Lance Wyman
Lance Wyman

Lance Wyman was an aspiring graphic designer in 1966 when he learned that the International Olympic Committee and the Mexican Olympic Committee were looking to hire a team to create the emblem and associated design concept for the entire 1968 Mexico City Olympic Games.

He and his partner, Peter Murdoch, thought to themselves, why not us? They booked a one-way ticket to Mexico City, which is all they could afford, according to this brilliant podcast from 99 Percent Invisible, hoping to make a name for themselves.

Wyman_Mexico_68_Olympics_radiating

One disadvantage the two American designers may have had initially was that they had never been to Mexico, and knew practically nothing about the country’s culture or history. So they embarked on a crash course immediately. When they visited the Museum of Anthropology, examining the stone murals of the Aztec and Mayan civilizations, they were struck by the similarities in artwork centuries before to the 1960s, when op-art was a popular form of expression.

“I actually was floored by some of the early cultures,” says Wyman in the podcast, “because they were doing things that we were doing in a contemporary way with geometry and with graphics.” The podcast went to explain that the bold lines and bright colors and geometric shapes reminded Wyman of the kind of Op art that was popular among contemporary artists back in New York.

lance wyman peter murdoch
Lance Wyman, his wife Neila, and Peter Murdoch (1966)

 

Wyman thought that they should take advantage of the circles in the digits of ’68, which is the year of the Mexico City Olympics, and blend those circles into the five Olympic rings. Additionally, the techniques of op-art, also known as optical art, which uses techniques of contrast and geometry to create an illusion of movement, were employed as waves of lines surrounding the text and numbers. Those lines were based on a new font Wyman and Murdoch created, made up of three lines that always curved, but never bent.

Their design was so impactful, that the Olympic organizing committee began employing their design in collaterals even before they informed Wyman and Murdoch that they had won the competition.

But the reason why the 99 Percent Invisible podcast is so fascinating is that Wyman’s design concept was so powerful, it was co-opted by a group in some ways trying to undermine the Olympics. And Wyman didn’t mind.

Mexico was undergoing a significant socio-economic and political transformation, brought on by a stronger economy. But there was reason to believe that the fruits of the growing economy was not trickling down to the middle classes or the masses, or at least not fast enough. In Mexico City, anti-government protests were happening frequently enough in the summer of 1968, that the government began to get uneasy that their Olympic Games, scheduled to open in October of that year, were under threat.

As related in a previous post, a series of anti-government protests in Mexico City culminated in a protest where around 10,000 university and high school students met at the Plaza de las Tres Culturas on October 2. The government decided enough was enough, and sent armed troops through the crowds and opened fired. Only 10 days prior to the start of the Mexico City Olympics, dozens, maybe hundreds, maybe thousands were killed that day.

As the podcast explains, students began to co-opt Wyman’s designs. One common image was one of a white dove that was ever present in Mexico – a white image on black. The students went all over town painting red splotches on the dove’s white breast as if it had been pierced by a bullet or a knife.

dove-protest-600x150

As this 99 PI article describes, Wyman’s designs were so universal they could serve both sides of the political war:

Despite his relative isolation at work, Wyman heard about the massacre. “When I heard about it and how severe it was it was a very difficult situation because I was working for the government and I couldn’t do anything about it,” he says. He empathized with the students and had mixed feelings about continuing his work.  But, in a way, he didn’t need to choose between the government and the protesters. His designs found a way to serve both sides.

Otto F. Warmbier
Otto F. Warmbier in North Korea
22-year-old American, Otto Warmbier, was released in mid-June, 2017 from a North Korean prison in a coma, only to die a few days later after returning home.

Test missiles routinely take off from North Korea, much to the alarm of Japan, China and the rest of the world.

It appears no one really knows how to deal effectively with the North Korean government, and so the world is in a sudden state of panic every time North Korea makes noise.

And yet, South Korean president, Moon Jae-in, is thinking out loud, wondering why we can’t just all get along. As South Korea will be hosting the Winter Olympics in PyeongChang in early 2018, President Moon is looking for opportunities to bring North and South Korea together.

One idea is to have North Korea host an event, since there are skiing and skating venues in the North. One of the places that could host skiing events is Masikryong Ski Resort. About a 3-hour drive East of the North Korean capital, Pyongyang, Marikryong was established by the North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong-Un.

According to the Telegraph, the Masikryong Ski Resort was criticized internationally for employing child labour to keep this largely underused resort available to service the elite of North Korean society. Click on the image below to see a video created by the North Korean government promoting the site.

Marikryong promotion video

Another idea is to have a joint North and South Korean team. “I believe in the strength of sports that has been brokering peace,” President Moon said in this Channel News Asia article. “If a North Korean delegation takes part in the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, I believe it will greatly contribute to realizing the Olympic values of friendship and peace.”

Currently, no one in North Korea is eligible for the upcoming Winter Games. There is hope that the two Koreas could field a women’s ice hockey team for the PyeongChang Games.

“Hopefully, we’ll be able to thaw lingering tensions as we try to bring North Korea on board,” said Do Jong-hwan, Minister of culture, sports and tourism, according to the Korea Herald. If the North Koreans participate, he believes the PyeongChang Games could be one day known as “The Peace Olympics.”

Weightlifting Bending under the weight

The IOC sought to inject youth and improve gender diversity into the 2020 Tokyo Olympics by adding events, while keeping the total number of invited athletes the same. In addition to the five new sports added in August, 2016 (baseball/softball, karate, skateboarding, sport climbing and surfing), the International Olympic Committee (IOC) announced the addition of 15 new events to existing sports.

And yet, to keep to a limit of 11,090 total athletes at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, cuts had to be made. The IOC made decisions that resulted in the elimination of 285 quota slots for various sports. Much of this was driven by a need to improve gender ratios, particularly in sports like cycling, judo, rowing, sailing, shooting, swimming and water polo.

But the biggest losers? Wrestling with 56 cuts, weightlifting with 64 and athletics with 105 cuts.

Perhaps messages are being sent.

Wrestling was actually dropped from the Olympic menu of core sports in February, 2013 because the rules were considered vague.  Wrestling’s scoring system was too difficult to understand, which in turn made it difficult to engage the average television viewer. Somehow, through significant lobbying efforts, wrestling was reinstated as a non-core sport for the 2020 Games, but the latest decision to cull the wrestling numbers may be a reminder that wrestling has to work at its game.

Athletics, with its high profile events and global track stars, also suffers from a deep and dark history of doping. Most recently, the IAAF banned the entire Russian track and field team from the 2016 Rio Olympics. All of this may have made it easier for the IOC to prioritize cuts in athletics.

As for weightlifting, the dark clouds of doping have hung over this sport for decades. The IOC dropped an entire men’s weight class on its way to eliminating 64 quota slots for Tokyo 2020. Said Japan Weightlifting Association President Yoshiyuki Miyake in this Mainichi Daily News article, It’s a shame. I’m confused why they would make this kind of decision without any discussion.”

The New York Times wasn’t confused, as they stated in this piece entitled, “Freshening Up the Olympics. Sorry Men’s Weight Lifters.”

In the men’s 94-kilogram class at the 2012 London Games, Poland’s Tomasz Zielinski finished ninth. A disappointment, to be sure, but Zielinski was eventually awarded the bronze medal after six of the lifters ahead of him failed drug tests.

Wonderful story, right? Not so much. Zielinski, who obviously didn’t win a medal for his ability to learn from other’s mistakes, was kicked out of the 2016 Rio Games when one of his own tests came back positive.

IOC president has been explicit that he is sending messages, according to that same article:

Bach called weight lifting’s punishment in Friday’s reordering of the Games “a strong signal” to the sport. Good for him. Standing up to cheaters, and meting out real punishment, is common sense. If one sport’s athletes can’t follow the rules, other athletes from other sports should get a chance.

Lew Alcindor and Coach John Wooden
Lew Alcindor and Coach John Wooden

The 1964 US men’s basketball team had a chip on its shoulder because it was feared they would be the first American team to lose a game in the Olympics, even with NBA champions Bill Bradley, Walt Hazzard, Mel Counts, Luke Jackson and Jeff Mullins, as well as famed coach, Larry Brown. USA took gold fairly handily at the Tokyo Games.

But one could argue, in retrospect, that the 1968 US men’s basketball team had even less star power and a greater chance of losing a game. There were future NBA champions Jo Jo White and Spencer Haywood, but the rest were a collection of (certainly) great athletes, many of whom ended up bouncing around the American Basketball Association.

The person who could have been the center of attention on the team was the UCLA star, Lew Alcindor. Alcindor, who changed his name to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, led his high school to three straight NYC Catholic championships, and then, from 1967 to 1969, three straight NCAA championships with UCLA.

Abdul-Jabbar was in his collegiate prime, but declined to go to the 1968 Mexico City Olympics. In fact, he boycotted the Olympics to protest what he believed to be injustice for black Americans. The now NBA hall of famer and 6-time NBA champion published a book entitled “Coach Wooden and Me“, and explained his rationale, as excerpted in this article from NBC Sports. He wrote that while he wanted to go to Mexico City and play against the world’s best, he felt that it was more important to raise his social activist voice:

…the idea of going to Mexico to have fun seemed so selfish in light of the racial violence that was facing the country. The previous summer had seen two major riots, one in Newark that had lasted five days, and one in Detroit that had lasted eight days. And on April 4, 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., had been assassinated. White America seemed ready to do anything necessary to stop the progress of civil rights, and I thought that going to Mexico would seem like I was either fleeing the issue or more interested in my career than in justice. I couldn’t shake the feeling that if I did go and we won, I’d be bringing honor to the country that was denying our rights.

Coach Wooden and Me

The decision to boycott by the great center for the UCLA Bruins spurred “a firestorm of criticism, racial epithets, and death threats.” But he explained that the UCLA administration and his famed coach, John Wooden, did not try to dissuade Abdul-Jabbar from his conviction to protest. And yet, Abdul-Jabbar, then and for many years later, felt in his heart that Wooden did not approve. Although Wooden never voiced his views, Abdul-Jabbar thought, “I just knew that he was very patriotic. He had been a lieutenant in the navy during World War II. I couldn’t imagine him endorsing my refusal to play in the Olympics and bring glory to the U.S.”

But he was wrong.

Abdul-Jabbar wrote in his book that he received a letter from a woman he did not know about a letter that she got from Coach Wooden, in reply to her letter to him criticizing Abdul-Jabbar’s decision to boycott the Olympics.

Dear Mrs. Hough,

The comments of this most unusual young man also disturbed me, but I have seen him hurt so much by the remarks of white people that I am probably more tolerant than most.

I have heard remarks within his hearing such as “Hey, look at that big black freak,” “Did you ever see such a big N—-r?” and others of a similar nature that might tend to turn the head of a more mature person in normal times. I am truly afraid that he will never find any peace of mind regardless or not of whether he makes a million dollars. He may be able to afford material things, but they are a poor substitute for true peace of mind.

You may not have seen or read about the later interview when he said that there were so many things wrong at present of the treatment of his race in this country that it was difficult for him to claim it as his own.

Thank you for your interest,

John Wooden

Wow. To have one’s perceptions flipped 180 degrees in a moment, to realize that such unspoken assumptions, living quietly in one’s bosom for decades, were false, can be both dagger and balm.

I read the letter again. Then again. Oh, Coach, I thought, I wish I’d known how you felt. If only to ease the burden you’d taken on to defend me. I thought back on my own arrogance at thinking I understood the man by reducing him to the kind of easy stereotype, the very thing that I’d been complaining about my whole life when it was done to me. He’d been too humble ever to say anything to me about the letter. Most people would have made a point of telling me how they’d come to my defense. But Coach Wooden didn’t care about receiving credit. A good deed was its own reward. Seeking praise or gratitude would have negated the deed.

I will have to add “Coach Wooden and Me” to my read list.

Governor Yuriko Koike
Governor Yuriko Koike

Before Tokyo governor Yuriko Koike came on the scene, the projected overruns for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic budget was expected to take the overall budget to USD30 billion.

Soon after Governor took office, she stated she was determined to cut that budget down to size, vowing not to strap Tokyo taxpayers with any “white elephants”. In partnership with the International Olympic Committee, which feared that ballooning costs would further discourage cities from bidding for Olympics in the future, Koike began asking a lot of questions about the budget.

The IOC then encouraged that a four-party group be created to drive the budget down. For the past year, members of the IOC, Tokyo 2020, Governor Koike and representations from the Japanese national government have been working to ensure a budget of USD15 billion or less. On May 31, 2017, Tokyo2020 organizers that the budget has been reduced to USD12.9 billion, according to Around the Rings.

In comparison to another mature city, the 2012 London Olympics ended up costing USD19 billion.

One of the major hurdles of finalizing the budget was determining who would fund the construction of temporary facilities in venues outside Tokyo, where events like baseball and soccer would be played, for example. In the recently agreed-upon budget, local governments in seven prefectures (Hokkaido, Miyagi, Fukushima, Saitama, Chiba, Kanagawa and Shizuoka) and four cities (Sapporo, Saitama, Chiba and Yokohama) will pay only for costs related to “medical services and security transportation to and from venues, but that Tokyo will cover costs for temporary facilities for venues outside of the Japanese capital”, according to Inside the Games.

Another potentially very good decision by the four-party task force, according to this Tokyo 2020 document, was to create a committee made up members of the four parties to monitor costs. This Management Committee for Collaborative Projects will look to optimize resources and further reduce costs with reviews held on a regular basis.

Lelisa Feyisa With_Family_NYCH_2017_Jane_Monti
Feyisa Lilesa with his wife Iftu, son Sora and daughter Soko, after winning the 2017 United Airlines NYC Half (photo by Jane Monti for Race Results Weekly)

Since the time he left Rio de Janeiro, with a silver medal in the marathon from the Summer Olympic Games, Feyisa Lilesa has not been able to enjoy the triumphant return home to an adoring populace like most other Olympian medalists.

Instead, he lives a life a self-exile.

When he crossed the line to finish his marathon achievement in Rio, he crossed another line by extending his arms and crossing them in the shape of an X, with fists clenched. It was a clear sign to his country men and women in Ethiopia that Lilesa was outraged with his government, his arms raised in protest against his country’s leaders for the treatment of the country’s largest ethnic group which he belongs to – the Oromo. According to reports, hundreds of Oromo have been killed by Ethiopian troops, and thousands of others have been injured, arrested or disappeared, according to a report by Human Rights Watch.

While the Ethiopian government has said Lilesa would be welcome back with arms wide open, he does not believe that. And in his new home in the arid desert of Arizona in the United States, in his lonely jogs, he is constantly reminded that a government agent of Ethiopia might be lurking to do him harm.

“There is nothing I could do to stop it if someone wanted to do something to me out there,” he says through an interpreter in a May 1 Sports Illustrated article. “I am alone, just like I am alone in this country. All I can do is stay strong and keep going.”

The time I first wrote about Lilesa in December, 2016, he truly was all alone, as he left his family behind when he defected to the United States. And according to the Sports Illustrated article, a remarkable interview, his wife, Iftu, let him know what a painful decision he had made when he first talked with her on the phone.

When Iftu called, he could not pick up the phone. He didn’t know what to say. It took him two days to call her back. There was fear and anger in her voice. “Why didn’t you tell us what you were doing?” she demanded. “You gave us this good life, and now our lives aren’t as good. What plan did you have? You’ve risked everything. Why did you make this decision?” She knew her husband had been pained for years. She knew that he felt stifled, that he’d kept quiet for fear of reprisal. She knew he had visited imprisoned protesters and had given clothing and training shoes to needy Oromo. Deep inside, she knew the answers to her questions.

She knew what is in his heart. And according to this fascinating article, Lilesa was thinking that he could make a difference if he was able to get a medal in Rio. This act of defiance was not a spontaneous act of a tired athlete who had just run hard for over two hours. It was premeditated.

Preparing for Rio, Lilesa felt desperate to call attention to a crisis largely ignored by the international community. He needed a medal. Only gold, silver and bronze finishers would get significant media coverage. He had won big races in Europe, the United States and Asia, including the Tokyo Marathon at the start of 2016. But he wasn’t a heavy favorite in Rio. His time in Tokyo had been 2:06:56, only the 31st-fastest marathon of the year. Rio would be the race of his life — a race for his people. He kept his plan a secret, even from his wife and children. If he’d told them, he would have been swallowed by emotion. If he had felt Iftu’s sorrow, he might have lost his nerve.

Feyisa Lilesa reunites with family
Feyisa Lelisa reunited with his familyafter six months of self exile

But he did not lose his nerve. And when given other opportunities – the Honolulu Marathon in December, 2016, or the London Marathon in April, 2017, Lilesa will cross his arms to show he is still thinking of his family members and friends who have suffered and perished. But now, he no longer is running this political marathon alone. On Valentine’s Day of 2016, Lilesa was re-united with his wife and children.

On Feb. 14 — six months after Feyisa said goodbye to them in Africa — his children leap into his arms in the Miami International Airport. Soko, a girl sharp and willful, seems beyond her years. Sora stands close. Near the baggage claim in the bright airport, they laugh and tease, and Feyisa picks them up and cuddles them. Moments later, he holds Iftu in a tight embrace. Tears stream from her brown eyes. With both hands, he wipes them away. Tears well in his own eyes, but he does his best to stand straight and keep them from falling.

Lelisa feels that tears will demonstrate weakness, for he does not want the government to believe that he is succumbing to the pressure.

Lelisa is not weak. He is stronger. But he is not happy.

“It is much better now, with my wife and children,” Lilesa says. “But if you put this on a scale of 1 to 100, I am only at 15 percent happiness. I am in exile, not for myself first and foremost but for my people. And my people are suffering. Going through hell. The situation has gotten worse. I have told you that right now I do not want to cry. The day I will cry is when my people win justice and freedom. That day, I cry nonstop, out of joy.”

Queen Wilhemina
Queen Wilhemina

In a sprint, seconds count. And in sprints in the pool, swallowing water can cost seconds. “I had always dreaded swallowing a mouthful of water,” said legendary swimmer, Johnny Weissmuller, quoted in David Fury’s biography, Twice the Hero.

There he was, in his best event at the 1928 Amsterdam Olympics, perhaps singing his swan song as an amateur athlete. At the turn of the mid-way point in the 100-meter race, Wesismuller did what he feared – he gulped a mouthful of water. “I felt like blacking out. I swallowed the stuff and lost two valuable yards. Lucky for me, we still had some forty meters to go – with only ten or so, I’d never have made it.”

But make it he did, winning the gold medal in the 100 meters in Olympic record time. He added another gold in the 4×200 meter relay. The only reason he didn’t win three golds, as he did in 1924, was because his coach asked him to join the water polo team instead of the 400-meter race, a competition he would likely have won.

Still, Weissmuller won five gold medals over two Olympics, and was again, one of the great stars of the 1928 Amsterdam Olympics. Queen Wilhelmenia of Holland was there to award Weissmuller his gold medals, as well as a special award for his overall athletic excellence.

Weissmuller went on to live a full life as one of the world’s most renowned figures. (Even rebel soldiers in Havana, Cuba recognized him.) He starred as Tarzan in 12 films, made a fortune in Billy Rose’s Aquacade, and married five times. His second wife of two years, the short and sultry Lupe Vélez played quite the contrast to the tall and easygoing Weissmuller.

In the book, Tarzan, My Father, the author, Johnny Jr told of an epic fight between the couple. They were staying in a suite at the Claridge Hotel in London. Vélez had gone to bed and Weissmuller retired to a quiet book. But according to Weissmuller, his wife awoke suddenly, grabbed a shoe and began hitting her husband repeatedly over the head with hit.

I leaped out of bed and tried to grab her and calm her down. She ran out of the room, into the hallway, screaming at the top of her lungs, “Socorro! Help mee! Murrder!” U was wearing only my pajama top and was naked as a jaybird from the waist down, but I ran down the hall hoping to catcher her and try to stop this uproar. Suddenly, to my right, a door opened, and a matronly lady in nightcap and gown stared at me in wonder. I nodded, mumbled an apology of some sort, and continued the chase. On the second turn around the corridor, the matronly lady shouted at me, “Faster Johnny! You’ll catch her the next time around, I’m sure!”

Johnny Weissmuller and Lupe Vélez _Twice a Hero
Johnny Weissmuller and Lupe Vélez, from the book, Twice a Hero

He did indeed catch her, reeled her back to the room, and went to sleep. Unfortunately, the next morning, they found an eviction notice slipped under their door. By that time, the couple had made up, laughed off the incident and the eviction, packed their bags and were about to leave their room to check out when they got a knock on their door. It was the manager, who explained somewhat sheepishly that there was a reverse in their decision and that they were welcome to stay in the hotel as long as they wished. What did the manager say?

It seems, sir, that last night you passed the door of Queen Wilhemina of the Netherlands, and she spoke with you. She informs me that she once presented you with two gold medals following the Olympic games, as well as one of her own. It appears that she has a great fondness for you, and she quite firmly stated that if you leave, she is leaving also. I do apologize again, sir, and I hope that you will do us the honor of remaining.

Weissmuller lived a charmed life, and apparenly always got the royal treatment.