Yasuhiro Yamashita overcome 3
Yasuhiro Yamashita at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics

The Modern Olympics have been going strong since 1896, so there is no shortage of stories about Olympians or Olympics past. Here are a few I wrote about in 2017.

 

Mark Hamill with Olympian and Darth Vader stand in Bob Anderson
Mark Hamill with Olympian and Darth Vader stand-in Bob Anderson
Advertisements

Don Harper

“I felt like my feet were locked in concrete. I couldn’t move.”

At that moment of truth, at the edge of the 3-meter springboard in his final jump of the competition at the 1956 Melbourne Olympics, Don Harper froze. His subsequent dive was sub-par, and Harper dropped from first to second, earning him a silver medal.Don Harper froze

Disappointment was brief for Harper, whose final moment at the Olympics defied the fact that he was ever a man in motion. Relatively diminutive at 5 foot 5 inches tall (165 cm), Harper was a whirling dervish on the trampoline and off the diving board. In addition to his silver medal in Melbourne, the Redwood City, California native was a dominant force in the 3m springboard in the US in the second half of the 1950s, winning five US National championships, two NCAA championships, and five National AAU championships in that category.

Don Harper portraitHarper, who was a star on one of the premier diving programs in the US at the time, Ohio State University, not only excelled athletically, but also academically, graduating from Ohio State with Bachelor, Master and Doctorate degrees in the fields of physical education, health and physiology. Today, researchers use motion capture balls or 3D sensory laser technology, but back then, Harper pioneered a way to capture the detailed motion of a tumble through the air by applying a film camera to his chest.

Harper would then execute a wide variety of spins and somersaults on the trampoline to determine the most efficient and effective form for dives off of the 3m springboard. I could not find any photographic evidence of Harper’s innovative training technique, so I wondered – were film cameras small enough that you could strap one to your chest? But when I saw the Revere Eight 8mm (Model 55), a portable film camera from the 1950s, I could see the possibility.

As an innovative coach and a professor of physiology at Ohio State, Harper continued to influence divers the world over. Harper passed away on December 6, 2017.

Samir Ait Said broken leg
Samir Ait Said

There is scary cute. And there is scary scary.

On this 31st day of October, aka Halloween, here are three legitimately scary moments in Olympic history. These images are not for the faint of heart.

Samir Ait Said, gymnast for France, broke his leg in a vault qualifier at the 2016 Rio Olympics, the snap of the bone so loud that people in the stands could hear it.

 

AFP_EE2G1
Andranik Karapetyan

Armenian weightlifter, Andranik Karapetyan, dislocated his left elbow attempting a lift in the clean and jerk competition at the 2016 Rio Olympics

Greg Louganis hits head on board

At the 1988 Seoul Olympics, diver Greg Louganis was performing a reverse somersault dive in the preliminaris of the 3-meter springboard competition when the back of his head slammed into the board full force. Despite the concussion and five stitches he received after that dive, he still went on to win the gold medal.

Zoe Ann Olsen, Vicki Draves and Patsy Elsener
American silver, gold and bronze medalists in the springboard finals, Zoe Ann Olsen, Vicki Draves and Patsy Elsener, at the 1948 London Olympics

Vicki Manalo Draves was the most successful member of the US swimming and diving team at the 1948 London Olympics, the only American to win two individual gold medals. She was also the first Asian American woman to be an Olympic champion.

And yet for decades after her amazing achievements in London, Manalo Draves drifted into relative obscurity. Granted, she was inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame in 1969. But in her hometown of San Francisco, she had gone virtually unrecognized and unknown for much of her life. In the first half of the 20th century, when Manalo Draves was growing up, she had to deal with the conscious and unconscious bias of the times, as she was the child of a English mother and a Filipino father.

For example, in order to get access to diving facilities at a swimming club in San Francisco, Vicki Manalo was told by her coach to assume her mother’s maiden name, Taylor, which would make the members of the club more comfortable, presumably.

As Rodel Rodis wrote in this article for the Inquirer.net, “if she had represented the Philippines when she won her two gold medals, there would have been parks and schools named after her, and monuments of her erected all over the Philippines to celebrate her inspiring victory.”

Manalo Draves actually got a taste of that kind of adulation when she and her husband/coach, Lyle Draves, visited the Philippines after her gold-medal victories in London, according to this Central City article. They spent a month in both the capitol of Manila and her father’s hometown of Orani, Bataan, where she held diving exhibitions in the day time, and partied in the evenings.

“It was a wonderful experience. And I dived for the president at the palace swimming pool,” said Vicki Draves.

“But they kept us up every night nighclubbing until 3 or 4 in the morning,” said Lyle Draves.

Victoria Manalo Draves Park Plaque
Victoria Manalo Draves Park Plaque

Today, the Bay Area Sports Hall of Fame (BASHOF) has not included their double gold medalist from South of Market district (SoMa). But fortunately, before Manalo Draves passed away in 2010, she was honored by the San Francisco Recreation and Park Commission, which approved the naming of a park after the Olympic champion. On October 27, 2006, a 2-acre park in the 1000 block of Folsom was dubbed the Victoria Manalo Draves Park.

“I got some breaks, very much so,” said Manalo Draves in this article. “And I’d say to any young people, if they have dreams to follow them, see them all the way through no matter what it takes. And always be fair and kind.”

My grandfather migrated to San Francisco in 1903 to run the Japanese-American YMCA for many years. My father was born in J-Town in 1929, five years after Vicki Manalo was born. I’d like to think they knew of Vicki Manalo and cheered the exploits of a fellow Asian American from San Francisco, after the trauma the West Coast Japanese Americans faced during World War II.

We all need role models.

Sammy Lee and Vicki Manalo Draves
Sammy Lee and Vicki Manalo Draves

Before there was Pat McCormick, Ingrid Engel-Kramer or Fu Mingxia, there was Vicki Manalo Draves.

At the 1948 London Olympics, the first summer games held since 1936, an abeyance caused by the Second World War, Manalo Draves became the first American woman to win two gold medals in an Olympic Games, as well as the first American woman to win both the springboard and platform diving finals at the Olympics.

Manalo Draves was also the first Asian American woman to win a medal in the Olympics. Born to a mother from England and a father from the Philippines, Manalo Draves grew up in the South-of-Market district of San Francisco. Her mother was a maid at a hotel and he father was a chef and musician on ships and a houseboy for an army colonel in the Presidio, doing all they could just to make ends meet. Certainly there was no money left over for swimming or diving lessons.

But somehow, Manalo Draves was spotted, and asked if she wanted to learn how to dive. And fortunately, she was in California, rich in swimming and diving coaches at the time. So learn she did, from one coach after another. Although not her coach, one of America’s best divers in 1944, Sammy Lee, saw Manalo Draves’ form, and introduced himself. Lee then introduced the young diver to a friend and diving coach, Lyle Draves. Not only did Lyle become Vicki’s coach, he became her life partner, married for over 60 years.

But wife or not, the husband worked the wife hard in training. As explained in this Central City article, she worked during the day as a secretary in San Francisco, and took a train across the bay to the Athens Athletic Club in Oakland where she trained every evening from 7pm to 10pm, making 50 to 100 dives a night. With victories at the US National Championships from 1946 – 48 in platform, as well as a championship in 1948 in springboard, Manalo Draves was building up to be a favorite for a medal in the 1948 London Olympics.

In 1948, Manalo Draves was battling teammate, Zoe Ann Olsen, in the springboard. Going into her last dive, having fallen behind Olsen, Manalo Draves could not talk to her coach, as coaches were forbidden to enter the competition space. Feeling she was unable to perform to her best, and worried that she was not going to nail her last dive – a back one-and-a-half layout – she went up to the only friendly face on the deck – teammate, Sammy Lee. As she wrote in the book, “Tales of Gold,” Lee told her what she needed to hear:

Newlyweds Victoria and Lyle Draves_1946
Newlyweds Victoria and Lyle Draves, 1946, from the book Tales of Gold

I was very worried about the last dive, which was a back one-and-a-half layout, because I had not been hitting it at all in practice. I said to him, “Oh Sam, what am I going to do? This is the dive I have to get.” He told me, “Come on. You didn’t come all this way just to say, “I can’t do it.’ You’ve got to get up there and hit it.”

Hit it she did. And as Manalo Draves won the platform competition going away, she earned two gold medals in London. As for Sammy Lee, he won gold in the platform and bronze in the springboard competition. The first Asian Americans to medal in the Olympics dominated the diving competition at the 1948 London Games. Lee, who would become Dr Sammy Lee, serving in the US Army Medical Corps in South Korea during the Korean War, would be a coach and a friend to some of the greatest divers of the 20th century.

In the case of Manalo Draves, Lee not only introduced Manalo Draves to her husband, he was the one who gave Manalo Draves away at her wedding, as her father had already passed away.

Manalo Draves went on to a career as a swimming entertainer, performing with Buster Crabbe and Esther Williams. And then she stopped, disappearing from the American consciousness for decades.

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

Roy's 2nd Birthday
Roy’s 2nd Birthday
It’s been exactly two years since I started my journey to understand the context, the organization and the stories of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. My father was at those games as a news producer for NBC, and I turned one years old on Opening Day.

I moved to Tokyo for a third time in January, 2014, excited by Tokyo’s selection as the host city for the 2020 Summer Games. Surprised to find not a single book on the 1964 Tokyo Olympics in English, I endeavored to write the definitive record. On May 1, 2015, I started my blog, The Olympians is in many ways, the first draft of my book.

All, thank you for your wonderful comments and support!

 

Olympians 1964

 

Amazing Olympians

Matthew Mitcham
Matthew Mitcham

All of the rows on either side of me faded to nothing. And all sounds completely dissipated. All that I could hear was the sound of the spray trickling onto the water. Time slowed down and it was just me and the dive.

Matthew Mitcham, with his back to the water atop the 10-meter platform, exhaled, and lept into the void. The Australian then executed a two and a half somersault with two and a half twists in the pike position, and nailed it. Liang Huo of China, who was in first up to the last dive, climbed the platform to execute the same dive, and was unable to deliver the precision of Mitcham. Huo fell to fourth, and Mitcham, to his wonder and surprise, took the gold medal. In fact, at these 2008 Beijing Olympics, Mitcham was the only non-Chinese to win gold in the 8 men’s and women’s diving competitions.

Mitcham won because he was able to execute a dive of the highest difficulty at the time. FINA judges rated Mitcham’s and Huo’s attempt at 3.8 degree of difficulty (D.D.). But as is true in sports that employ D.D. in their judging, like figure skating or aerial skiing, the bar will continue to rise. At the Beijing Olympics, you had to have a D.D. of well over 3. Today, it needs to be over 4.0. In fact, FINA has identified 13 dives that have a difficulty of over 4, compared to over 10 years ago when it was only 2.

So where are divers and coaches getting insight into new ways to twist and tumble to greater dives? That’s right – mathematicians.

This article from MIT’s Technology Review cites the research of William Tong and Holger Dullin of the University of Sydney in Australia in explaining how to design even more complex dives, ones that would not necessarily come intuitively to the most advanced divers. How did they do it? Here’s how Tong explains it on his University of Sydney site:

My doctoral thesis focused on optimal shape change control and achieved three primary goals: using the geometric phase to improve planar somersault performance, developing the mathematical framework to describe the twisting somersault, and innovating new dive sequences yet to be performed by real world athletes.

No, I can’t quite fathom that either. So the Technology Review article dumbs it down for us by explaining that Tong and Dullin have created a mathematical model for how a human body twists and turns in the air, with the expectation that they can propose new sequence of movements to increase the speed of these movements. Increasing speed is essential for the simple reason that the law of physics limits the time one can stay in the air after leaping off a ten-meter platform or a three-meter springboard – 1.43 seconds in a freefall to be precise. The diver can currently increase that to 1.6 seconds with his body movement.

Tong and Dunn have designed a dive that includes five twists and 1 1/2 somersaults that would take 1.8 seconds, based on their mathematical model, “assuming the diver generates only moderate levels of angular momentum during takeoff.”

This is longer than divers have in the air. But the pair say that there are various ways to make gains. An obvious way is to increase the amount of angular momentum during takeoff. Also, the diver spends a significant amount of time—0.4 seconds—with arms and legs stretched out to achieve the full 1½ somersaults. This could be reduced by taking a tucked or piked position (although their model is as yet unable to incorporate these positions).

This dive, labeled the 513XD dive, has never been executed. But the researchers say it is a matter of time. “By simulating the 513XD dive we hope to provide coaches and athletes with insight and motivation so that the dive may one day be executed in competition.”

li-na-laura-wilkinson-anne-montminy
Li Na Laura Wilkinson Anne Montminy
It was looking bleak for the divers from the USA at the 2000 Sydney Olympics. The traditionally strong men’s team had not medaled in the 10-meter platform or the inaugural synchronized platform diving event. The American women were also shut out of the inaugural synchronized 3-meter springboard competition.

Laura Wilkinson of Houston Texas was on that synchronized swim team that finished fifth, adding to Team USA’s diving woes. But some felt that there was a chance as the Chinese, the powerhouse over the past four Olympics, had entered two very young divers, Sang Xue (15) and Li Na (16). It was thought that they could break under the pressure.

They didn’t. In fact, Sang and Li were 1-2 going into the final round. Wilkinson was fifth, and considered way behind. When asked after the semi-finals what it would take to beat the Chinese? “My best,” said Wilkinson (in an AP article). “I need to hit all my dives.”

It was only six months before Olympics that Wilkinson broke three bones in her right foot. And while she was able to recover in time to win a spot on the Olympic team by winning the US diving trials, she had to wear a big rubber kayaking boot to protect her foot as she climbed the 10-meter platform. She told reporters that the broken bones would rub against each other in a way that made it feel like she was walking on a rock.

So imagine, you’re way behind in fifth, an entire country is pinning its hopes on you. And you have to block out the foot as well as the expectations.

Which is what Wilkinson did.

In the final round, her third dive – a reverse two-and-a-half somersault – the 22-year-old split the water with nary a splash. Even with a perfect dive, Wilkinson needed help. And she got that. Li and Sang both had poor third dives, and Wilkinson suddenly was in the lead, which she clung to, to the very end.

Wilkinson unexpectedly won the 10-meter platform gold medal, ending a 36-year drought for US women’s platform diving.

Wilkinson would go on to win the 10-meter platform competition at the 2005 World Championships, and compete in the 2004 and 2008 Olympics, but she will forever be remembered for her gutsy come-from-behind victory in Sydney.

In honor of her accomplishments, the International Swimming Hall of Fame (ISOH) announced on March 2, 2017, that Wilkinson will be entered into their Class of 2017.

ingrid-engel-kraemer-carries-the-unified-german-teams-olympic-banner-at-1964-tokyo-olympics_the-olympic-century-the-xviii-olympiad
Ingrid Engel Kraemer carries the unified German Team’s Olympic Banner at 1964 Tokyo Olympics, from the book, The Olympic Century The XVIII Olympiad

Before the 1960 Rome Olympics, very few people knew who Ingrid Krämer was. After her victories in the women’s 3-meter springboard and 10-meter platform diving competitions in Rome, she was the face of German sport. According to Der Spiegel in an article in 1964, the newly emerged blonde superstar, Krämer, was inundated by requests for marriage.

Krämer, who eventually accepted a proposal by weightlifter, Hein Engel, proved she was no fluke. In fact, she proved to be the most dominant female diver in the world, by talking gold in springboard and platform by double digit points over her second place competitors at the 1962 European Championships. So when the 1964 Olympics began, Engel-Krämer was a frontrunner.

In the 3-meter springboard competition, Engel-Krämer’s competition were two Americans named Jeanne Collier and Patsy Willard, who aimed to restore glory to the United States and prevent the East German Engel-Krämer from repeating her gold medal victory in Rome. But Engel-Krämer was dominant in the springboard again, taking gold handily.

According to the book, Olympic Games 1964 Innsbruck – Tokyo, edited in German by Harald Lechenperg, Engel-Krämer’s advantage was precision.

People say of the former Olympic victor, Mrs. Engel, that she has no longer possesses the elegance she used to have. Well, her strongest point was never elegance, but sureness. Ingrid Engel dives with a precision of movements which is lacking in everyone else. She makes no mistakes. It is easy to slip up on springboard diving when the body, as if touched by magic, turns, twists and moves about its own axis.

Dresden, Heirat Ingrid Krämer, Hein Engel
Ingrid Kraemer and Heins Engel

Collier told me that if not for a single dive, she could have challenged Engel-Krämer for gold at the Tokyo Olympcis. Collier’s first of the competition’s ten dives was horrible, scoring a horrible 4.5 of ten. But her final two dives, which had high degrees of difficulty, allowed her to pass her teammate to win gold. “Ingrid Kraemer was a beautiful diver,” Collier told me, “and deserved to win. She was the most consistent.”

By taking gold in the springboard, Engel-Krämer would reach the heights of famed diver Pat McCormick, who was then the only woman to have won gold medals in both springboard and platform in two consecutive Olympics. But Lesley Bush of America would have none of that. While the competition was close, Engel-Krämer would take silver.

According to Lechenperg, Bush was relatively unknown, someone who had only taken up platform diving three years prior to the Olympics. But she executed on her plan. “Leslie Bush knows the recipe for success: safety first. She takes the lead during the first compulsory dives. Later on she lets go of it. The “iron” Ingrid now for the first time shows her nerves. She risks everything with one dive, but the judges only give her 16.80 points. Leslie Bush has won.”

British journalist, Christopher Brasher, wrote in his book, A Diary of the XVIIIth Olympiad, that Engel-Krämer may have been a reluctant participant in the Olympics, which could have affected her performance.

I have heard that she didn’t really want to come to Tokyo. She was married a year ago to one of East Germany’s best weightlifters, Heinrich Engel. They are both students at University and the combination of being a Hausfrau and a student doesn’t leave her much time for training. But east of the iron curtain it is only too easy for the authorities to put some gentle pressure on a reluctant athlete. With many of the necessities of life, to say nothing of the luxuries, in short supply, the stars of sport are often given preferential treatment – so it pays to keep on competing.

ingrid-engel-kraemer-tokyo1964_xviii-olympiad-tokyo-1964_asahi-shinbun
Ingrid Engel Kraemer Tokyo1964, from the book,XVIII Olympiad Tokyo 1964_Asahi Shimbun

Der Spiegel offered another explanation why Engel-Krämer was not able to repeat her gold-medal ways in the platform dive – she was a bit too curvaceous. Here is a Google translation of part of that article:

Thus the German, as the first jumper in the world of the double-screw somersaults – a one-and-a-half-turn about the longitudinal axis of the body, with a simultaneous twisting of the body and its transverse axis – succeeded just as accurately as an ordinary head-jump. A 10-meter jump case takes at most 2.1 seconds, a jump from the three-meter board even less. Ingrid Engel-Krämer made her work very quickly.

In Tokyo, Ingrid Engel-Krämer was no longer able to finish her turn so early. A disadvantage that cannot be compensated by training and energy in the long term is the following: the best in the world does not have the ideal figure for her sport. Ingrid Engel-Krämer is only 1.58 meters tall, but weighs 56 kilograms and tends to fullness. “She is as wide as high,” her first coach mocked.

Still, three golds out of four makes Engel-Krämer one of the greatest divers of the 20th century. Despite references to her looks and her moniker, the Doll from Dresden, Engel-Krämer jumped hundreds of times every week, climbing the tower steps 10-meters, smacking into the water painfully, pausing about three minutes and doing that again, over and over. As the Der Spiegel article mentioned regarding her 500 jumps a week, Engel-Krämer become so good that legendary American diving Olympic champion and coach, Sammy Lee admitted that “On a bad day, she’s still good.”