Komazawa Olympic Park venues 2
Komazawa Olympic venues in 1964, from the book, The Games of the XVIII Olympiad Tokyo 1964

Are the Olympics a worthy investment? Does the investment create legacies for the host country?

The answer to those questions are often “no”, unfortunately, at least in terms of the billions spent on structures like stadiums and other various sports venues.

Many of the structures built for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics still exist, like the Nippon Budokan, the National Gymnasium and Annex, as well as the Komazawa Olympic Park venues. Not only that, they live and breathe. Click below on the video to see and hear what I did.

On Sunday, May 1, during the long break in Japan known as Golden Week, I took a short bicycle ride to Komazawa Olympic Park, and walk where 1964 Olympians walked. The Park is a collection of venues: Komazawa Gymnasium where Japan won 5 of 16 total gold medals just in wrestling, Komazawa Hockey Field where India beat Pakistan in a memorable finals between two field hockey blood rivals, Komazawa Stadium where soccer preliminary matches were played, and Komazawa Volleyball Courts where Japan’s famed women’s volleyball team mowed through the competition until they won gold at a different venue.

On that day, thousands of people were enjoying unseasonably warm weather under clear, blue skies. The tracks around the park were filled with runners. The gymnasium was hosting a local table tennis tournament, and the stadium was prepping for the third day of the four-day Tokyo U-14 International Youth Football Tournament.

Komazawa 3

In the plaza between the various Komazawa venues, hundreds were enjoying the weather with great food and drink. I was pleasantly surprised to find draft Seattle Pike IPA. While enjoying the cold beer on the hot day, surrounded by hundreds of people loving the day, I realized that Japan in the 1960s made great decisions in planning for the 1964 Olympics. I had a similar revelation earlier when I visited the National Gymnasium months earlier. So much of what was built for those Summer Games are a part of the everyday life of the Japanese.

Japan built a fantastic legacy for 1964. What legacy will Japan begin in 2020?

Komazawa 6

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Roy_1965 maybe
Roy, around 1 years old

On May 1, 2015, I kicked off my blog, The Olympians, with the intent of providing at least one blog post every day. Here we are, 365 days, over 10,000 visitors, nearly 20,000 views later, and I have kept my promise. Many thanks to all those who have helped me along the way!

Below are 20 of my favorite posts in 2016:

  1. The 1962 Asian Games: How Cold War Politics Sparked Heated Debate, Leading to the Indonesian Boycott of the 1964 Games
  2. “Do it Again. Again. Again.”: The Uncompromising Mindset of an Olympic Champion
  3. The Dutch Boycott of the 1956 Olympic Games Part 2: Rehabilitation
  4. The Hijab and The Turban: Why American Fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad is Important  
  5. Dr Jega: The Fastest Man in Asia Learns that Life Works in Mysterious Ways
  6. Duke Kahanamoku Part 1: Surfing’s Johnny Appleseed Inspires Australia’s Pioneering Surfers and an Entire Sports Culture
  7. Japanese Face Off in Australia on the 15th Anniversary of Pearl Harbor
  8. Ken Sitzberger and Jeanne Collier: Diving’s Power Couple in 1964
  9. The Pain and Joy of Pain: Dick Roth and the Gold that Almost Wasn’t
  10. The Perfectionist’s Dilemma: The All-or-Nothing Life of Hurdler Ikuko Yoda
  11. Rare Canadian Gold in Tokyo: George Hungerford and Roger Jackson Win the Coxless Pairs
  12. The Record-Setting Row2Rio Team: Following in the Footsteps (Sea legs?) of Christopher Columbus
  13. Remembering the 3.11 Earthquake and Tsunami, My Ancestors, and the Tokyo Olympic Cauldron
  14. Sazae-san Part 3: Suicides and The Pressure Cooker of Japanese Education
  15. Simple is Best: Finally, The New Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Logos
  16. Singaporean Cyclist Hamid Supaat and the Big Chill: Competing on the World Stage
  17. The “Six-Million-Dollar-Man” and “Real Steel” Scenarios: Science and Technology Blurring the Lines and Creating New Ones  
  18. Tommy Kono: Out of an Internment Camp Rises Arguably the Greatest Weightlifter of All Time    
  19. Unbroken: The Truly Epic Story of Louis Zamperini Finally Shown in Japan
  20. Worrying Willy and Paradise Pete: How the US Army Prepped Recruits for Japan in the 1950s

Click here for my favorite posts from 2015! Again, many thanks for all your support!

group of death
From JEA’s Sports World

 

What is the “Group of Death”?

  1. A heavy metal band from Hamburg
  2. A recently discovered novel of youthful enthusiasm gone wrong by J. D. Salinger
  3. A designation for the group in a multi-staged sports tournament perceived to contain an outsized level of strong teams
  4. All of the above

That’s right. The answer is “c”. In the first round of a tournament, you’d rather have an easier time before you get into the more competitive rounds. The “Group of Death” is the group said to have no easy wins, so you don’t want to be in that one. Granted, this designation is purely subjective and has no bearing on the tournament themselves. This is how the English newspaper, The Telegraph, describes it:

The “group of death”, a concept that sounds like it was named by an 11-year-old child listening to emo for the first time, was actually coined by Mexican journalists to describe Group 3 at the 1970 World Cup, which contained the defending champions England, the favourites Brazil, the two-time finalists Czechoslovakia, and Romania. Since then, the term has been much used, misused and very possibly overused to describe a group with a lot of good football teams in it, of which only two can qualify.

In the upcoming Rio Olympics, The Groups of Death in the men’s football (soccer) teams are in Group B, and in the women’s teams are in Group G.

Here’s how the sports internet site Vavel describes the two groups of death:

group of death men

Men’s Group of Death

This group is the Group of Death for this year’s Olympic Games. This group is composed of Sweden, Colombia, Nigeria, and Japan, loads of big-hitters in the U-23 game. Nigeria, Japan, and Sweden were all first-time winners of their respective confederation championships, making the competition fierce for one of the two qualification spots in this group. Colombia qualified by defeating the United States in the CONCACAF-CONMEBOL playoff after failing to meet automatic qualification by finishing second in the South American Youth Football Championships.

group of death women

Women’s Group of Death

It’s called Group G for a reason. Why? This is the Group of Death. The lowest-ranked team in this group is Colombia at 24, and they’ve given the United States, the top team in this group, their fair share of battles over time. New Zealand, the OFC champs, are actually ranked higher than Colombia at 16. France is second-highest ranked team in the group, ranked third and is one of two teams from UEFA to qualify for the Olympics via the World Cup. 

White City Stadium 1908

It is huge. Olympian in fact.

When it opened in time for the opening ceremonies of the 1908 London Games, The White City Stadium sat 68,000 people, although it could fit another nearly 30,000 standing spectators. It had an oval running track, about 7 meters wide. And between the running track and the stands was a cycling track that was another 11 meters wide.

Cycling at White Citsy Stadium_1908

The oval tracks were so wide that, in addition to space for athletic events like archery and hammer throwing, there was enough room for a swimming and diving pool!

Swimming at White City Stadium_1908

Unfortunately, the 1908 Olympics was the stadium’s high point. In 1927, it was sold to the Greyhound Racing Association, literally going to the dogs. The stadium no longer exists, torn down in 1985 to make way for the headquarters of the BBC.

White City Stadium circa 1950s
BBC Television Centre takes shape in the late 1950s with White City Stadium nearby
National Olympic Stadium and underground tunnell
Blueprint for the National Olympic Stadium for the 1964 Olympics, including underground tunnel. Source: Japan Sport Council

In his book, No Bugles No Drums, Olympic track legend, Peter Snell of New Zealand, wrote about an underground tunnel at the National Olympic Stadium, where he competed at the 1964 Olympic Games.

“Ten minutes before the gun, we were led through an underground tunnel which took us right underneath the track diagonally to a point at the beginning of the back straight. Then a walk around to the start.”

Ollan Cassell, lead runner on the US 4X400 men’s team that won gold in Tokyo, also noticed the underground tunnel. “The Japanese thought of everything,” he wrote in his book Inside the Five Ring Circus. “They even built a tunnel under the stadium track so athletes and official going to their events on the infield did not cross the track.”

 

National Olympic Stadium and underground tunnell 2
A picture of the 1964 tunnel at that time. Considerable work had been done afterwards to hide the pipes and cables. Source: Japan Sport Council

Cassell asked me to confirm that his memories were correct, so I did some digging. After a few emails exchanged between me and The Japan Sport Council, the government body that manages and operates some of the largest sports facilities in Japan, including the National Olympic Stadium, I was pleasantly surprised to get confirmation on the tunnel.

Not only that, the Japan Sport Council was kind enough to provide a schematic and photos.

An underground tunnel that allows officials and athletes to get to the infield or across the stadium without crossing a track seems like a great idea. You would think that all stadiums would be designed that way. But Cassell wrote to me that in fact Tokyo’s National Olympic Stadium was unique. “I have attended every Games since then, thru 1996 and never found anything like what they did. I missed 2000 and 2004 but attended all other games and did not hear anything about a tunnel from those who attended the 2000 and 2004 games.”

The National Olympic Stadium has been torn down, a new one set to rise (once a plan is finalized). But the old one apparently had a trick under its sleeve. It will be missed. To see what the stadium looked like just before it was torn down, check out these 360 views of the stadium.

National Olympic Stadium 360

Japan Women's Soccer Team beats Brazil in 2012 Olympic Play
Japan’s Women’s Soccer Team defeating Brazil at the 2012 London Games.

I remember being surprised to read that the Japanese Women’s National Soccer team, the team that was the reigning world cup champions and went on to win silver at the 2012 London Olympic Games, had to fly economy class to London, while the men’s soccer team flew business class.

The Japanese Football Association, the organization that oversees soccer in Japan, stated that the men’s team were afforded this perk due to their “status as professionals”, according to this article from the Daily Mail. This was despite the incredible popularity and success of the women’s football squad, affectionately known as Nadeshiko Japan.

Alas, Japan isn’t alone in these sexist attitudes that are rapidly appearing blatant. Australia was also guilty of this as it sent its men’s basketball team to the London Games seated in business class, while the women’s basketball team flew economy.

In order to correct what apparently is a common practice in Australia, the AustrNadeshikoalian federal sports minister Sussan Ley and Australian Sports Commission (ASC) chairman John Wylie, jointly sent a warning letter to the top 30 funded sports organizations in Australia to refrain from this practice, according to this BBC story.

“In 2016, we can think of no defensible reason why male and female athletes should travel in different classes or stay in different standard accommodation when attending major international sporting events.”

Australian women's basketball team
Australian Women’s basketball team

 

This letter was sent recently on February 2, with a clear attempt to preemptively avoid any further embarrassing examples during the Rio Games in August. The veiled threat is that funding for the various sports associations would be impacted if treatment was viewed as not equal.

My guess is that Japan’s women’s soccer team will be afforded similar travel arrangements to the men en route to Rio. But will that hold true for all sports associations in Japan? Not so sure…..

kamamoto

No soccer player has scored more goals as a representative of the Japanese national team. No Olympian in the 1968 Mexico City Games scored more goals. Currently a member of the Japanese government’s House of Councilors, Kunishige Kamamoto (釜本邦茂) is considered the greatest Japanese soccer player of all time.

As a student at Waseda University, Kamamoto was one of the youngest players on the Japan national team that competed in the Tokyo Summer Games in 1964. Despite winning their first match against Argentina unexpectedly, in which Kamamoto assisted on the winning goal, the Japan team lost their next two matches against Ghana and Czechoslovakia to fall out of the running for a medal. And Japan lost in the consolation rounds to Yugoslavia, to end up eighth in the standings. But in the match against Yugoslavia, the striker from Kyoto scored the only goal in a 6-1 loss. It was his first goal in Olympic competition. But it wasn’t his last.

The coach of the Japan national team, Dettmarr Cramer, believed Kamamoto to be world class. In fact Cramer was influential in getting Kamamoto experience in Germany with a German football club as well as with the German national team in the beginning of 1968.

Kamamoto then joined the national team in the Mexico City Games in 1968, scoring a total of 7 goals, the only Asian ever to be the top scorer of an Olympic Games. He led the team to victories over Nigeria (where he had a hat trick), and ties with Spain and Brazil. In the medal rounds, Japan defeated France 3-1, in which Kamamoto netted two goals. While they were shut out by eventual gold medalists, Hungary, to finish out of the championship match, Japan fought off host Mexico in front of 105,000 people to win 2-0. Who scored those two goals in the first half to quiet the crowd? Kunishige Kamamoto.

Unfortunately, Kamamoto was sidelined due to hepatitis for a considerable amount of time after the Mexico City Games, and the Japan team wasn’t able to advance to the World Cup. Additionally, Japan did not have a professional league to take advantage the momentum Japan’s national team generated in Mexico City. But eventually the Japan Soccer League was formed and Kamamoto became the highest scoring player in that league’s history, with Yanmar Diesel.

Kunishige Kamamoto_Pele Overath
Kamamoto on the shoulders of Pele and Wolfgang Overath at his retirement match in Tokyo on August 25, 1984.

Kamamoto was said to have a powerful right foot, who never missed when taking a shot from 45 degrees, and a beautiful header taking advantage of a strong leaping ability. In short, Kamamoto was precise. Here is how this website, Japan Soccer Archive, explains it:

 

I looked back on negatives of similar photographs taken by two cameramen to record all of his matches throughout an entire year. It was astonishing to see just how this player’s approach to the ball, steps, impact, and follow-through when shooting were always exactly the same. His technique and posture when heading was similar – always stable and beautiful – from his vision to ready himself for the moment the crosser played the ball, to his determination of the ball’s point of fall, his steps, his jump, and finally his contact with the ball in the air.

OK, this is a bit silly….

 

A Buddhist temple in the city of Seki, Gifu Prefecture, in central Japan has seen a sudden surge in the number of visitors — triple the usual levels

Source: Rugby fans rush to Buddha statue resembling popular player | The Japan Times

Fans remained inside the Stade de France after the soccer game between France and Germany amid confusion caused by the attacks in the area. Credit Christophe Ena/Associated Press
Fans remained inside the Stade de France after the soccer game between France and Germany amid confusion caused by the attacks in the area. Credit Christophe Ena/Associated Press

A suicide bomber, who had a ticket to the football match between France and Germany at the Stade de France on the evening of Friday the 13th, was denied entry to the stadium after a frisk search. Moments later, he detonated his bomb, one of three to go off outside the stadium in Paris where the Prime Minister of France sat as a spectator. On a most unfortunate day, that perhaps was a bit of fortune.

Inside the stadium, according to this New York Times report, the game went on.

The coaches for both national teams decided not to inform their respective teams about the horrifying occurrences taking place nearby, probably because the events were just unfolding and they were unclear regarding the extent of the violence in Paris. When added to poor cell reception due to the concentration of people at the football game, and possibly also the increased data traffic as a result of the terrorist attacks, people on the pitch and the stands remained in enough of a fog to allow their focus to stay on the game.

The beginning of the New York Times video demonstrates the confusion at the stadium.

NY Times Video on Paris Attack

France won the game on a late goal. By that time, the reality of the terrorist attacks had become clearer and the players were informed. But as the NY Times reported, the atmosphere during the game was surreal. “It was so weird,” said Cyril Olivès-Berthet, who was covering the match for the French sports newspaper L’Équipe. “The players were running and doing their game, and the fans were chanting their normal chants, ‘Aux Armes, Aux Armes,’ a typical chant that is a warrior thing about taking arms and going to war. When France scored the second goal late in the game, they all waved their flags and the players celebrated like they always do.”

It can be debated endlessly whether the coaches made the right choices to inform the players, or whether officials made the right choice to allow the game to continue. That is not important. Showing strength in the face of adversity, effectiveness in uncovering the culprits, and wisdom in decisions related to retaliation or reaction – that is important.

My thoughts go out to all impacted by the terrorist attacks in Paris.

Japan rugby union team in gloucester brave blossoms
The Japan National Rugby Team wins three times at the World Rugby Championships in Gloucester, Scotland in October.

The surging love for rugby in Japan has been driven by the success of the Japan team, aka “The Brave Blossoms”, in the recent Rugby World Cup Championships in Gloucester, Scotland last month. The team’s three victories at the tournament drew attention to the fact that the next Rugby World Cup Championships will be held in Japan in 2019, a year before the 2020 Olympics, when rugby will continue as a participating sport after its Olympic debut in Rio in 2016.

But the rugby we watched at the Rugby World Cup Championships is significantly different from the rugby we will see at the Olympics. Rugby Union is the name of the sport that is challenged at the Rugby World Championships, and it requires 15 people aside. Rugby Sevens, which people will see at the Rio and Tokyo Olympics, place seven people aside, even though the size of the field for both sports are the same: 100 meters long by 70 meters wide.

Thus, Rugby Sevens is faster. On the same size pitch, you can imagine that it is easier to defend with 15 people on the field as opposed to 7, which is what Rugby Sevens, appropriately named, requires. So instead of getting pushed, pulled, banged, tripped and generally hit every meter of the way in a Rugby Union match, you have open spaces, breakaways and sprints in a Rugby Sevens match. Instead of the bulky, squarish hulks you tend to see in a Rugby Union match, you’ll see muscular but lither athletes who can run world-class sprinting times.

Rugby Sevens is also shorter in duration. Rugby Union plays its matches in 40-minute halves, closer to the duration of soccer and NFL football games, while Rugby Sevens’ games are made up of 7-minute halves, or 10-minute halves for championships rounds. In other words, Rugby Seven matches finish in the amount of time it takes to play half a Rugby Union match. And fans and casual fans alike have taken occasional jabs at the seemingly slow pace of scrums in Rugby Union matches, where a large number of heavy athletes wrap arms in a pile that seem to do little but kill time.

Because of the above differences, the scoring in Rugby Sevens are perceived to come fast and furiously. Just watch this video compilation of scores made by the Rugby Seven speedster, Carlin Isles.

Now if you want me to further confuse, I could attempt to explain the difference between Rugby Union and Rugby League (and their 13 aside rules)…but I will not attempt a try.