Week, the organizers saw this rehearsal of the XVIII Olympiad a year later as an opportunity, not only to see what operational issues existed, but also to provide Japanese athletes with a chance to compete in a high-pressure event with international stars with world-beating expectations.

Of the approximately 4,000 athletes invited to participate in this competition of 20 events, the same ones that would be held at the Olympics in 1964, over 3,400 were Japanese, including some 1,300 who were expected to compete a year later. For the Japanese athlete, rare was the opportunity to compete in international events.

But that was also true for some of the visiting foreign athletes. More importantly, it was an opportunity for several hundred foreign athletes and officials to see what Japan and its sporting facilities were like in advance of thousands of other competitors who would come to Japan for the first time in 1964.

And in the case of the United States men’s eight rowing crew, who all came from the Vesper Boat Club in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, their participation in the Tokyo International Sports Week was an opportunity to gain crucial intelligence about the rowing course.

The Toda Rowing Course in Saitama Prefecture was actually constructed in the 1930s in preparation of the 1940 Tokyo Olympics. Due to the impending issues of world war at the time, the organizers despite working so hard to win the right to host the Olympics, decided to decline. The IOC failed to organize a Games, not only in 1940, but also 1944.

But in 1963, the Toda Rowing Course was open for competition. And when the coach of the US men’s eight team, Allen Rosenberg, got a close look at the course, he gleaned a bit of intelligence that would shape the training and the makeup of the team over the course of the year. According to Bill Stowe, in his book, All Together, about the victorious Vesper 8, that intelligence would help the team build a psychological edge over their chief competitors of the Ratzeburg Rowing Club, the men’s eight team from Germany who were the reigning champions of the Rome Olympics.

Rowing in Tokyo gave Rosenberg and Rose the opportunity to study the rowing course which proved invaluable a year later. For the most part the European rowing courses are laid out to take advantage of prevailing tailwinds and the Ratzeburg style of rowing is short in the water and a high stroking cadence, both advantageous with a tailwind. However, the Toda course did not seem to have a prevailing wind and headwinds were not uncommon. This early knowledge of the anticipated conditions for 1964 helped Vesper to design both a crew and a style that could present an advantage over the Germans on that knowledge alone.

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Vesper 8 pulling ahead at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics.

A year later, on October 15, 1964, six teams line up in the dimming light of early evening. As Rosenberg had anticipated and prepared for, a strong headwind was blowing. His team was built for headwinds and power, and whether the Americans had an advantage or not was less important than whether they believed it was an advantage. Stowe believed it was.

The headwind provides an advantage to longer stroking, and also to the bigger oarsmen whose weighty momentum and extra strength propel the shell into the wind. Lighter crews tend to drag when their oars are not in the water because of the wind resistance on the blades. High stroking crews are at some disadvantage as well because the oars are out of the water more often, the headwind pushing against them. At least that’s the theory and I am not about to argue that point.

As night descended, America’s eight rose, in rhythm, pulling away and earning the gold.

 

The “Pre-Olympics”, AKA 1963 Tokyo International Sports Week Part 1: A Dress Rehearsal of Olympic Proportions

The “Pre-Olympics”, AKA 1963 Tokyo International Sports Week Part 2: How Was Their English? It Depends on Their Interpretation

The “Pre-Olympics”, AKA 1963 Tokyo International Sports Week Part 3: Hal and Olga Connolly Accept A Most Gracious Invitation

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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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Tokyo International Sports Week in October 1963_Mainichi Daily News

The Autumn sky was not clear and blue, but cloudy and gray. Most of the athletes were dressed up smartly, some in normal track suits. When the athletes marched into the National Stadium, there appeared to be huge gaps within and between teams, as opposed to the immensely dense succession of national teams usually expected on their heroic march at the commencement of an Olympic Games. And in this case, they marched past the Crown Prince, not the Emperor of Japan. The jets maneuvered and etched out the five rings of the Olympic emblem, but the circles weren’t quite right.

No one carried a torch into the stadium and lit an Olympic cauldron.

In fact, you couldn’t even see the word Olympics anywhere. This was not a sporting event sanctioned by the International Olympic Committee (IOC), so no one could officially use the label “pre-Olympics”, which were what most people were calling the event.

But that was just fine. After all, this was not the opening ceremony of the 1964 Tokyo Olympiad, it was the opening ceremony of the Tokyo International Sports Week in 1963, exactly one year before the start of the actual Olympics.

Demonstrating the wisdom and extraordinary planning capability of the Tokyo Olympic Organizing Committee (OOC) in the early 1960s, they committed to running a dress rehearsal of the Olympics a year in advance. At a budget of USD1 million, the OOC organized a competition for 20 different sports, invited about 4,000 athletes from 35 different countries, including over a dozen world-record holders.

There were, of course, issues, according to the Mainichi Daily News.

At the yachting events in Hayama, the Thai team (led by a Prince Bira of Thailand) were regaled by the Costa Rican flag at the venue, which employs the same pattern and colors, but the colored stripes are in different orders.

  • The canoeing venue at Lake Sagami was too far away, the 4-hour bus ride a headache.
  • The shotput balls, which were manufactured in Japan, were apparently too small.
  • The high jumpers found the soft rubber clumps in their landing area to be unsafe, particularly after the world’s best female high jumper, Iolanda Balas, sprained her ankle in it after a jump.
  • The walls that provided back drop at the shooting site were brown, which caused eye strain, as opposed to yellow or gray which the shooters were more accustomed to.
  • Taxis were hard to get a hold of at the stadium.
  • And most prominently, the interpreters on site were not effective.

All of which proves why it was so important to have a rehearsal, so that the organizers could note potential issues when the real Games come to town. Perhaps more significant, a major objective of the Tokyo International Sports Week was to infuse confidence in the organizers, the IOC and probably the entire nation of Japan – after all, there was some doubt that Japan could pull off the first Olympic Games in Asia.

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Iolanda Baras complained of the landing area at TISW_Mainichi Daily News_October 1963

After the completion of the dress rehearsal, any doubt disappeared. The 7-day Tokyo International Sports Week was a success.

According to Sports Illustrated, over 20,000 police and over 1,200 firemen were mobilized by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government during the Sports Week. And when the 68,000 spectators spilled out of the National Stadium at the end of the Opening Ceremony on October 11, 1963, it reportedly took only 18 minutes to do so (which is mindboggling), and about 50 minutes to restore traffic to normal conditions around the National Stadium on a Friday afternoon.

Here’s how the Mainichi Daily News put it:

The criticisms from the foreign and Japanese delegations and press, in fact, came as a “blessing” to the Tokyo Olympic organizers, who had intended the TISW “actually and truly as a rehearsal or trial” and nothing more. The lessons they learned are to their advantage in preparing for next year’s Olympics. Reflecting and weighing the evaluations, good and bad, the OOC is rolling up its sleeves to remedy these flaws and to improve, whatever possible, on the countless details that need to be perfected by Olympic time next year. Many of the suggestions have already been accounted for. The Japanese have demonstrated that they have the ability to stage a big-scale sports festival by their splendid organization of the spectacularly successful Third Asian Games in Tokyo five years ago. And they can do it again. The world can be confident that the Japanese with their ingenuity and determined efforts and favored by experiences in the TISW will clear all hurdles successfully to realize their hopes and dreams to make Asia’s first Olympic Games the greatest ever held.

 

 

The “Pre-Olympics”, AKA 1963 Tokyo International Sports Week Part 2: How Was Their English? It Depends on Their Interpretation

The “Pre-Olympics”, AKA 1963 Tokyo International Sports Week Part 3: Hal and Olga Connolly Accept A Most Gracious Invitation

musto-and-morgan-getting-their-silver-medals
Musto and Morgan receiving their silver medals

The sport of yachting is not the sport of the common man. At the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, the Crown Prince Harald of Norway competed in the 5.5 meter competition, while Prince Bhanubanda Bira of Thailand sailed in the Dragon competition.

So when Keith Musto and Tony Morgan of Great Britain decided they wanted to be on the British sailing team at the 1964 Tokyo Games, competing in the Flying Dutchmen category, they knew that their class and blood was not going to get them there. As Musto said in this video interview, “we felt if we wanted to go to the Olympics, our background probably wouldn’t allow us to be invited to the Olympics. We had to earn our place.”

The first thing they understood was that they were not supreme physical specimens, but that they could work on their strength.

We felt the only way to address that was to be fitter than our competitors. We went up to the local school one evening, and we asked the PE instructor how we could get fitter. And he said, what do you do? What are the body movements? We told him and then he put us through a process for exercises, and finished up by saying, “If you do that every day between now and the Olympics, then you’ll win a medal.” So we did it every day. Christmas Day. Boxing Day. Everyday. Basically it was the start of circuit training as we now know it today.

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Musto and Morgan in Lady C

As Christopher Brasher says in his book, A Diary  of the XVIIIth Olympiad, considerable strength is required in competitive sailing.

The crew member in the Star Class spends more of his time outside the boat than inside it. He hooks one leg and one arm over the gunwale and then lowers his body over the side to keep the boat as upright as possible. But he, poor lad, spends most of his time with waves breaking over him. Tony Morgan, the crew member on Lady C, does not get quite so wet because he swings out on a trapeze attached to the top of the mast. But to hold this position for half an hour at a time requires tremendous strength in his stomach muscles and hands. It is no wonder that he has had to train for three years.

What’s fascinating is that, according to Morgan, training hard was frowned upon by his colleagues in the sailing world. Perhaps it was a class attitude, that people of privilege should be effortless in their ways, without a thought of having to or needing to win. Here’s what Morgan said a student colleague said to him regarding the training Musto and Morgan were putting in as preparation for the Olympics:

Keith and I were regarded as a couple of people below the salt on the table. One day we were chastised verbally by the most senior person in the class, saying “I hear you train. We don’t do that.” I said, “I don’t know what you mean.” He said, “I heard you do a hundred press ups. I think this is a very in appropriate way to behave.”

Morgan and Musto of course ignored the naysayers. They were going to train. They were going to be selected to the Olympic team. And they were going to win, no matter what people would think. Musto reflected on that attitude, remembering the moment he entered the National Olympic Stadium that beautiful day of October 10, 1964.

At the Opening Ceremony you were waiting outside for many hours, and when you went in through the main entrance to the arena, it was s tremendous shock, the noise and the atmosphere hits you like a brick wall. It was fantastic. Up on the big notice board was the Olympic motto. I forget the exact wording but it was to the effect of “the spirit is to participate, not to win”. And I thought, “Rhubarb to that. I haven’t come here just to participate. I’ve come here to win.”

But alas, while physical prowess and tactical sailing skills are key to success in sailing, a wind shift here and a lack of wind there can change the fortunes of boats instantly. Ahead throughout the competition, Musto and Morgan thought they had the gold medal wrapped up with two races to go. But in the final of 7 seven races, a mighty wind took the sails of the New Zealand dragon class boat, and sent them flying past the British boat on to gold medal victory.

Disappointed, Musto moved on, knowing that the time in Tokyo was just one moment in a long life. Musto would go on to form a successful global fashion and sailing equipment business called Musto, and never look back.

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The 5.5 meter boat, Roy, (far right) sailing in the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. (Photo by Fusanori Nakajima)
Ryoichi “Roy” Yamaguchi was a pioneer in sailing in Japan, establishing Japan’s first competitive fleet of yachts in the 1950s, and was instrumental in developing a generation of sailors in Japan. As the Tokyo Olympics were approaching in 1963, he commissioned marine architects Sparkman and Stephens to create a 5.5 meter boat to be entered into the 1964 Olympics sailing competition. Yamaguchi would then captain it in the Games.

But just as the boat was completed, Yamaguchi passed away on September 22, 1963 at the age of 42. Yamaguchi was not only one of the biggest figures in Japan sailing, he was also the president of a Japanese engineering firm called Tomoe Kogyo, which was apparently going to be the sponsor for the boat, and the provider of the JPY15 million for the boat’s construction. With Yamaguchi’s death, it was unclear whether Tomoe Kogyo would continue its sponsorship with the loss of the captain.

a-boat-named-roy-2According to the Mainichi Daily News Article from October 9, 1964, a friend of Yamaguchi’s came to the rescue. Danish yachtsman, Kaj Wolhardt, a long-time friend of Yamaguchi, bought the completed boat for JPY5million, and then donated it to Japan. Apparently efforts for the leaders of Tomoe Kogyo to reimburse Wolhardt fell on deaf ears. But as a result, the boat commissioned by Yamaguchi was in Japan.

In stepped another friend of Yamaguchi and employee of Tomoe Kogyo, Fujiya Matsumoto, who took over the leadership of the boat so that it could be entered into the 5.5 meter sailing competition at the Tokyo Olympics. He decided to name the boat “Roy”, after the nickname Yamaguchi picked up in his international travels.

In fact, according to the article, a portrait of Roy Yamaguchi would be in the hull of the boat. Wolhardt flew to Japan for the Tokyo Olympics, so he could pay his respects, and see the “Roy” sail into competition.

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Ryoichi “Roy” Yamaguchi second from left standing. Fujiya Matsumoto bottom left.
According to an obituary on Yamaguchi in this sailing newsletter from 1963, Yamaguchi was the most influential person in sailing in Japan, and not only had an impact on what kinds of boats would compete in the 1964 Olympics, he nearly single-handedly developed snipe and dragon class sailing in Japan at the time.

Today, the trophy for an international women’s sailing competition is named after Yamaguchi.

A boat named “Roy”. I like that.

 

Note: This is a revised version of a blog post from May, 2015.

Twenty-six sports were recommended as new additions to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. As many of you now know, Tokyo2020 and the IOC selected five new competitions: baseball/softball, karate, skateboarding, sports climbing and surfing.

But there were others recommended that I was either surprised about or unfamiliar with. I’ve created a list below of all the “sports” that were considered officially by Tokyo2020 for the next Summer Games. I took the liberty to make sense of them by organizing them into four categories, which you could most certainly dispute.

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The Olympics are, in a way, an endorsement of the international relevance of an organized sport or gaming activity. This year, there was a conscious emphasis to increase the youth following, so skateboarding (roller sports), sports climbing and surfing were added.

Baseball and softball were actually Olympic competitions from 1992 to 2008, so it probably was not a difficult decision with the Olympics returning to Asia, where baseball is very popular. However, tug of war, which was an Olympic competition from 1900 to 1920, did not make the cut.

I was faintly familiar with Netball, which is popular in Singapore where I lived a couple of years. It is a derivative of basketball, played mainly by women. But I was not familiar with Korfball, which originated in the Netherlands and is similar to basketball, but certainly not the same. First, the teams are composed of both 4 men and 4 women. Second, you can score from all angles around the basket. Third, there is no dribbling, and fourth, you can’t shoot the ball if someone is defending you. Watch this primer for details.

Orienteering is new to me, but then again, I was never in the Boy Scouts. Orienteering is a category of events that require the use of navigational skills, primarily with the use of a map and compass. Most are on foot, but some are under water, or in cars or boats. Think The Amazing Race, without all the cameras. The video gives you an idea of what this activity is like.

DanceSport is essentially competitive ballroom dancing, which is popular in Japan. The 2004 movie “Shall We Dance” with Richard Gere and Jeffifer Lopex is a re-make of the 1996 Japanese film of the same name. A film that you may know that focuses on the competitive side of dance (with a smattering of American football) is “Silver Linings Playbook” with Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper and Robert DeNiro.

And then there’s Bridge and Chess, what most people refer to as games as opposed to sports. I used to play chess a lot, since I grew up in the days of Bobby Fischer and Boris Spassky. And while I won second place in a chess tournament when I was 13, I would never experience the mentally and physically draining levels of tension that world-class chess masters go through. Still, is it a sport?

Does it matter?

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The second-place chess trophy I won at a competition at the Manhattan Chess Club when I was 13 years old. (If you must know, there were only three competitors.)
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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.

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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.