04c-1964 practice-2
Ted Nash, Phil Durbrow, Dick Lyon and Ted Mittet in Seattle; from the collection of Dick Lyon.

It didn’t bode well in New York.

Four men from the Lake Washington Rowing Club (LWRC) in temperate Seattle came to hot and muggy New York to compete in the US rowing trials on August 29, 1964.

Ted Nash was the veteran and star of the crew of the straight four without coxswain. He had won gold for the United States in the straight four rowing competition at the 1960 Rome Olympics, the only American team to win gold. Dick Lyon, Phil Durbrow and Theo (Ted) Mittet filled out the boat, coming together in a very short time to compete in Tokyo for the 1964 US Olympic rowing squad.

But first they had to win the trials, held at Orchard Beach Lagoon in New York.

05-1964 New York-1
At the US rowing trials at Orchard Park, New York, kneeling in front of teammates: Ted Nash, Phil Durbrow, Dick Lyon and Theo (Ted) Mittet; from the collection of Dick Lyon.

According to Stanford University rower, Lyon, the crew from LWRC got in a practice start with a team from the Detroit Boat Club, just before the heats were to begin. Ted Nash broke the edge of his oar blade on one of the maple flagpoles floating on Styrofoam that formed the lane lines. “We barely made it back to the line in time after sprinting back to the NYAC boathouse to get another oar,” Lyon was quoted in the book, The Sport of Rowing, by Peter Mallory.

After winning their heat, Lyon told me that as the team was preparing for the final, Mittet said quite urgently that he had to pee, which meant that he had to sprint 100 yards to the boathouse, and then another 100 yards back. Mittet made it back to the line in time for the start, and they got in a couple of hard sprints in just before engaging in one of the toughest physical activities one can do – 2,000 meters of rowing to absolute exhaustion.

Rowing as a team is very difficult. It’s not a matter of getting the best rowers together in a shell and expecting them to perform. It’s more a matter of finding a group of rowers that feels a rhythm, that leads to a seemingly effortless flow, and results in unchained speed.

Durbrow was in Laos with the US Army when he got his orders to report to Stan Pocock in Seattle. Pocock was the coach of the Lake Washington Rowing Club and Durbrow’s coach at Menlo College and Melbourne Olympian, Duvall Hecht, had strongly recommended Durbrow. When Durbrow arrived in Seattle, he felt like the odd man out. Pocock was looking for the men who would build a powerful crew of eight, as the eights are the heavyweight class of rowing, and thus the glamour event in rowing competitions. Durbrow joined 16 others who were already competing in two squads of eights, wondering where a 17th would fit in.

And yet, try as he might, Pocock could not find the right mix of eight, his teams losing to squads that were not Olympic quality. So in early July, Pocock agreed to disband the crews of eight so that the rowers could find the right combinations of pairs and fours. Nash quickly grouped with Lyon, and when Durbrow got on the scene, they found a natural to sit behind Nash, the powerful stroke. So Nash, Durbrow and Lyon would try any and every combination of the remaining 14 rowers at Lake Washington, and met mainly with disappointment.

Mittet, who grew up on the shores of Lake Washington, and had rowed from the age of 16, was late to the LWRC trials. By the time the eights were disbanded, most of the small boat team decisions had already been made, except for the straight four. But when Mittet jumped into the shell with Nash, Durbrow and Lyon, “from the first stroke, I was awakened to a level of rowing that I had never imagined possible,” as Mallory quoted Mittet as saying. Mallory also quoted Durbrow as saying, “we were trying every conceivable combination of oarsmen in a number of fours that went out every day. Boats that I expected to be super fast felt heavy or ungainly, but one time, Ted Nash, Ted Mittet, Dick Lyon and I went out together with Nash stroking, it felt light and quick.”

The three would continue to experiment with other rowers to sit at the back of the scull, but whenever they rotated to Mittet, they found their rhythm and speed again. After countless combinations, Nash made the decision at the end of July to add Mittet to complete the team of four, and commit to getting ready for the Olympic trials to be held 6 weeks later.

When Nash and his three teammates got to New York for the Olympic trials, they felt confident. Lyon told me that the game plan was to explode off the start with a powerful 40-plus stroke per minute rhythm, and then to ease down to 35 or 36 after a minute, which is about 350 meters of the 2,000-meter race. But Nash, who sat at the stern of the boat as the stroke, the rower who sets the pace, decided to maintain a high pace. Lyon said that for the first 1,000 meters, the crew kept the pace around 39 strokes. “We had never practiced for that long,” Lyon told me. “I don’t remember that we talked about this, but Ted is an extraordinarily enthusiastic person, so we just kept it up for the first 1,000 meters.”

The crew of Nash, Durbrow, Lyon and Mittet won handily, beating the Harvard crew by nearly 3 seconds with a time of 6 minutes and 23.1 seconds.

 

05b-1964 trials win 001
From the collection of Dick Lyon.

 

“We were extremely fit,” Lyon said. “We were doing two or three workouts a day, including work outs with weights, running stairs. There were naps in between those thousands of miles of rowing.”

The team was confident. The rowed together exquisitely. The handily won the US trials. They believed they had a great chance for gold in Tokyo. And yet, they heard some great times coming out of Europe – 6 minutes and 19 seconds in one case.

And of course, there is always the unexpected. A shocking turn of events awaited the straight four team in Tokyo.

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