Coca Cola Booth Roppongi Hills 1
Coca Cola booth at Roppongi Hills

 

It was August 6 and I had just watched the opening ceremonies of the Rio Olympics, which was being broadcast live in Japan that lazy Saturday morning. Quite coincidentally, my wife and I reserved a Brazilian barbecue place in Roppongi for dinner that evening.

Roppongi is a hive of activity, a center of commerce, entertainment and shopping that bustles 7 days a week. In our stroll through Roppongi that day, I came upon two examples of how official Olympic sponsors have begun marketing the Olympics, not only as a lead in to the Rio Olympics, but also as a proud reminder that Tokyo will be the host of the XXXIII Olympiad in 2020.

Coca Cola is one of 12 worldwide Olympic sponsors, part of the so-called TOP program – TOP standing for “The Olympic Partner”. Like other TOP sponsors, Coca Cola has exclusive rights in the food and beverages industry to use the word Olympics and the five-ring symbol of the Games in its global marketing and advertisements, among other exclusive rights.

And in the popular Roppongi Hills square was a Coca Cola booth, with kids and adults lining up to get in. Inside the booth was a large screen displaying a swimming competition computer game. A pair of contestants would line up in front of the screen, get a motion-sensing band attached to their wrist, and then furiously roll their arms as their watched their avatar on the screen race to the finish. At the end, they were awarded a medal with a bottle of Coca Cola attached.

After dinner, we walked to my old work haunt – Midtown Tower. This popular office complex was built by Mitsui Fudosan, a major real estate developer in Japan. Mitsui Fudosan is not a TOP partner, but is instead a Tokyo 2020 Gold Partner. In the Olympic hierarchy of sponsors, the IOC allows the local national Olympic committee to select local sponsors that have exclusive rights in Japan to market and advertise using the word “Olympics” and related logos.

Sumitomo Fudosan Midtown Tower Olympics Exhibition 1

Mitsui Fudosan used the open area in front of Midtown Tower artfully. Dotted throughout the square were sculptures of figures in athletic pose, gleaming white and geometrically fashioned. A female basketball player and a wheelchair tennis player greet us at the entrance. A sprinter climbs the glass cover of the escalator leading down to the underground shopping areas. Synchronized swimmers rise from a shallow pool of water, a paralympic runner strides, and a pair of judoka negotiate a fall.

Mitsui Fudosan wants you to “Be the Change”. In a missive at the display area, the JOC Olympic sponsor states that like athletes, whose daily efforts and countless beads of sweat and tears, have shaped them into Olympians with unique and wonderful stories, Tokyo is also being shaped on a daily basis, building by building, each with their own stories. The last line of the missive states, “Next, it’s Tokyo’s turn. The Olympics will be on our stage. What fantastic stories will be told?”

Sumitomo Fudosan Midtown Tower Olympics Exhibition 2

Michael Phelps
The incredible Michael Phelps

Gymnast Oksana Chusovitina, representing Uzbekistan, competed in her seventh Olympics in Rio at the age of 41.

American cyclist, Kristin Armstrong, won a gold medal in the individual road time trial in Rio, the third consecutive Olympics she has done so, at the age of 42.

Equestrian Phillip Dutton won a bronze medal in individual eventing for America at the age of 52.

Relative to Chusovitina, Armstrong and Dutton, swimmer Michael Phelps is a spring chicken. But at the age of 31, Phelps’ phenomenal Olympic career, particularly based on his results in Rio, is most definitely an outlier vis-a-vis his rivals and rival-wannabes. According to The Washington Post, “over the past 10 Summer Games, the oldest athlete to swim in the finals for the same events in which Phelps is scheduled to compete has been 29 years old, with the average age just under 22 years old. And, not surprisingly, times get slower as an athlete ages.” (Yes, Anthony Ervin winning gold in the 50-meter freestyle at the age of 35 is an even greater outlier.)

Michael Phelp's Aging Curve Compared_Washington Post

Role models are so important to aspiring athletes. And it’s not just adolescents and teenagers whose passions are ignited by their heroes. It’s Gen X. It’s even the Baby Boomers. They see Chusovitina and Phelps as trailblazers for those of us in our 30s, 40s and 50s, whose daily lives are filled with marketing meetings, children’s soccer matches, evening social gatherings, and attempts to overcome sleep deprivation on the weekends.

More and more commonly, men and women past their “prime” are making the time and taking the challenge to up their game in high performance athletics. The “Olympics” for athletes of age groups from 35 to over the century mark is the World Masters Games. The number of participants since 1985 has grown from over 8,000 to close to 30,000 in 2009, which was more than twice the number of athletes who took part in the Sydney Olympic Games in 2000.

Oksana Chusovitina in Rio

As the nations of the industrialized world see their populace age rapidly, the people with the most money and influence are the aged demographics. Clearly, their interest in staying healthy and happy grows as they collectively age. As the human body’s production of hormones that enhance the benefits of physical exertion diminish from the age or 35, we can feel very clearly our strength diminishing over time. But considerable research and thought is going into how to increase flexibility, strength and staying power the older you get.

And the research tells us that exercise, low intensity or high, done on a consistent basis, will yield positive results for practically everybody. But the fact of the matter is, our busy lives demotivate so many of us from making that daily effort. This personal coach explains that making the effort is just a matter of making a decision.

The hard part about this for maturing athletes is that job and family responsibilities may make getting to bed early difficult. You need to make a choice as to the type of life you want to lead. If you’ve made the decision that you want to live a healthy, fit life, then going to bed early is part of it. That will likely mean the end of midweek social events, skipping TV after dinner, and strict adherence to stopping work after 8:00pm.

But to get to competitive levels of athletic performance, no matter your age, you need to dream. Photojournalist, Susana Girón, has followed these silver athletes taking their pictures, and concluded that age is not an issue if you have that burning passion for excellence

Sport in the elderly is not simply an issue of health. It is said that once you become older, you stop dreaming and become less passionate about things. The bodies of these athletes might dwindle with each year, but the passion with which they live and face the events remains stronger than ever, especially as they become aware that every championship might be their last. Living with passion means to remain forever young.

Phillip Dutton in Rio
Phillip Dutton

Kristie Moore five months pregnant
Kristie Moore of Canada who competed at the Vancouver Olympics while 5-month pregnant.
Health officials in several countries stricken by the Zika virus have given their female citizens an unprecedented warning: “Don’t get pregnant.”

That’s the first line of this New York Times report, the advice that basically assumes a possible connection between the Zika virus in pregnant women and deformities to their children.

I can only imagine what women planning on visiting areas like South America, or female athletes planning to compete in Rio this August are thinking. Should I stay or should I go? If you are pregnant, and planning on going to the Rio Olympics with your family, you may want to reconsider your decision. Of course, no athlete would go to the Olympics if they were pregnant.

But apparently, that is a naïve assumption, for there have been quite a few known cases where women athletes were 1 to 3 months pregnant, and were not aware until after the Games. But three in this list of pregnant Olympians were at least five months pregnant when they competed:

  • Kristie Moore of Canada, who won a silver medal in curling at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics,
  • Anky van Grunsven of the Netherlands, who won a gold medal in individual dressage at the 2004 Athens Olympics.
  • Cornelia Pfohl of Germany who had been in early pregnancy when she won bronze in team archery at the 2000 Sydney Games, but was an amazing 7 months pregnant when she competed at the 2004 Athens Games.

Anky van Grunsven Athens
Anky van Grunsven of the Netherlands competed while 5 months pregnant at the 2004 Olympics.
Van Grunsven in particular has had a stellar Olympic career, winning a total of 8 equestrian medals, including three golds in individual dressage, over six Olympics, from 1992 to 2012. In November, 2004, only three months removed from the end of the Athens Games, she gave birth to her first son, Yannick.

Clearly, the Zika Virus should be giving women, who are pregnant, pause. But the Olympics come only once every four years. Who knows what stories Rio will bring.

This equestrian wants to compete in the Rio Olympics at 69, and he still wouldn’t be the oldest Olympian ever. He’d have to make it to Tokyo in 2020 to attain that record.

OlympicTalk

Canadian Ian Millar, 68, who competed in a record 10 Olympics, won Pan American Games gold in team jumping on Thursday, 36 years after taking his first Pan Am Games medal.

Millar said at the London 2012 Olympics that he wanted to continue on to the Rio 2016 Games. The oldest Olympian, not counting art competitions, was Swedish shooter Oscar Swahn, who was 72 at the Antwerp 1920 Games. Millar would have to compete in Tokyo 2020 to beat that record.

Millar debuted at the Pan American Games in San Juan, Puerto Rico, in 1979, and at the Olympics in Munich in 1972.

Olympic equestrian champion suspended after horses test positive

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From the report, "THE GAMES OF THE XVIII OLYMPIAD TOKYO 1964"
From the report, “THE GAMES OF THE XVIII OLYMPIAD TOKYO 1964”

My cats have flown from Tokyo to Seattle to Singapore to Tokyo over a five-year period. To be fair, the whole experience of Vet exams, shots, cat containers, transportation to airports, planes with other animals and loud sounds….probably not the best thing for our cats. But we needed them where we were going, so on the plane they went.

Equestrians need their horses where they are going. And in 1964, horses did not fly well. In fact, in an AP report on October 1, it was reported that an 11-year-old gelding named Markham on the US team went berserk in her stall in the airplane only an hour after it took off from Newark Airport. Markham was causing such a commotion that officials felt that the horse had to be put down so as not to jeopardize the safety of the plane.

Christilot Boylen at 11.
Christilot Boylen at 11.

Born in Jakarta, Indonesia to a Chinese-Dutch-French-Indonesian mother and Australian father, and living in Singapore before settling in Canada as 3 year old, Christilot Hanson-Boylen was already a seasoned traveler.

At 16, when she entered the Tokyo Summer Games as the youngest Olympic equestrian in Dressage, she and her horse, Bonheur, had already competed in Germany and the US. But Japan was a completely different destination. During a time when equestrian athletes got little to no organizational or national support, Hanson-Boylen traveled alone from Canada to Japan. She related her experience to me, described below.

In those days, there were no trainers, no managers, no back up. I was sent by myself. It started strangely as I was sent to Paris first. I had to stay overnight in Paris at the Hotel Claridge. They said the rooms were all booked. I had this coupon, but all they said they could do was put a cot in the bathroom. I still thought the bathroom was marvelous. They put a cot in there and I was just too stupid to complain. People kept rattling on the door all night.

Christilot Boylen at 16, in Tokyo.
Christilot Boylen at 16, in Tokyo.

I get to the airport and I saw one of the famous jump riders Nelson Pessoa of Brazil. I followed him, thinking “he’s going to Japan. He knows the way.” I was feeling a little scared, so I Introduced myself. He said, “Stick by me.” Sure enough he picks the wrong plane. We land in Calcutta.”

Hanson-Boylen eventually made it to Japan, commencing a life of Dressage competition in 6 Olympic Games from 1964 to 1992.

To see what dressage looks like,

Prince Bernhard at the 1956 Melbourne Games
Prince Bernhard at the 1956 Melbourne Games

There are many stories of Japanese going beyond expectations in helping foreigners in need, but this story was above and beyond the call of duty. Prince Bernhard of Holland lost his Dunhill tobacco pouch while observing equestrian events in Karuizawa. That’s when a platoon of Japan’s Self Defense Forces sprung into action, combing the entire 33 kilometer equestrian course, finding the royal pouch in under 60 minutes. “They are quite wonderfully organized,” he said, referring to the Japanese Self-Defense Forces men. “They are really worthy of a gold medal.” (Did he really say that?)

Japan Times, October 22, 1964
Japan Times, October 22, 1964

Prince Bernhard was not a man of insignificance. He established the World Wildlife Fund in 1961. Unfortunately, he was forced to step down from the WWF after being implicated in the notorious Lockheed scandals, accepting a million dollar bribe in exchange for influencing Dutch aircraft purchases. Lockheed also helped bring