Imnam Dam and Peace Dam
Google Maps view of the DMZ

It was 1986. Preparations were under way for South Korea’s coming-out party – The 1988 Seoul Olympics. And on the other side of the demilitarized zone (DMZ), North Korean began preparations of their own, breaking ground for a dam to be built on the Bukhan River, a short 19 kilometers from the border. Completed in 2003, it is called the Imnam Dam.

Perhaps fears of North Korean terrorism during the South Korean Olympics were top of mind for South Koreans, so they began to imagine the worst. As the New York Times explained in an article in 2007, then President Chun Do-hwan did imagine a scary scenario – the new dam in the North producing a monstrous flood, pounding waters headed straight for the South.

In response to the so-called water-bomb scare, South Korean television networks broadcast artists’ conceptions of monstrous walls of water unleashed from the North Korean dam, wiping out most of Seoul, 120 miles downstream, with the impact of a nuclear explosion during the Olympics.

A year later, in 1987, the fears were too hard to resist, and the South Korean government gave the green light to their own dam project, today called the Peace Dam. Located about 16 kilometers from the border to the north, the Peace Dam took a while to build, and in fact was finally completed in 2005, seven years after the Seoul Olympics. But it stands today, 125 meters high and 600 meters wide. There is actually no reservoir at the Peace Dam. Its sole purpose is to be peace of mind – a wall just in case the feared flood from the North ever comes racing down the Bukhan River – peace of mind in this case that cost USD429 million.

Peace Dam
Peace Dam in South Korea

It actually seems like a bit of expensive folly, and to be fair, the South Korean government suspended construction work on the dam after a few years. But when satellite photos apparently showed signs of cracks in the Imnam Dam in the North, fears of the deluge arose anew in the imaginations of the leaders. Work resumed, and the Peace Dam was finished.

Actually, it is another dam in North Korea that is causing grief – The Hwanggang Dam on the Imjin River, which is 42 kilometers from the DMZ. Over the past several years, there have been 8 cases where North Korean officials released massive amounts of water, causing significant flooding in South Korea. It’s not the “nuclear explosion” impact that was feared in the 1980s, and yet 6 South Koreans were killed when water was released from the Hwanggang Dam in September 2009.

The South and the North have an agreement that the North would provide notice to the South when they intend to release dam waters, commonly after significant rainfall, but in practice, the North Koreans rarely do.

In the end, should they have bothered building the Peace Dam? I guess one could say that they were dam-ed if they did, and dam-end if they didn’t.

“Like the two Koreas, the two dams are twin brothers, born at the same time, facing each other across DMZ,” said Lee Tae-ik, an official at Korea Water Resources Corporation, which maintains the South Korean dam. “The Peace Dam is an inevitable child of a divided nation.”

IX Winter Olympics in Austria, 1964

There were whispers.

The four-time Olympian and 7-time medalist in cross-country skiing, including three gold medals, Eero Mantyranta of Lankojarvi, Finland was a legend in his country and his sport. But he could not outrace the rumors of blood doping when he competed.

As a child, everyone in Lankojarvi skated and skied, but Mantyranta excelled, winning his first cross-country ski race at the age of 7, and then dominating all takers into his early teens. Eventually he was able to find employment as a border patrol guard, who got around his territory on skis. As a twenty-year old, he made the Olympic squad that traveled to Squaw Valley, California for the 1960 Winter Games, snagging a gold medal in the 4x10km cross-country ski event.

Four years later at Innsbruck, Austria, Mantyranta was one of the Games’ stars, taking two more golds in the 15 and 30-km races, as well as a silver medal in the 4x10km relay. And in his third Olympics, Mantyranta tool home a silver and two bronze medals.

All that success only encouraged the rumors. After all, it was known since he was a teenager that Mantyranta had “high hemoglobin and far more than the usual amount of red blood cells,” according to David Epstein, author of the fascinating book, The Sports Gene: Inside the Science of Extraordinary Athletic Performance. “Normally, those are signs that an endurance athlete is blood doping, often with a synthetic version of the hormone erythropoietin, or EPO. EPO signals the body to produce red blood cells, so injecting it spurs an athlete’s own body to bolster its blood supply.”

But also according to Epstein, the rumors were untrue.

First there were indications that other members of the Mantyranta family also rested for high levels of hemoglobin, but because there were little ill effects from higher-than-average hemoglobin levels, doctors were never concerned. But this coincidence made hematologists from Finland wonder. After putting the Finnish Olympian through additional blood testing, it was learned that in fact Eero Mantyranta had very low levels of EPO, and that when most people stopped producing hemoglobin based on what the body considered enough, Mantyranta’s body was genetically designed to continuouisly pump out hemoglobin.

And more hemoglobin meant not only very ruddy cheeks. It also meant high levels of oxygen circulated inside Mantyranta, a significant advantage that allowed him to ski faster and longer than almost every other cross-country skier. Most certainly, Mantyranta’s singular drive to train and increase his performance as a cross-country competitor was essential to his Olympic success. But most certainly, so was this genetic advantage.

Here’s how Epstein remembered Mantyranta in this obituary, when the great cross country skier passed away in 2013.

Being born with talent is one thing; alchemizing it into Olympic gold entirely another. And though I drew attention to Eero’s startling biology, that’s worth remembering as well. I’ll remember Eero the way he was when I met him. A jovial and remarkable-looking man, with dark, slicked-back hair and prominent cheekbones that seemed to pull at the corners of his mouth, giving him a slightly inquisitive look. There was a thickness about him, a barrel chest and bulbous nose. I remember when he shook my hand, I felt as if he could’ve crushed my fingers, and I noticed that his middle finger was bent at a right angle from the top joint. He spent the brief period of Arctic winter sunlight that day working in his reindeer yard. I thought he must have been the strongest seventy-three year old I had ever met. That’s how I’ll remember him.

Eero Mantyranta at home

Akasaka Mitsuke 2018

In 1959, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government approved a plan to build a complex network of highways and roads, with a completion date of August, 1964 – in time for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics.

As it turns out, four of the eight main expressways planned for were completed by the Tokyo Olympics opening day, one of them being expressway no. 4, also known as the Shinjuku Shuto Expressway. One part of that expressway passes through Akasaka Mitsuke, which is near a new office called Tokyo Garden Terrace Kioicho, where I work today. For those who know, it is the site of the old Akasaka Prince Hotel, across the street from The New Otani Hotel.

Akasaka Mitsuke 1964_1

As you can see above, in this photo from the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Report on the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, prior to the commencement of construction, probably around 1960, traffic wasn’t bad, and there were no tall buildings like the Moto Akasaka building to block the view of the greenery of Togu Palace, the official residence of the Crown Prince.

In the next picture, in 1964, you can see the new highway go up Sotobori Doori, and veer right, heading East along Aoyama Doori. It appears that quite a few buildings were torn down along Aoyama Doori to make way for the expressway.

The expressways in Tokyo – symbols of progress in those heady happy days of 1964.

Akasaka Mitsuke 1964_2

Musashino Forest Sports Plaza 1
Musashino Forest Sports Plaza on the left, and Ajinomoto Stadium on the right

It was a cold and desolate Sunday when I walked around the grounds of the new Musashino Forest Sports Plaza. Located a short walk away from Tobitakyu Station on the Keio Line, the Musashino Forest Sports Plaza is right next to Ajinomoto Stadium, the home of the J-League Division 1 soccer team, F. C. Tokyo.

Musashino Forest Sports Plaza google maps

There were no events scheduled at either the Sports Plaza of Ajinomoto Stadium on the January afternoon I visited, but come July 2020, this quiet area of Chofu, very near the American School in Japan where my son went to high school, will be filled with thousands of noisy fans. The Musashino Forest Sports Plaza opened on November 27, 2017, the first of eight new permanent Tokyo 2020 venues to be completed. The Plaza will host badminton and pentathlon fencing in the 2020 Olympics, as well as wheelchair basketball during the 2020 Paralympics.

Musashino Forest Sports Plaza 3
View of the Main Arena on the left background, the sub-arena with its pool and gym on the right background, with a track and field in the foreground.

According to this article, the Musashino Forest Sports Plaza is built to serve the community long after the Olympics end. The facilities include a swimming pool, a gym, a multi-use sports area and two fitness studios which are available to the public. The roof of the facilities are made up of solar panels, to help provide a more sustainable energy source.

Musashino Forest Sports Plaza 2
Main Arena and its solar panel roof

And in line with Tokyo2020 Accessibility Guidelines, “the facility designed to be accessible to all, including the elderly, people with impairments, parents with infant strollers and those with guide dogs. The main arena has space for wheelchairs, and the space is designed with enough height difference between the rows of seating to ensure that those in wheelchairs can see clearly, even if spectators in front of them stand up.”

Ajinomoto Stadium will also host matches in the soccer competition during Tokyo 2020, and will be called Tokyo Stadium during the Olympics in accordance with its non-commercialization policy.

Musashino Forest Sports Plaza 4

If you’re following the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics on Twitter, you can’t avoid the tweets on calls to boycott the 2018 Winter Games in support of a ban on the eating of dog meat in Korea. Certainly, as 2018 just happens to be The Year of the Dog in the Asian zodiac timeframe, and the Winter Olympics are in South Korea this year, this is an opportune time to protest the consumption of dog meat.

Over the past two millenia, gaegogi, or dog meat, has been consumed in Korea, as well as China and Vietnam. Wikipedia cites an article that states 25 million dogs are eaten each year by humans. I have never tried dog meat, or cat meat for that matter, which is also consumed by humans to lesser degrees, primarily in Asia.

But I have had horse meat, a popular delicacy in Japan. It’s called basashi, served raw like sashimi, and it is delicious. But friends who had never in their life had the thought of eating horse would probably outwardly protest, or inwardly recoil upon hearing that horse was a highlight of Japanese cuisine.

basashi
Basashi, or raw horse meat, a popular dish in Japan.

There are quite a few commentaries on the internet on this topic – the idea that eating animals viewed first as pets and friends is abhorrent, while eating animals viewed first as food is not even a passing thought for most people (vegans and animal activists excluded).

Why is that? Jared Piazza, a lecturer in moral psychology from Lancaster University commented about the terrible ways dogs are slaughtered for human consumption, and the ambivalence it creates in many:

I too find myself heartbroken by these images. But as a vegan I find myself wondering why isn’t there more outrage in the world over the slaughter of other animals. For instance, each year in the US roughly 110m pigs are killed for meat. Where is the same public outcry over bacon?

The simple answer is emotional prejudice. We just don’t care enough about pigs for their needless suffering to pull at our heartstrings. As Melanie Joy, social psychologist and expert on “carnism” points out, we love dogs, yet we eat pigs, and there are simply no good moral reasons for such hypocrisy.

However this belief really just reflects the fact that people spend more time getting to know dogs than pigs. Many people have dogs as pets and through this relationship with dogs we’ve come to learn about them and care deeply for them. But are dogs really that different from other animals we eat?

Dr. Marc Bekoff wrote in Psychology Today explained that our feelings towards animals slaughtered so they can become pork chops or hamburger or chicken soup are muted since these animals are “out of sight, out of mind” for many of us.

In my essay concerning eating pigs I wrote, “When some people learn that I go to China to work with Animals Asia in their moon bear rescue program (link is external) (see also) they ask, ‘How can you go there, that’s where they eat dogs and cats?’ I simply say that I just left the United States where people routinely eat pigs, cows, chickens, and millions of other sentient beings.” Why is eating dogs different from eating cows and pigs at a barbecue or in a restaurant? For one, we don’t see the actual painful process of how pigs and cows become meals. 

In the end, is the debate about whether people eat dog or cat meat? Or is it about whether we care how we treat animals raised for human consumption? Do many of us prefer to keep such images out of sight, out of mind? (Yes, I struggle with the non-committal nature of this post’s conclusion.)

Lillehammer Norway
Lillehammer Norway

It’s 2018! So it’s Year of the Dog.

And according to the Chinese Zodiac, there are five different cycles of Dog Years. This year is the Earth Dog, which in theory, means that people born in 2018 (or 1958), are “communicative, serious, and responsible in work.”

With the coming 2018 PyeongChang Olympics, this is actually only the third time an Olympics will have been held in the Year of the Dog. Twelve years ago, the Olympics were held in Torino, Italy in 2007, and twenty-four years ago, the Winter Games were held in Lillehammer, Norway, in 1994 (Year of the Wood Dog). That was the first time the Winter Games were held in a year different from the Summer Olympics.

year of the dogOne similarity between PyeongChang and Lillehammer – both are cities of tiny populations: 27,400 in Lillehammer and 43,600 in PyeongChang. The PyeongChang Olympic Organizing Committee can only hope that the similarities don’t stop there as the 1994 Lillehammer Winter Olympics are considered one of the best ever. Costs were not astronomic. Security wasn’t paramount. And the Olympics were welcomed by the local folk.

As ESPN writer, Jim Caple, wrote in an article called “How Lillehammer Set the Standard,” Norway put on a great show. “The 1994 Games likely were the greatest Winter Olympics ever.”

American speed skater, Dan Jansen, agreed with that sentiment:

The whole experience, not just my experience, but the whole Winter Games themselves in that specific city, were as good as they can be. Just because the people were so proud to host the Games. Winter sports are a way of life there, and it really showed in the way they put the Games on and the attitudes of the people. I don’t want to say they were better than any other, but the way a lot of those stories unfolded, it was certainly hard to compare any Games after that, with all those stories in one Olympics. Every story [every Olympics] is important, but it all just seemed to come together.

And years later, citizens of Lillehammer appear to appreciate their connection to and the impact of the 1994 Olympics. As this post in the blog, Life in Norway, posits, Norwegians enjoy the fruits of the Olympic legacy.

These days, many visitors see Lillehammer as a quiet town. I sure did when I first visited in 2012, as the town centre was almost deserted on a Saturday morning. But it didn’t take long to realise it was because the locals spend their precious leisure time in the mountains, taking advantage of the facilities very few towns of its size are blessed with. Local children zoom around the Olympic arena on sledges and skis, perhaps dreaming of their own future Olympic glory.

May 2018, the Year of the Dog, be a wonderful year for the organizers, the fans and the athletes of the PyeongChang Olympics.

 

National Stadium design_Kengo Kuma 2
Kengo Kuma’s design for the Tokyo 2020 National Stadium

 

936 more days to go until the Opening Ceremonies of the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics. Here are a few of my favorite stories and thoughts on Tokyo2020.

 

2020 Mascot Candidates
Tokyo 2020 Mascot Candidates