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?
In July, 2015, there were only two cities vying for the 2022 Winter Games: Almaty, Kazakhstan and Beijing, China. Just 10 months before, Oslo, Norway, the host of the 1952 Winter Olympics, pulled out of the running. Sochi a year before famously cost $50 billion, and the Norwegian government was expecting the cost for their city to be billions more than they had an appetite for.
That left Almaty, a city generally unknown, and Beijing, a well-known city that gets very little snow.
With the ugly photos coming out of Rio de Janeiro of the crumbling Olympic infrastructure after only some 7 months, more and more city denizens and governments are convinced they don’t want an Olympics in their metropolis. In fact, Budapest, Hungary, which submitted a strong bid for the 2024 Summer Games, withdrew its bid a week ago on March 1.
So like the 2022 bid, now there are only two for the 2024 Games.
This must be causing considerable heartburn for leaders of the International Olympic Committee (IOC). The bidding process has resulted not in a celebration of city pride with the hopes of bringing the biggest sports tent their way, but in opportunities for large numbers of people to publicly and loudly proclaim their disenchantment, if not diffidence with having the Olympics in their back yard.
Fortunately, the 2024 has two solid prospects: Los Angeles and Paris. As Tim Crow writes in this great article, “And Then There Were Two“,
LA is the most compelling, with its vision of Californian sunshine, West Coast tech innovation and Hollywood storytelling power combining to ‘regenerate the Games’ and ‘refresh the Olympic brand around the world’.
Paris is more traditional, a classic piece of Olympic realpolitik, invoking de Coubertin in a ‘new vision of Olympism in action’ in the grand old city, linked to those time-honoured Olympic bid promises of urban regeneration and increased national sports participation.
So, as Crow extrapolates, if the president of the IOC wants to avoid further embarrassment of the citizens of the Great Cities open scorn, at least for a while, he may encourage his fellow leaders to decide the next two Olympic hosts when the IOC meet in Lima, Peru in September, 2017. As has been gossiped about for the past several months, Crow believes the IOC will select either Paris or LA for 2024, and the other one for 2028. By so doing, that would guarantee great Summer Olympic hosts throughout the 2020s, as well as avoid unwanted anti-Olympic discussion that would most certainly lead up to the 2028 process, that is currently scheduled for 2021.
Crow also speculates that the IOC may award the 2024 Summer Games to Paris, and the 2028 Summer Games to Los Angeles. Here are the three reasons why:
One, because an LA 2028 Games will give President Bach the ideal timing to play the American market for the IOC’s next US broadcast deal beyond NBC’s current contract.
Two, because it will also give Bach significant leverage in his attempts to persuade his six US-based TOP sponsors to extend their current deals, all of which end into 2020, for eight years.
But most of all, because it will buy Bach and the IOC both time and two key partners in its battle to find a new relevance and credibility for a new era and a new generation.
That last one is the tricky one. Can the Olympics be saved for the next generation?
Right now, a 5K would intimidate me. 10k would be a desperate slog. A marathon? Well, I’d definitely pull a Rosie Ruiz.
But seven marathons? Seven days in a row? On seven different continents? Isn’t that what Satan makes people do in the ninth circle of hell?
And yet, this is a thing.
The World Marathon Challenge debuted in January, 2015, and it has been held in the past two years in Union Glacier (Antarctica), Punta Arenas, Chile (South America), Miami, USA (North America), Madrid, Spain (Europe), Marrakech, Morocco (Africa), Dubai, UAE (Asia), and Sydney (Australia/Oceania). As their website states, “participants will run 295 km (183 miles) over the seven-day period, spend 59 hours in the air and fly approximately 38,000 km.”
A runner named David Gething won the first event in 2015 with a total time of 25 hours, 36 minutes and 3 seconds, for an average marathon time of 3 hours, 39 minutes and 26 seconds. That’s a good marathon time run once. But 7 times?
The most challenging part of being in Antarctica is getting used to 24-hour-a-day sunlight. We were staying in camping tents so it was impossible to get darkness. I’m really looking forward to getting a good night’s rest tonight at a hotel in Punta Arenas, Chile.
This entire course was concrete, which is brutal on the legs—my calves were absolutely hammered the last 10k. Luckily I have my extra cushy Asics 33-M to help offset the pounding. I would never recommend running a step on concrete. It’s 10 times harder than asphalt.
The marathon is going to hurt no matter if you run a 5-minute pace, a 7-minute pace, or a 10-minute pace, so I figure if I run fast than I’ll get done in less time. I also think it’s a lot easier to establish a good tempo early and just try to hold it. Even if you slow down later in the race you will have bagged so much time that you’ll still come in ahead of schedule.
I had a much more conservative race strategy this time and was just trying to run around eight minutes per mile. My calves felt like rocks from mile one so I was only able to maintain that pace through 20 miles before the wheels completely came off and I had to do a couple hundred meters of walking, which was a first for me.
When I woke up I felt like death and nearly toppled over when I took my first steps. On the starting line I was planning on trying to run as much as I could before doing some walk/running. So when I began I was surprised to find that my previously rock-tight calves felt surprisingly normal. Not only that, but my energy actually felt good and my Surge showed that my heart rate was low. I gradually increased my speed until I was clipping along at a 6:40 pace feeling like a million bucks.
The other challenge of the day was the heat and humidity. We were running in mid-80-degree weather with high humidity, and that’s in winter—imagine the summers! I was drinking fluids and taking gels and candy every 2.62 kilometer, or 1.6 miles. Yet despite all the hydration and calories I still got chills in the last lap, which is a sign of dehydration. My advice for running in the heat: Drink as much electrolyte-rich fluids as your stomach can handle and drink it before you feel like you need it. Another thing that worked really well for me today was putting crushed ice in my hat to help bring my body temperature down.
Sydney, Australia – Marathon time: 5 hours, 15 minutes and 34 seconds
I knew I was in trouble today as soon as I walked off the plane. The subtle pain in my right hip had been getting worse and worse over the course of the last two marathons. I wasn’t able to walk without a limp, so I knew I wouldn’t be able to run without a limp either. It was a long day, to say the least. I may have set the world record for the biggest time differential between your fastest and slowest marathon as I took over 5 hours to finish today. I got a massage part way through the race, which helped for a couple of miles, but it was clear today was going to be one of those days you just have to put your head down and find a way to keep moving forward.
Hall wrote that Sydney was the last marathon he would ever run. What a way to finish.
When you think about the number of events in an Olympic Games, and the varied types and sizes of venues required for a mega-sports event like the Olympics, one wonders why we would saddle an emerging economy with such a beast of a logistics and budget burden. Sochi, Rio and Athens are recent examples of this challenge.
While Japan was an emerging economy in 1964, its economy was booming and could absorb the massive change and cost with ease. And when we look at the Paris and Los Angeles bids for 2024, one gets the sense that they are at an advantage due to their already massive and modern infrastructure along with its varied and numerous sports facilities packed into their metropolitan areas.
Tokyo has that advantage as well and was able to propose in its bid that 90 percent of the sports venues would be within 8 kilometers of the Olympic Village. Tokyo2020 has framed the physical footprint in an infinity loop which encloses two areas: the Heritage Zone and the Tokyo Bay Zone. The Heritage Zone represents facilities that are in and around the area of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, the Shinjuku – Yoyogi area. That would include the location of the National Stadium, both then and in 2020. The Tokyo Bay Zone is primarily reclaimed land about 3.2 km southeast of central Tokyo. This will include the site of the Olympic Village in Harumi.
On February 10, the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Organizing Committee hosted visitors from the National Olympic Committees from Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Ireland, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and New Zealand. For three days they got a guided tour of 26 of the approximately 40 venues planned for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. And the reviews, apparently, are good.
Here are a few comments from Luke Pelligrini, the acting general manager of games support and operations for the Australian Olympic Committee:
Across all the NOCs in the bus yesterday, everyone was saying this is going to be a good games. Everyone is confident that it’s on track, ahead of the game at the moment and will continue to be.
(Some of the venues) looked like they could run sporting events next week. The taekwondo and fencing venue (Makuhari Messe in Chiba Prefecture) literally looked like it could stage sporting events next week if it needed to. The 1964 stadiums for table tennis, the water polo, they look ready to go now. In that respect, we are thrilled. We don’t see anything, 3½ years out, that is a concern to us. We’ve been pleasantly surprised by the experience
The most impressive thing is how central 70 percent of the venues are. We were amazed at the location of the Olympic village literally being downtown. That is a fantastic opportunity for our athletes to experience the games and also Tokyo. It is a very central location to get to the venues for all our athletes.
Here is a great video explaining the venue locations planned for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
If you’re living in Japan, and you buy smartphones like you buy a fashionable spring jacket, then you’ve got a bunch of phones in your cabinet that are just gathering dust.
Tokyo2020 wants your phone! Starting April, Japan telecommunications conglomerate, NTT Docomo, will set up collection boxes in over 2,400 NTT Docomo stores across Japan. Additionally, the Japan Environmental Sanitation Center, will also set up collection centers to collect old PCs, tablets, wearables, monitors, and other electronic devices that can be mined for metals.
The goal is to collect 8 tons of metal, which will yield 2 tons of gold, silver and bronze, and eventually result in the production of 5,000 medals for winners in the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games.
Said Japanese gymnast Kohei Uchimura of this initiative, “computers and smart phones have become useful tools. However, I think it is wasteful to discard devices every time there is a technological advance and new models appear. Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic medals will be made out of people’s thoughts and appreciation for avoiding waste. I think there is an important message in this for future generations.”
Sustainability will be a key theme of Tokyo2020. And my hope and expectation is that Tokyo2020 will be a shining model of how to present the Olympics, as it was in 1964. Tokyo2020 will stand in stark contrast to past Olympics.
The IOC knows its reputation and perhaps its long-term survival are dependent upon making the Olympics more in line with the host country’s economic plans and means, and more conscious of its obligations to be more socially tolerant and more purposeful in driving sustainability.
Since its inception in 2014, IOC President, Thomas Bach, has driven home the 40 tenets of his vision – The Olympic 2020 Agenda – a list of priorities, principles and actions that will guide the IOC in the coming years. Some of the hopes is to help ensure that host cities do not end up with an overly burdensome budget to hold the Games, to make the bidding process less complicated and less expensive, to ensure non-discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, and to drive greater sustainability.
The IOC has been working closely with Tokyo2020 to bring its operational budget down from USD30 billion, which is four times the budget put forth in the 2013 bid for 2020. The current goal is to get the budget down to under USD20 billion, which is far under Sochi’s USD50 billion spend, Beijing’s USD40 billion spend, and more in line with London’s USD20 billion spend. I believe that Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike is making an honest attempt to drive the budget down, as well as create a legacy of sustainability and inclusiveness in Japan.
If you’re in Japan, you too can help! Look for your old smartphones, and the signs at NTT Docomo. Donate a phone, and ensure that a piece of your property becomes a piece of the winning medal for Olympians in 2020.
The average temperature in Tokyo in July and August is around 30 degrees Celsius or 86 degrees Fahrenheit. But on the roads of Tokyo, after absorbing day after day of heat, can get as hot as 50 degrees Celsius, or over 120 degrees Fahrenheit.
And that’s not counting the dreadful humidity that time of year in Tokyo. I hated summers in New York City, but they’re worse in Tokyo.
Now, imagine running 42 kilometers on those roads, in that heat and humidity, because the marathons for women and men are scheduled respectively on August 2 and 9 in 2020. Researchers say that on average optimal times to run a marathon are temperatures of around 6 degrees Celsius or 43 degrees Fahrenheit. Average body temperature is around 37 degrees Celsius and research also shows that running performance drops significantly if body temperature rises above 38.8 degrees celsius, according to this article.
At 38.8 C, the body can no longer effectively cool itself and it begins to divert blood to the skin to help keep it cool. This decreases the amount of blood available to carry oxygen to working muscles, which affects performance.
In intense hot weather athletic events, as the body becomes severely dehydrated, the result can be heat exhaustion, heat cramps, heat stroke, heat-induced coma and then even death.
Clearly, organizers of the Tokyo Olympics want to avoid both cramps and death. What are they going to do? They’re going to turn the roads white. On August 31, 2016, a special event was held on a 250-meter stretch of road in the middle of Tokyo that incorporated two pieces of heat-reducing technology:
a ceramic-based spray coating with insulating properties which resulted in a whitish-colored road that reflects the sun’s infra-red rays, as well as
another road material that has water-retaining properties, by which water is retained and slowly evaporated, thus cooling the roads.
These two technologies will be combined to build out a road of some 21 kilometers, according to a television broadcast I recently saw, and allows the entire 42-kilometer race to be run, presumably, on a road much cooler than what they would experience today.
Olympic marathon runner Toshihiko Seko and Paralympic wheelchair marathon runner Nobukazu Hanaoka, were on hand on August 31 to test them out the new road. Their reaction?
“The heat-insulating paving was clearly cooler,” said Seko after a test run on the road.
Hanaoka said: “The wheels did not slip when I applied the brake, even when the surface was wet.”
Other ideas being explored to keep the road and the runners cooler are:
More shade along the course
An earlier start in the day
Routing the course through more open areas with greater wind movement
Routing the course near water and presumably lower temperatures
It was the middle of winter, and yet on January 1, 1964, Tokyo was hot! In fact, the way the foreign press described it, Japan was running a temperature!
“Japan Feverishly Prepares for the 1964 Olympic Games” – AP, January 1, 1964
“World’s Biggest City Suffering Olympic Fever” – UPI, January 2, 1964
Here’s how the major American news services – AP and UPI – explained the state of Tokyo only 10 months before the opening of the XVIII Olympiad:
A strange fever previously unknown in the Orient is gripping Japan. Symptoms include intense worry and a driving compulsion to build things. It’s called Olympic fever. Japan is lunging helter skelter toward that magic day when the 1964 Olympic games open in Tokyo. (AP)
The entire city is afflicted with “Olympic hysteria”, from the prime minister whose political future hinges on the games to the man in the street who curses the inconveniences he has to put up with for the Olympics: the high prices he has to pay, the scaffoldings he had to duck, the torn-up streets around which he has to detour. (UPI)
Again, this was 1964, less than a generation removed from the devastating effects of the Pacific War. Indeed, Tokyo was still emerging (and groaning) from the physical and emotional remains of war rubble, at least as the AP described it:
Tokyo essentially is a city just 18 years old, built on piles of ashes and rubble left by American bombers during World War II. Tokyo has grown haphazardly since 1945, with small, almost ramshackle, houses springing up in disorderly profusion along twisting, narrow streets. Trains are overcrowded. Prices are high. The city chronically has been short of housing, water – just about everything today’s tourists wants and expects. The population has grown so much (to more than 10 millions) that the city fathers have pleaded with the youth of Japan to stay on their farms in the villages and not come to the big city. But on they come, crowding in where there is no room.
While it might be hard to imagine today in Tokyo, where large-scale construction is on the whole, relatively and remarkably quiet and unobtrusive, it was for Tokyo denizens in the early 1960s, the bane of their existence. And safety was at times taken for granted, according to AP:
Tokyo, the largest, noisiest, most crowded city in the world, is getting a needed facelifting. The roar of new buildings and bridges going up – and occasionally falling down – fills the night and day. Bamboo scaffolding is everywhere and thousands of workmen clamber up and down, painting and plastering, putting finishing touches on new hotels, restaurants and night clubs.
At least two major Olympic construction projects have collapsed – an elevated expressway and the steel frame roof for a swimming pool. One person was killed and 25 were injured…. In an editorial titled, “no Fun and Games,” Yomiuri declared inexperienced workmen are being used on many Olympic projects and elementary safety precautions are being ignored.
We are three years away from January, 2020. Will history repeat itself? Will Tokyo be an overcrowded, noisy, chaotic city creaking its way to the Opening Ceremonies on July 24, 2020? I doubt it. Will Tokyo again be gripped in Olympic fever? Most definitely yes.