Benjamin Spock with children
Dr. Benjamin Spock

One of the most famous names in America in pediatric health, at least in the 20th Century, was a man named Dr. Benjamin Spock. His book, Baby and Child Care, was a perennial best seller and the bible on child care. The only other book to outsell his in America – the actual Bible.

What I didn’t know was that Spock was a gold medalist, a member of the American eight-man crew that was so dominant at the 1924 Paris Olympics that their time of 6 minutes and 33 seconds was almost 16 seconds faster than the second-placed Canadian crew.

A renown expert in the medical field, an Olympic champion, Spock was a name in America few did not know. And yet, despite a relatively wealthy upbringing, he was not born with confidence and expectations of greatness. As he explains in the book, Tales of Gold: An Oral History of the Summer Olympic Games Told by America’s Gold Medal Winners, Spock explained that his mother was a very devoted tyrant, and his father was a self-made man who was obsessed with status, proud to have been a member of the finest and exclusive social clubs at Yale University.

When Spock entered Yale, I believe around 1921, he wrote:

I felt very unsure of myself. I felt unpopular and unable to compete with other boys. I felt like a sissy, a mother’s boy, and I was timid. I was afraid they might bully me and that I would not be able to do the things they were able to do.

Sports was an acceptable avenue of exploration, and he continued his focus on the high jump, which he trained in at his high school. But try as he could, he could not improve beyond mediocrity. One day in his freshman year, he walked by the rowers in the Yale gym. In rowing, height can be an advantage. Despite his skinny frame, Spock was tall, six feet four inches (1.9 meters), and so caught the eye of the captain of Yale’s rowing team.

“What sport do you go out for?”, said the captain.

“High jumping,” said Spock.

“Why don’t you go out for a man’s sport?” said the captain.

To Spock, who yearned to be seen as a man’s man, these were the words that struck his soul. To be seen as having potential in one of the most respected and manly of sports at the time – rowing – was a revelation. “I was elated. The captain of the crew thought that I might be crew material! That had never occurred to me.”

Benjamin Spock
From the book, Tales of Gold

Granted, the Yale squad was one of the worst crew teams in the United States. As Spock described, their technique was outdated. “You’d lie way, way back to get the length of the stroke and pull the oar up almost to your chin and shove it away.” But during Spock’s freshman year, the rowing committee at Yale decided it was time to change things up, so they hired a coach out of Washington named Ed Leader, who transformed the stroke and the team.

In two years under Leader’s leadership, Yale’s rowing team went from worst to first, and Spock’s eight-man crew defeated a crew made up of US Navy officers fairly handily, earning the right to compete at the Paris Summer Olympic Games. In Paris, the American eight from Yale were considered favorites with perennial favorites, The Thames Rowing Club of Great Britain. Fortunately for the US, the Thames Rowing Club had in Paris only four members of the crew which won the prestigious Grand Challenge Cup at the Henley Royal Regatta the previous year, perhaps paving a golden path for Spock and his team.

Baby and Child Care coverAs Spock wrote about his team’s gold-medal-winning finals, “the race itself was an anticlimax. We won by, I think, 3-and-a-half boat lengths. You’re not meant to win a race that short by as much as a boat length.”

Spock graduated from Yale, and then got his doctor of medicine at Columbia University, launching a career to become America’s most famous pediatrician. Interestingly, Spock became very critical of putting children or young adults into “excessive competition”, worrying that parents were putting too much pressure on their children. “The problem is,” he wrote in 1985 in Tales of Gold, “that Americans are meant to be the best in everything.” He even had thoughts about parenting in Japan, arguably an early hotbed for prototypical Tiger Moms.

I was visiting Japan, and if any country is worse than the U.S. for competitive youngsters, it is Japan. Their educators told me that a shocking number of elementary school children commit suicide and that the number is going up every year. They commit suicide because they don’t think they’re getting grades high enough to satisfy their parents. What kind of society is that in which children have to kill themselves because they can’t compete?

Takeko Honma 1
A picture of Ted (Theo) Mittet, 2nd from left, by Takeko Honma, middle, in front of the National Gymnasium
When I first arrived in Japan in 1986, one of the most popular programs on television was “Naruhodo! The World (なるほど!ザ・ワールド),” a quiz program that showcased the beauty, excitement and uniqueness of the places around the world their reporters visited. This was entertainment, so their reporters were often loud and garish, shamelessly interacting with foreigners in goofball English, often emphasizing stereotypical or even non-representative quirks of a particular country or culture. The questions and insights of the reporters often revealed more about Japanese culture than the culture they were trying to represent.

Ted (Theo) Mittet was a 22-year-old American rower who decided to travel Japan after helping his four-without boat win the bronze medal at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. As explained in Part 1, Mittet made many Japanese friends along the way, who exchanged letters with this young man from Seattle, Washington. Their questions to him said a lot about Japan at the time. Mittet wrote to his family describing the conversations he was having with Japanese all over the country.

I spent last evening with a very good Japanese friend’s family (his father speaks English, as does he) and was treated royally. Sukiyaki and tempura were served in unlimited quantities. After dinner we all discussed love and life and I am amazed at the similarity between East and West. My friend is anxious to learn about Christianity and I am anxious to learn about Buddhism. (He is studying Zen.) I certainly think that Buddhism makes more sense than Christianity. I plan to look into it a little further. – letter from Mittet to family in late October

While coming up the east side of the inland sea I stopped at the town of Niihama where I met three English teachers who asked me if I would speak at their school. I gladly accepted and as a result spent about three hours teaching English conversations to about 150 English students. The school offered me 3,000 badly needed yens, but being a true patriot I could not accept. You might say that it was my donation to the cultural exchange program. I was asked questions about the Beetles, the American date, President Johnson (damn!) and “What you think black man?” It was a wonderful experience and I gained much insight on Japanese life and thought. – letter from Mittet to family in late November

Religion, politics, race – all the things we were taught not to talk about in polite company. But many Japanese knew they had an exaggerated view of the world, and were eager to correct their perceptions. In the case of America, Mittet became their source.

Like the hundreds of others on the US Olympic squad, he got the training from the US State Department about how to conduct oneself properly in a foreign land as a representative of America. But one can argue, based on the letters he received from the many Japanese friends he made during his 2-month travels, Mittet was as much an American diplomat as those who sit in embassies around the world.

When travelling through Ashiya, a city near Kobe in Japan, Mittet met Mikio, a middle-aged man who saw the tall American in a crowded bus, and felt compelled to introduce himself. Like other Japanese energized by the influx of foreigners during the Olympics, and infused with a desire to warmly welcome them, Mikio went up to Mittet in the bus. “I remember first scene when I saw firstly you in the crowded bus,” he wrote in a letter to Mittet. “You are too tall, so you put your head on the bus ceiling. Then I felt too funny. (Excuse me.) But that time, I felt much friendly to you.”

Amazingly, not only did Mikio introduce himself, he invited Mittet to stay at his and his wife’s Eiko’s home overnight, where they ate and talked. But in the letter, Mikio admitted that he was still very curious, his English capability failing him in attempts to ask important questions:

It was first experience for me that I gave a lodge to a foreigner. I doubt I could make a full hospitality to you? It’s most sorry I could speak English very little. If I could speak it more fluently, I wished to ask about America things, and to tell and discuss about several problems of the war, current events and American colored man through all night. And about your life experience and philosophy.

Eiko and Mikio 1
Eiko and Mikio
Even more remarkably, Mikio found Mittet so earnest and trustworthy that he admitted to changing what he felt were prejudicial views of Americans.

I had had a prejudice for American through a few American I know, soldiers and seamen. I have thought American are a spending, war-like, uncultural and bright and cheerful nation. (Excuse me) However general Japanese people don’t think so as me.

I see and tell you, I found mistake. You are wonderful man with wit and culture. If there are many people as you in America, American will develop more and more in future. I hope you become young face of America. My dear Eiko in the room you slept, talk about memory of you.

 

Tokyo 1a
Ted (Theo) Mittet in Tokyo, from the collection of Dick Lyon

 

It was as if 1964 was Year 1, and Japan was re-born.

Japan was young, energetic and full of hope. One of the biggest hits of 1964 in Japan was “Konnichi wa Akachan,” – “Hello, my sweet baby!” – a bouncy, happy tune of fresh starts.

Ted (Theo) Mittet was a 22-year old from Seattle, Washington, who qualified for the Tokyo Olympics as a rower on the US Olympic team, and came to Japan with eyes wide open. And he loved it from the start. “Japan is all that I expected and more,” he wrote to his parents a week before the start of the Olympics. “Its people are very friendly to say the least.”

Mittet was on a powerful rowing crew that took the bronze medal in the fours-without competition at the Tokyo Olympics. But while many of his teammates on Team USA went home, Mittet sold his air ticket to the States and travelled Japan. More importantly (to me), he wrote and received many letters. This was a time when people sent telegrams, when long-distance phone calls were expensive, and letters took days if not weeks to traverse the seven seas, pens were our keyboards, while boats, planes and people were our internet.

It was a time when getting a letter from the postman was sometimes a thrill.

I was very glad to see you letter beside my Mother’s Mirror and I cried my father “Received, Received”. My father was glad, too. My mother and brother were glad, too. I cried your letter’s news all over.my friends. I’m afraid you did not write to me soon. But I got your letter. I think happily.

The above was the opening of a letter from a high school student in Matsuyama City, Ehime Prefecture name Katsuhiro Matsuo, overjoyed to get another letter from the young American rower.

Katsuhiro Matsuo
Katsuhiro Matsuo, high school student in Matsuyama, Ehime

Mittet travelled from Tokyo to Yokohama, then on to Kyoto. He passed through Hiroshima, Matsuyama, Beppu, Nagasaki, Niihama and Nara, before heading back to Yokohama and Tokyo. During his 2 months of travel in Japan, he wrote constantly and voluminously to family and friends in the US, as well as new acquaintances he met during the Olympics and his travels. The letters from the Japanese in particular reflect Japan’s excitement and curiosity about foreigners and their desire to welcome them to their country and their home.

In some cases, the Olympics may have given some Japanese the courage to break out of their normal shy shells and reach out to the world. Mittet was the closest to the outside world for these letter writers, and so they made what was likely an extraordinary effort to write letters in English.

Dear Theodore, I know how surprised you are to receive this letter from unknown friend in Japan. You visited Silk Center in Yokohama. Where I was working during Olympic season. You gave me your card. Oh, no. I required you to give it to me. Do you recollect me? If you could, I am glad. Ha Ha. It is difficult for you to recollect me because you met many people, did not you? – Junko Aoki, a student at Kanagawa University in Yokohama

Dear Theodore, You may be surprised to receive this letter from a complete stranger, but I met you at the Toda Rowing Course and talked with you for a few minutes. I gave you a little badge, do you remember me? I’m taking this liberty of writing to you with the sincere hope that you’ll accept me as your new Japanese friend. – Emiko Kobayashi, a high school student from Toda-machi, Saitama

The Tokyo Olympics were a rush of adrenaline for the Japanese, so many of them amazed and happy to be surrounded by so many foreigners from so many different countries. Mittet met a volunteer interpreter named Teruyo Wakui at Enoshima Station, not far from where she worked translating for the sailors competing in the nearby yachting events. Despite her fatigue, meeting Mittet proved to be another rush for this volunteer just after the end of the Tokyo Olympics.

When I happened to meet you at Enoshima station, I was rather tired after twenty days’ work. But I was so glad to meet you and to speak with you. In yachting game, there was no competition as you. Most of all the competitors of yachting were rather gentle and kind, and even the younger men were not as young as you. You are so young and full of dream and curiosity to many things of Japan.

After twenty days in yacht harbor, I suddenly remembered that youth is more wonderful than any other thing in this world. We can do anything without money, as we are young. And I think you have enough courage to do anything that you want, though you say you don’t have courage, but pleasure.

THAT was Japan in 1964.

I have searched far and wide for books in English about the 1964 Olympics, and have built a good collection of books by Olympians who competed in the Tokyo Olympiad.

My conclusion? Runners like to write! Of the 15 books written by ’64 Olympians I have purchased, 8 are by sprinting and distance track legends. But judoka and swimmers also applied their competitive focus to writing.

So if you are looking for inspiration in the words of the Olympians from the XVIII Olympiad, here is the ultimate reading list (in alphabetical order):

All Together

All Together – The Formidable Journey to the Gold with the 1964 Olympic Crew, is the story of the Vesper Eight crew from America that beat expectations and won gold as night fell at the Toda Rowing course, under the glare of rockets launched to light the course. The story of the famed Philadelphia-based club and its rowers, Vesper Boat Club, is told intimately and in great detail by a member of that gold-medal winning team, William Stowe.

The Amendment Killer cover

The Amendment Killer, is the sole novel in this list, a political thriller by Ron Barak, to be published in November of 2017. Barak was a member of the American men’s gymnastics team, who parlayed a law degree into a successful consulting business, as well as a side career as budding novelist.

Hoare-Syd-A-slow-boat-to-Yokohama-a-Judo-odyssey1

A Slow Boat to Yokohama – A Judo Odyssey, is a narrative of the life of British judoka, Syd Hoare, culminating in the 1964 Tokyo Olympics when judo debuted as an Olympic sport. Hoare provides a mini-history of British judo leading up to the Olympics, as well as fascinating insight into life in Japan in the early 1960s.

below the surface cover

Below the Surface – The Confessions of an Olympic Champion, is a rollicking narrative of a freewheeling freestyle champion, Dawn Fraser (with Harry Gordon), Below the Surface tells of Fraser’s triumphs in Melbourne, Rome and Tokyo and her incredible run of three consecutive 100-meter freestyle swimming Olympic championships. She reveals all, talking about her run ins with Australian authorities, and more famously, her run in with Japanese authorities over an alleged flag theft.

deep-water

Deep Water, is an autobiography of the most decorated athlete of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, Don Schollander, who won four gold medals as the most dominant member of the dominant US men’s swimming team. Co-written with Duke Savage, Schollander writes intelligently of his craft, the technique and the psychological, finding a way for a swimmer strong in the middle distances, to sneak into victory in the 100-meter sprint.

Escape from Manchuria cover

Escape from Manchuria, is a mindblowing story by American judoka, Paul Maruyama, whose father was at the heart of one of Japan’s incredible rescues stories – the repatriation of over one million Japanese nationals who were stuck in China at the end of World War II.

Expression of Hope Cover

Expression of Hope: The Mel Pender Story tells the story of how Melvin Pender was discovered at the relatively late age of 25 in Okinawa, while serving in the US Army. Written by Dr Melvin Pender and his wife, Debbie Pender, Expression of Hope, is a story of disappointment in Tokyo, victory in Mexico City, and optimism, always.

Golden Girl cover

Golden Girl is by one of Australia’s greatest track stars, Betty Cuthbert, whose life path from track prodigy in Melbourne, to washed-up and injured in Rome, to unexpected triumph in Tokyo is told compellingly in her autobiography.

See the remaining book list in my next post, Part 2.

This is part two of the photographs taken by Dick Lyon, member of the United States rowing team. After his four-man coxless team won the bronze medal at the Toda Rowing course, Lyon had the time to walk around Tokyo with his Bronica Camera. Here are a few of them:

Tokyo 1a

Outside a candy store – It’s a common story during the 1964 Olympics: the best athletes in the world visibly sticking out in homogenous Japan, particularly those who hovered around 200 cm tall. Lyon’s rowing teammates, who joined him in these perambulations around the Olympic Village in Yoyogi, were no exception. Here is Lyon’s rowing mate, Theo Mittet, with two giggling women from the candy shop. Note Mittet’s fancy footwear.

TOkyo 5 001

 

A pub in Tokyo that appears to be connected to a racetrack – The signs appear to list names of horses and jockies. These “taishyuu sakaba” were low-cost drinkeries for the everyday salaried worker, whom, I suppose, had a love for the horses. This one lists all items as selling for 100 yen, or some 28 cents at the time.

Tokyo 11 reading racing forms

 

 

 

A man studying the horse racing data of the day – This image of intent concentration belies the fact that the Japanese government ultimately decided that this form of gambling was a necessary form of recreation for the average citizen, as well as the well as the tax revenue it generated. The Japanese government thought briefly in the early 1960s about banning such forms of gambling, but thought better of it, according to this report.

Tokyo 1b

 

Shimbashi Station – In 1964 and today, this was the hangout for salarymen where they ate and drank in the many tiny eateries underneath and near the train tracks.

Tokyo 12a

 

Ginza and the San Ai Building – In 1964 and today, Ginza is the upscale shopping area of Tokyo, and has for a long time been considered the most expensive real estate in the world. A symbol of Ginza glitz and glamor has been the San Ai Building, a glass tower that has gleamed electric light since it opened in 1962, a couple of years before the Olympics.

Tokyo 13 001

 

A View from Tokyo Tower – In 1964, the Tokyo landscape around Tokyo Tower was flat. And yet, my guess is that 19 years before, at the end of the Second World War, after enduring considerable firebombing by allied planes, the landscape would have been considerably flatter. In less than two decades, Tokyo was re-built and transformed, a miraculous revival for the world to see.

Roy with 1964 Tokyo Olympic Torch
Roy with 1964 Tokyo Olympic Torch
The Olympians has been a labor of love for exactly two years. It is my sketchbook as I prepare for the mural masterpiece, a book on the 1964 Tokyo Olympics.

While my book’s focus is on the XVIII Tokyo Olympiad, I use my blog as an excuse to write about anything even remotely related to these areas: the Tokyo Olympics, the Olympics overall, Japan, and sports in general. In other words, I think of my blog as therapy for a restlessly curious mind.

How else could I go 730 straight days without missing a post?

Enjoy!

Japan 1964

 

Tokyo 2020

 

Random Rambles

toda-rowing
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.

vespers
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