573 days to Opening Day of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. On July 24, 2020, all the questions, all the angst, all the planning will end, and all that will matter are the athletes. For now, we can only speculate about what will be, and recall what has been.
I’ve researched the 1964 Tokyo Olympics for four years. I published an original blog post everyday for over a thousand days straight in the course of my research. And I finally completed the manuscript of my book, “1964: The Greatest Year in the History of Japan – How the Tokyo Olympics Symbolized Japan’s Miraculous Rise From the Ashes.” Here are a few of the articles I wrote in 2018 relevant to those Games in 1964:
Bear crawl under barbed wire. Scramble over a 2-meter wall. Climb a rope 5 meters, hand over hand. Flip a 100 kg tire. Get a strong grip and hoist a pack weighing 50 kilograms up about 10 meters. Lug a heavy bucket for what seems forever to many. Jump into mud, run through fire, exert your body and your will to its fullest…for what?
According to Emily Downey, Managing Director of Global Partnerships for Spartan Japan, it’s about the camaraderie, the sustainable boost to confidence, and ultimately a lifestyle that contributes to better health, and a greater chance of living a longer, more satisfying life. Spartan Race makes that happen.
Spartan Race is the world’s largest obstacle race and endurance brand in the world, with over 1.2 million enthusiasts competing in over 200 races in over 40 countries. It is the fastest growing obstacle race, if not one of the fastest growing sports in the world. And Spartan races in Japan have been a turbo engine to the company’s global success.
Founded in 2010 in the US by Joe De Sena, a born entrepreneur and former Wall Street trader, Spartan Race established itself in Japan in 2016, thanks to circumstances that brought De Sena and Downey together in Tokyo. Thirty minutes into an initial meet-and-greet, the two immediately started making plans for Spartan’s first race in Japan.
Two years later, Spartan Race Japan is hugely successful and garners the highest ATV (average ticket value) in the world for Spartan. Additionally, thanks to Downey’s initiative, Spartan secured Spartan’s largest global partnership to date – The giant Japanese brand Rakuten, which runs the largest e-commerce platform by sales in Japan. This global partnership provides Spartan Race, in addition to financial support, the ability to more powerfully leverage Rakuten’s digital and marketing services. The partnership also provides Rakuten with access to the massive markets of middle America, as the Rakuten logo will be seen on over a million race ‘Finisher’ shirts, as well as in Facebook livestreams of races.
Rakuten values the highly-educated, high income and diverse demographics of Spartan Race participants, making Spartan Race Rakuten’s third significant sports global partnership, after the vaunted global brands of La Liga’s FC Barcelona and the NBA’s Golden State Warriors.
At the heart of Spartan Race’s business model is the ability for organizers to engage participants in life-changing ways. Overcoming our fear of trying new things, of attempting activities that are perceived to result in failure, or even pain, is a significant part of Spartan Race’s value proposition. Through a series of challenging but achievable activities laid out across a race course in a natural open vista or a closed Stadium grounds, the organizers and its countless evangelists exhort and cajole their fellow Spartans to push themselves to climb that wall, to keep carrying that weight, to keep their eyes on the goal.
Initially Downey wondered if Spartan Race could be replicated in Japan. “I was told the Japanese, particularly Japanese women, hate mud, that the Japanese just won’t do mud! The bucket carry – that’s really hard. Japanese won’t do it. I was told I was crazy to do Spartan in Japan. But the reality is, the Japanese love it. They learn like everyone else that after you achieve all that, you’re just not the same person, you have changed.”
Spartan Race is about finding levels of confidence one never though were possible. Children from the age of 5 compete. Men and women in their 70’s and 80’s compete. The disabled compete.
Marla Sweeney is 73 years old and has a litany of health issues, as well as artificial vertebrae implanted after being run over by a drunk driver in 2006. And yet Sweeney, inspired by her son who competed in Spartan, decided to try it, and trotted to complete a three-mile Spartan race in 2015. Since that time, she has been unstoppable, completing another 15 spartan races. And as a result, arthritic pains have washed away, as did bouts of depression.
Kacey McCallister lost his legs at the age of six after being hit by an 18-wheel truck. Surviving was one thing. Living was another. As he relates in this video, if his mother treated him like an invalid, he would become an invalid. McCallister liked sports, but couldn’t find the right avenue…until he discovered Spartan. People thought he was crazy to even consider an obstacle race like Spartan, but he went right at it, competing for the first time in a 9-mile race, on his hands.
“When people doubt me, when people tell me I can’t do something, that fires me up. That gets me going. In fact, in this recent Spartan run, my wife said this was going to kill me. That makes me want to do it even more.”
McCallister completed the race and many more after. And he discovered the essence of his achievement, a lesson that applies not just to he disabled, but to all people.
Disability is in your mind. People out there with a totally functioning body have this mental block. That’s all it is for anybody. It’s a mental block that says I can’t do something because….. Sure there’s a lot of people out there in wheel chairs who think, “Oh, I can’t do it, so I’m going to stay home and play Halo for eight hours a day. They can. You have to figure out a way.
Downey explained that the ripped athletes who look like they can conquer a Spartan race in their sleep, her so-called 1% of the population, are not the ones who ‘win’ the race. She said it’s the 99% who do – the housewife, the grandfather, the office worker, the casual sportsman. She has come to understand that winning the race is not the goal for so many, that in fact, the goal is realizing the potential within, a potential that many didn’t realize even lingered inside.
In fact, Downey challenges everyone to get off the couch, and tells them they’re not “special,” that they too can do so much more. “People participate in Spartan, gain confidence, and learn they can improve their lives.” More importantly, Downey notes, the results of achieving in a Spartan Race have longer-term implications, beyond the medals. “People say that money, family, children – these are the most important things. But really, health is. Without health you won’t have any of the other important things. Spartans treat their bodies well. They don’t dump a lot of bad stuff in it.”
It was November 1982, and I was a sophomore at the University of Pennsylvania, in the nosebleed seats of Franklin Field with friends, watching our Quakers fritter away a 20-0 lead against Harvard, which took the lead 21-20 late in the game.
With less than 2 minutes to play, the Quakers somehow make a miraculous comeback – missing a field goal but still getting the roughing the kicker call, and making a winning field goal with zero seconds on the clock.
It was a euphoric moment for students at Penn on that cool Autumn afternoon. With that victory, Penn won it’s first Ivy League championship in 26 years. Did we expect Penn to go on to win four more Ivy titles in a row? Did anyone outside of Penn care? In college-football-mad-America, probably not. But we the students were pleased as punch – we could shout “Kill ’em Quakers!” with glee and pride while enjoying the irony.
Malcolm Gladwell’s Call for a Boycott
And then, 36 years later, I’m listening to one of my favorite podcasts, Malcolm Gladwell’s Revisionist History, and feel this tightening of the stomach as my writer hero rips into my alma mater, reliving a speech he gave to Penn students in 2013 that football was dangerous, citing the death of Penn student and varsity football player, Owen Thomas. Gladwell called for Penn students to boycott football, that we were too smart to be so ignorant of the inherent risk of the game.
Well, it’s your classmates who are dying, right? It’s your classmates who are putting their lives at risk by playing this game. I think all of you has to think about, has to consider boycotting football games at Penn and I think you have to convince your friends to boycott football games at Penn and I think you have to picket outside football games at Penn. And I think you have to go to the administrators of this university and you have to ask them why is a world-class institution, one of the finest universities of higher learning in this planet, exposing its own students to the risk of injury and death? And if they ask for proof, tell them you don’t need proof. Sometimes proof is just another word for letting people suffer. Thank you.
The reaction at Penn was mixed and muted. A Wharton senior who was also on the Penn football team, John Onwualu, said that “the way [Gladwell] expressed his opinions was inappropriate and disrespectful for a speech like that.”
Dartmouth Leads the Way
Gladwell’s intent was to be provocative. Perhaps he was aware of the movement taking place in another part of the Ivy League when he broadcasted this podcast earlier this year. According to a New York Times article called “The Ivy League Becomes the Future of Football,” the coach of the Big Green of Dartmouth began instituting changes to the way the team practices that impacted not only the number of injuries sustained during the season, but also the team’s performance. More significantly, Dartmouth’s practices have influenced how football players all over the country, at the college and professional level train. Here’s a close look at two that are revolutionizing football:
No Tackle Practice:When the head is hit or shaken countless times, the brain is physically impacted and over time, this repeated head trauma can lead to degenerative brain disorders, life-threatening disorders, like CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy). In 2010, the head coach of Dartmouth College’s football team, Buddy Teevens, decreed something very unique – the elimination of tackling in practice year round. As the Times’ article states, Teevens likes to say that a Dartmouth player will never get tackled by another Dartmouth player in his career there.
Remote-controlled Tackling Dummies: Looking for a way for his players to safely practice their tackling, Teevens helped develop a technological solution – remote-controlled dummies. Dubbed “mobile virtual players,” these MVPs are fast, able to change directions quickly, and can self-right themselves after getting tackled. In this manner, Teevens can arrange practices that allow his players to focus on tackling technique without the risk of injury to another player.
“The only times my guy tackle are ten times in games,” said Teevens in the video below. “It will allow them to be more proficient and successful. And concussive injury reduction is going to be huge for us.”
The Impact:Immediately after the implementation of the No Tackle policy, Dartmouth’s Big Green had mixed results, but trended positively. In 2011, 2013, and 2104, they always won their final three games of the season, displaying a late-season resiliency, before winning a share of the Ivy title in 2015.
Perhaps influenced by the fewer injuries and freshness of Dartmouth players, Ivy League coaches voted unanimously in March, 2016 to change a rule that results in the elimination of tackling in practices during the season throughout the conference.
At the same time, the Ivy League also voted to reduce injuries during kick-off returns, where 21% of all concussions were experienced, despite the fact that the kick-off return accounted for only 6% of all plays. The kick off allows players to get to full acceleration before hitting each other – imagine two accelerating cars smashing headfirst into each other. A rule change moved the kick-off to the forty yard line from the thirty-five, resulting in far more kicks unreturned. Two years of data showed a significant decrease in concussions during kick offs.
The NFL is making changes, probably due to a fear of liability and diminished popularity over time. As the San Francisco Chronicle points out, participation in high school in the United States has been dropping since 2008, falling even more rapidly in California, probably because high school football players are significantly more likely to experience a concussion than baseball or basketball players in high school.
It may not seem like an existential crisis for football in America. But safety is growing in importance, as Teevens is quoted in the Times:
Beyond wanting to win, Teevens is motivated by a fear that an irreplaceable sport could die. “I think it’s too valuable a game to say, ‘Oh, we’ll do something else,’” he said. “But I also look at the data and the medical side of it. Something has to be done.”
It’s February, 1964 and Fred Hansen is fiddling with his grip.
The then-world record holder for the pole vault, fellow American named John Pennel commonly held the 17-foot pole nearly 15 feet up from where the tip hits the vault box. Hansen’s coach, Augie Erfurth, is trying to coax Hansen to place his grip higher than 14 feet. It’s scientific reasoning. “We’ve got him gripping at 14-2 and 3,” explained Erfurth to a reporter of the Fort Worth Star Telegram. “If the pole reacts, he’ll have more bend.”
Since George Davies won a pole vault competition using a fiberglass poll in May of 1961, it became clear to all that the space age technology of fiberglass was more flexible and stored more kinetic energy in the pole than the more traditional materials of bamboo, steel and aluminum.
If you watch gold medalist, Don Bragg, win gold at the 1960 Rome Olympics, you can see his aluminum pole bend, maybe, 45 degrees at best, as he lept to an Olympic record of 15′ 5″ (4.70 m). Pennel, Hansen and other pole vaulters vying for a spot on the Olympic team to compete at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics were routinely getting over 16 feet, trying to figure out how to get their poles to bend 90 degrees, and maximize the kinetic energy stored in the pole that propels them over the bar as the pole unbends.
The higher the athlete holds the pole, the greater the potential in bend. But as the Rice University graduate, Hansen explained in the article, “vaulting is just like a golf swing. There are so many things to remember.”
You have to be clear in the number of steps you take down the runway, when to hit maximum speed and where to plant your foot when you slip the pole vault into the vault box. You have to be conscious of the position of your arms as you launch to get maximum bend, and of your legs as you approach the bar, efficiently rotating your body vertically so that you are upside down as you climb. Then you have to time your hip extension just as your pole is unbending and releasing its stored energy, sending the athlete to his or her maximum height. Rotating the body horizontally at the right time so that you come down feet first without touching the bar is the final act of the complexity of the pole vault.
In other words, you have to be muscular and flexible in all the right places. Hansen’s training routine was becoming more sophisticated – in addition to isometrics, weightlifting and running, Hansen added a full program of gymnastics, thanks to advice from a fellow American competitor, Brian Sternberg of Seattle, Washington.
“I went to an all-comers meet in California,” Hansen told me. “Brian beat me. He had the most beautiful form I had ever seen – this guy’s got something, I have to find out more.” When Hansen approached the Washington native, Sternberg said he did a lot of gymnastics training, and Hansen thought he should start doing the same to keep up. “I devised a program that was gymnastic oriented. I trained on gymnastics apparatus – the seven phases. I would replicate vault movements on the various apparatus. I don’t know if anybody else was doing that.”
Anybody other than Sternberg, who was a trained gymnast who pole vaulted. Leveraging his gymnastics background and the power of the fiberglass pole, Sternberg twice set a world record in the pole vault in April and June of 1963. The twenty-year-old Sternberg was at the top of his game, very close to being the first person to clear 17 feet, with his coach speculating he could fly over 20 feet one day. Certainly, Sternberg was a shoo-in for the Olympic team headed for Tokyo, destined for golden glory.
Until tragedy struck.
Sternberg did a lot of training on the trampoline, and was training for a competition in the Soviet Union. It was July 2, 1963 and he was doing flips and turns on the trampoline, when he attempted a double-back somersault with a twist. It’s a difficult move, according to this article, that Sternberg had made thousands of times. This time, he landed in the middle of the trampoline, on his neck. The accident turned Sternberg, the best pole vaulter in the world, into a quadraplegic.
“This is a change,” Sternberg said ten months after his accident to AP. “Any change can be a good sign. The pain is mine: I must endure it.” And beyond the expectations of medical science at the time, Sternberg endured it, in pain, for 50 years, passing away on May 23, 2013.
“Brian helped me out with several things I was doing wrong when he was the world’s best,” Hansen said in a Seattle Times article about Hansen’s Olympic triumph in Tokyo. “The only thing that could make me happier at this moment would be if he were here too.”
Since March of 2018, the American federation overseeing gymnastics, USA Gymnastics, has lost three leaders to resignation. The first one, Steve Penny, knowingly covered up allegations of sexual abuse by USA Gymnastics coaches. He was recently arrested. Kerry Perry was hired to bring calm to the brewing storm, and yet left USA Gymnastics for hiring a supporter of serial abuser, Dr. Larry Nasser. A month later, Mary Bono resigned as head of USA Gymnastics. One would think that after Penny and Perry, USA Gymnastics would be highly sensitive to the issues, and the reasons for the demise of the former heads, but they went and hired Bono, who lasted only four days.
USA Gymnastics. Tone Deaf.
USA Gymnastics Head, Steve Penny, Arrested for Evidence Tampering on October 17, 2018
Former CEO and president of USA Gymnastics, Steve Penny, was arrested for tampering of evidence in relation to the countless number of sexual abuse cases between coaches and gymnasts, apparently arranging for documents to be removed from the USA Gymnastics training venue at Karolyi Ranch in Walker County, Texas, and delivered to Penny. Authorities say the documents are still missing, and Penny had already been indicted for tampering on September 28.
It was also reported that Penny was aggressively attempting to build influence with the FBI office in Indianapolis, where USA Gymnastics is headquartered, by asking for advice from the FBI about how to position the scandal to the public, writing in an email to the FBI, “We need some cover.” The New York Times reported that Penny had talked to the head of the FBI field office in Indianapolis about a possible job as head of security of the USOC. While Penny had no authority in the hiring of that position, and that there may have been no direct conflict of interest, one could assume that the reason for Penny’s influencing activities was to curry favor with the FBI.
USA Gymnastics Interim Head, Mary Bono, Resigns On October 16, 2018
Interim president and CEO of USA Gymnastics, Mary Bono, resigned after serving only four days. The selection of Bono, a trained gymnast who also served as a US congresswomen for 15 years after she filled the vacancy of her late husband, Sonny Bono, was criticized very quickly by top American gymnasts. Four-time Olympic gold medalist, Simone Biles noted in a tweet only one day after Bono’s hiring that Bono was one of the vocal protestors of the Nike ad featuring football quarterback and political activist, Colin Kaepernick. In fact, Bono, showed a picture of her covering up the Nike logo on her shoes. Biles tweeted in response:
*mouth drop* don’t worry, it’s not like we needed a smarter usa gymnastics president or any sponsors or anything
Biles’ teammate on the gold-medal winning US team from the Rio Olympics, Aly Raisman, was more direct in her criticism, attacking Bono’s connection to the law firm that advised USA Gymnastics regarding the sexual abuse allegations of the national team doctor, Larry Nassar. Nassar is now currently serving a prison term of 40 to 175 years. Raisman claimed in her tweet that the law firm Bono worked for, Faegre Baker Daniels, knew about the sexual abuse by Nassar for 13 months and did nothing.
My teammates & I reported Nassar’s abuse to USAG in 2015. We now know USOC & lawyers at Faegre Baker Daniels (Mary Bono’s firm) were also told then, yet Nassar continued to abuse children for 13 months!? Why hire someone associated with the firm that helped cover up our abuse?
USA Gymnastics Head, Kerry Perry, Resigns September 4, 2018
After Penny resigned on March 16, 2018, USA Gymnastics hoped to turn a page on the leadership affiliated with the sex abuse scandals by hiring their first female leader in 20 years, Kerry Perry. Perry was an executive at a sports marketing company, Learfield Communications. Unfortunately, in the nine months as leader of USA Gymnastics she assumed leadership, Perry was criticized for not spending enough time at hearings of sexual abuse victims during the Larry Nassar trial, as well as her ability to make changes to the USA Gymnastics organization. One of the few changes she made was met with immediate protest – the hiring of gymnastics coach, Mary Lee Tracy, a person initially defended Nassar publicly. Tracy, who called Nassar “amazing,” was fired only a few days after being hired.
Senator Richard Blumenthal, who was the ranking member of the Senate subcommittee overseeing the USOC, said this about Perry’s tenure.
Throughout her disastrous nine-month tenure as president of U.S.A. Gymnastics, Perry demonstrated nothing but a willful and heartless blindness to the concerns of survivors who were abused by Larry Nassar. As president, Perry perpetuated U.S.A.G.’s complicity with Nassar’s horrific actions with her stunning and utterly shameful appearance before Congress in July and utterly misguided hiring of Mary Lee Tracy as the organization’s new elite development coordinator.
USA Gymnastics Head, Steve Penny, Resigns March 16, 2018
Only three months after the end of the 2016 Rio Olympics, and the impressive victory of the Final Five, the USA women’ gymnastics team that won gold, the gymnastics world was rocked by allegations of sexual abuse, and that USA Gymnastics had covered up the abuse over decades. The Indianapolis Star revealed over 50 accounts of sexual abuse of children under the care of USA Gymnastics coaches, allegations that eventually led to the resignation of Penny.
To understand the culture of sexual abuse and cover up within USA Gymnastics, here are a series of articles I wrote over the past two years.
The Tsukiji era is over. The Toyosu era has begun today, October 11.
After decades in the planning, the government has finally moved the fishmongers of Tsukiji to a former gas storage facility in Toyosu, about a few kilometers southeast of the famed fish market.
One of the most popular tourist attractions in Japan, tens of thousands visited Tsukji daily to enjoy the fresh seafood, and if they arrived before 5 am, as hundreds did every weekday, to watch the auction of frozen tuna laid out like lumber on the slick fishmonger floor.
Tsukiji was also a significantly large market, as over 1,540 tons of seafood valued at USD14 million or JPY1.6 billion traded hands every day. Around 650 businesses operated in Tsukiji, including 100 vegetable traders that sold 985 tons of fruits and vegetables daily, creating a vibrant community with over 14,000 workers and 28,000 buyers doing in the crammed confines of the Tsukiji market.
This coziness of Tsukiji, while part of the charm, was also part of the problem. Working within facilities originally constructed prior to World War II, Tsukiji businesses were not air conditioned, and kept their fish and vegetables fresh with crushed ice. Since storage space was limited, fish could be found stored outside, even in the summer months. The hustle bustle of Tsukji was made greater with the countless number of trucks that transported goods in and out of Tsukiji on its narrow roads.
The cramped quarters were an issue, and the move to Toyosu nearly doubles the available space for the market from 23.1 hectares in Tsukiji to 40.7 hectares in Toyosu. There were other reasons to move – the steel beams that kept the buildings up were rusting, the building standards were not up to date in terms of eartquake resistance, asbestos was said to be in the walls, and rats filled the nooks and crannies.
And then there is the coming 2020 Tokyo Olympics, providing an extra incentive to accelerate the move. Plans for 2020 included:
a transportation hub of 3,000 vehicles, called Bus Rapid Transport (BRT), that would be used to move athletes, officials, and volunteers around to the various Olympic venues,
an extension of a major road artery, called Loop Line 2, from downtown Toranomon to Toyosu, that would allow vehicles to move unimpeded via a tunnel dug underneath Tsukiji, and
The Olympic Village, to be built between the Tsukiji market and Toyosu market.
When Yuriko Koike came to power as governor of Tokyo in the summer of 2016, she put a halt to the planned November 7, 2016 move of the fish market to Toyosu when high levels of a poisonous chemical, benzene, were detected in the soil and in the air of the former gas storage facility.
Two years later, after measures to diminish the impact of the contaminents in the soil were taken, Governor Koike officially gave the go ahead to open Toyosu on October 11.
That decision has brought closure to many of the Tuskiji businesses that eventually moved to Toyosu. But the delay has left considerable uncertainty for others, according to the Nikkei Asian Review.
One party is the Tokyo Olympic Organizing committee, which gives the committee much less time to convert the Tsukiji fish market into a transportation hub. Dealing with the tens of thousands of people on the move for two weeks during the Games, in addiiton to the already congested roads and trains of Tokyo, will be a tremendous challenge, and the readiness and effectiveness of the BRT will be critical to the success of the 2020 Olympics.
Another concerned party is a group, including Mitsui Fudosan Residential, Mitsubishi Jisho Residence, Sumitomo Realty & Development and Nomura Real Estate Development, which are creating different parts of the Olympic Village. The rooms for athletes will be converted and sold as condos after the Olympics, according to Nikkei Asian Review. They write that the 24 blocks of 5,600 condominums will help drive the population of the Harumi bayside area from 12,000 today to about 29,000 in ten years.
Unfortunately, the development of the tunnel part of the Loop Line 2, planned to transport people and vehicles underneath Tsukiji, was postponed after the move of the fish market to Toyosu was postponed.
As the area of the Olympic Village is not close to any train station (the closest station being a 25-minute walk to Kachidoki Station on the Oedo Line), the developers of the condos were depending on the development of high-speed connections from the Olympic Village Harumi waterfront area to Shimbashi train station in about 10 minutes, but that possibility appears to be in jeopardy with uncertainty over the development of the tunnel.
Uncertainty doesn’t sell.
Developers are hoping to start selling the condo units before the games, aiming to sell more than 4,000 of 5,600 units. But the uncertainty over whether the BRT will be fully operational by the autumn of 2022, when new owners are scheduled to take possession, is causing worries about how this will work out.
Toyosu has opened, and the era of early morning jaunts to the fish market, standing meters from the valuable frozen tuna being hawked in auction is over. As this site explains, you will find a more antiseptic version of the Tsukiji experience.
Expect the experience at Toyosu to be different from the lively, messy but also charming and authentic Tsukiji. It seems like a very organized and sterile atmosphere—and only certain clearly-marked areas will be accessible to visitors. The times of tourists touching the price tags of tuna are over—your experience is all behind glass windows now.