Kristallnacht
The Day after Kristallnacht

Dr. Ludwig Guttmann is the undisputed father of the Paralympic Games.

But in the fascinating fantasy world of “What If” speculation, the Paralaympic Movement may have had a different, perhaps more delayed progression through time had Guttmann met a different fate in the increasingly scary build up to World War II in Germany.

In 1938, Guttmann was the medical director of a Jewish Hospital in Breslau, which at the time was part of Germany. On November 9, German paramilitary and citizens walked unimpeded through cities across Germany smashing the glass windows of Jewish-owned stores, buildings and synagogues. Called Kristallnacht, this pogrom led to the death of dozens of Jews, and the arrest of tens of thousands of Jewish men.

On that Night of Broken Glass, 64 Jewish men were admitted into Guttman’s hospital. While many were injured, some were not and were simply looking for refuge from the violent rampage. According to this interview of Guttmann’s daughter, Eva Loeffler, Guttmann admitted all to the hospital regardless of whether they were injured or not, at great personal risk.

My father said they must all be allowed in, whether they were ill or not and they were all admitted to beds on the wards. The next day the Gestapo came round to see my father, wanting to know why such a large number of admissions had happened overnight. My father was adamant that all the men were sick and said many of them were suffering from stress. He took the Gestapo from bed to bed, justifying each man’s medical condition. Apparently he also pulled faces and grimaced at the patients from behind the Gestapo’s back, signaling to them to pull the same expressions and then saying, “Look at this man; he’s having a fit.”

Poppa Guttman Celebration, Stoke Mandeville.
Eva Loeffler the daughter of Paralympic Games founder Sir Ludwig Guttmann appointed as the Mayor of the Paralympic Village by London 2012

Of the 64, only four were carted away by the Gestapo, the remaining 60 allowed to escape incarceration or death for another day.

Guttmann was Jewish, and thus could easily have been arrested, which would likely have led to death in a concentration camp. But he not only saved the lives of dozens, he saved himself. Despite the fact that he was Jewish, Guttmann was one of the foremost authorities in neuro medicine, and was thus still highly valued by the German government. In fact, in order to exercise influence with a potential ally in the Portuguese, the Nazi regime dispatched Guttmann to Portugal so that he could treat a close friend of the Portuguese prime minister, António de Oliveira Salazar. The German authorities then re-issued Guttmann’s passport (as all Jews had their passports confiscated), and then send him to Portugal.

After finishing his work in Portugal, Guttmann made a significant trip to London, where he met members of the Society for the Protection of Science and Learning. This particular group at the time was devoted to obtaining visas for Jewish academics in Germany to come to England. In fact, according to Guttman’s daughter, Loeffler, the society had already sent a visa to the relevant Berlin authorities informing them that Guttmann has already been offered a research post at the Radcliffe Infirmary in Oxford. When Guttmann returned to Germany, he was presented with an opportunity that could secure his family’s long-term safety, or accelerate his family’s demise.

It was 1939 and I was six years old. I remember I was abnormally frightened at the time; I used to cry a lot. Even as a small child I picked up the fear and sadness felt by my parents. Although Jews were allowed to take out some furniture, clothes and linen they were not allowed to take any money, gold silver or jewelry. But the official who was supervising us came round the day before and told my mother ‘I shall be an hour late tomorrow’. It was obviously a hint that we might pack what we wanted; but my mother was too frightened to take anything forbidden as she thought it could be a trap.

Dr Ludwig Guttmann 2nd from left
Dr. Ludwig Guttmann (2nd from left) with Prof Otfrid Foerster and hospital staff at the Wenzel-Hancke Hospital, Breslau, Germany, 1920s Wellcome Library, London

Fortunately, it was not a trap.

Five years later, Guttmann was asked to run the National Spinal Injuries Center at Stoke Mandeville Hospital in Buckinghamshire, England, which led to his revolutionary work on treatment of the disabled, and the eventual birth of the Paralympic Movement.

But what if Guttmans’s pleas and gesticulations before the Gestapo in the aftermath of the Night of Broken Glass had ended in his incarceration?

What if those 60 Jewish men were not allowed to live another day, to have a chance to survive the war and have families, grandchildren, and great grandchildren?

What if Guttmann was not alive to emigrate to England, and join Stoke Mandeville Hospital?

Would there be a Paralympic Games as we know it today?

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Ludwig Guttmann in office
Dr. Ludwig Guttmann

In 1917, at the age of 18, Ludwig Guttmann volunteered at a hospital and watched a young coal miner, who suffered a serious spinal injury and paralysis, wither away over a five-week period in isolation. Doctors could do nothing for him except encase him in plaster and watch him die. Six years later, Guttmann graduated from the University of Breslau in Poland in medicine, after which he took a position in Neurology and Neurosurgery, only because he could not find a placement in pediatrics, his first choice.

That decision was to have impact ripples that resonate powerfully today.

As the head of the National Spinal Injuries Center at Stoke Mandeville Hospital in Buckinghamshire, England, Dr Guttmann pursued a line of treatment novel at the time – rehabilitation of injured war veterans via sporting activities to build up not only their physical capacity, but also their mental strength. Likely recalling the demise of the young coal miner when he was 18, Guttmann believed that patients with such disabilities required a new form of treatment, a forward-thinking treatment, that would eventually prepare them for re-entry into society. As explained in this article:

Guttmann fundamentally disagreed with the commonly held medical view on a paraplegic patient’s future and felt it essential to restore hope and self-belief in his  patients as well as practical re-training so when they were well enough to leave they could once more contribute to society. He achieved this firstly by changing the way they were treated – he had them moved regularly to avoid the build up of pressure sores and the possibility of urinary tract infections developing – and secondly by engaging them in physical and skill-based activities. Sports like Archery improved their mental wellbeing while learning new skills, such as woodwork, clock and watch repair and typing, would ensure they would be employable. If staff, or patients, on Ward X thought they were going to have an easy time, they were in for a shock.

Guttmann was less innovator and more revolutionary, a man who’s powerful belief in the ability of disabled patients to recover from tremendous physical disabilities to re-enter society led to an incredible transformation at the spinal injuries center. According to this article, Stoke Mandeville had 24 beds and 1 patient when Guttmann arrived, but within 6 months the center housed close to 50 patients, all receiving his obsessive care. Said one Dr. John Silver,

Essentially if they went anywhere else for care, the spinal injuries patients died. He exerted a total, obsessive control over all aspects of care at the hospital, whether it was him coming round in the middle of the night to make sure that the nurses had turned patients, or checking on the quality of the cleaners’ work or that of the food served on the wards. Everything was his responsibility. This was such an enormous contrast with consultants in other hospitals.

Inspired by the 1948 Olympic Games which were held in London, Guttmann held an archery contest on July 28, 1948, the day of the opening ceremonies of the London Olympics. A total of 16 disabled wheelchair-bound men and women came together representing two institutions: The Star and Garter Home in Richmond Surrey and Stoke Mandeville. (According to the Star and Garter site, their team won, not only in 1948, but also 1949.)

Javelin throw with Ludwig Guttmann watching
Javelin throw with Ludwig Guttmann watching

The archery contest was well publicized, for it was in the spirit of the Olympics, whose ideals of participation resonated with the disabled who yearned to participate and be included. Guttmann is quoted here as saying, “Small as it was, it was a demonstration to the public that competitive sport is not the prerogative of the able-bodied.”

And thus was born the Paralympic Movement.

If ever I did one good thing in my medical career it was to introduce sport into the treatment and rehabilitation programme of spinal cord sufferers and other severely disabled.

Dr. Ludwig Guttmann, in Scruton, ‘Stoke Mandeville, Road to Paralympics’. The Peterhouse Press, 1998
031164 - Crown Prince and Empress meet teams Tokyo Games - 3b -
The Crown Prince and Princess greet athletes at the 1964 Tokyo Paralympics.

Today, Emperor Akihito is 83 years old, a revered father figure in Japan, looked upon kindly by old and young alike. The Emperor took the unusual step to ask the Japanese government for permission to abdicate in 2019 so he could hand over the countless royal duties to his son, the Crown Prince Naruhito.

In 1959, then Crown Prince Akihito married a wealthy commoner named Michiko, in a highly publicized and popular wedding ceremony, a television extravaganza in a time when Japan was just getting its footing back after years of post-war American occupation.

When the nascent Preparatory Committee began to seriously consider the hosting of a Stoke Mandeville Games in Tokyo after the Tokyo Olympics, the head of the committee, Yoshisuke Kasai, knew he needed powerful allies and influencers to build the awareness of disabled sports and a possible Tokyo Paralympics, as well as raise the organizational infrastructure and funds required to pull off an international sporting event successfully…in only two years.

As explained in this post, part of the plan to grow awareness was to send athletes from Japan for the first time to the annual Stoke Mandeville Games in London, in 1962. According to D. J. Frost and his article, Tokyo’s Other Games: The Origins and Impact of the 1964 Paralympics, Kasai appears to have leveraged the opportunity to celebrate Japan’s participation in the Stoke Mandeville Games to introduce the importance of sporting events for the disabled to the Imperial Family. He arranged for the Crown Prince Akihito to meet the returning athletes and members of the Preparatory Committee, which was heavily covered by the Press.

In addition to the Crown Prince’s expressed hopes for the Paralympics to come to Tokyo in 1964, the newspapers were filled with pictures of the Crown Prince, the Crown Princess, and the disabled athletes showing off their skills. Members of the government, including then Prime Minister Hayato Ikeda, pledged their support for the Tokyo Paralympics. As Frost wrote, thus began a long-lasting relationship between the Imperial Family and the Paralympic movement.

Although it remains unclear how the meetings with imperial family members came about, it seems likely that committee members, and perhaps Kasai specifically, mobilised their social connections to establish what proved to be a long-lasting and critically important link between the Paralympics and the imperial household. Associations with the Crown Prince, in particular, practically guaranteed the Games increased media attention. At a moment when the ruling conservative party in Japan, led by Prime Minister Ikeda, was looking to revive the influence and prestige of the imperial family, the potential power of the Crown Prince’s expressions of support should not be underestimated.

A cording to this paper called The “Legacy” of the 1964 Tokyo Paralympics, from the Journal of the Nippon Foundation Paralympic Research Group, Kazuo Ogoura explains that the involvement of the Imperial Family in the 1964 Tokyo Paralympics was significant, as “at least one of the members of the Imperial family went to see some events every day,” and that their commitment to disabled athletes was heartfelt:

Even after the Games ended, they extended full-scale cooperation and support to those involved. This experience helped them establish in-depth knowledge and interest in the Paralympics in general. It must be noted that the Imperial involvement came from their heart, rather than physical and systemic arrangement. A member of the Paralympics’ International Secretariat said, “When the Crown Prince and Princess unofficially invited the members of the Secretariat to the Imperial Palace, the Crown Princess Michiko told us that their young prince made a Teru Teru Bozu doll to pray for sunny weather during the Paralympics.”

The Japanese government was conscious now of the possibility of the Tokyo Paralympics, and the impact that such a successful international event right after a successful Tokyo Olympics would help boost Japan’s standing in the global community. They also understood that to succeed, the institution of the Imperial Family and the increasing star power of the Crown Prince and Princess were needed. That in turn would continue to enhance the Imperial Family as a fundamental pillar of Japanese society. As Frost wrote,

The Tokyo Paralympics, emerging from this same historical and cultural milieu, proved no less important as a tool for reviving national symbols and bolstering Japan’s international prestige. Indeed, viewed in this light, the Crown Prince’s oft-mentioned involvement with the Paralympics reflected more than a personal commitment on his part; it was a carefully cultivated and highly politicised link designed to benefit both the Games and the international reputation of Japan’s future monarch.

The Crown Prince and Princess, as you can see in the video below, were present during a good part of the 5-day Paralympics. Unlike Emperor Hirohito, whose appearance at the opening ceremonies of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics was most official and formal, the Crown Prince and Princess walked among the athletes, stopping to greet and talk with them. Their exit during the closing ceremonies of the Tokyo Paralympics was a stroll across the gymnasium flow, waving and smiling at the wheelchair athletes – a modern royal family for changing times.

Dr Yutaka Nakamura at the 1964 Tokyo Paralympics 2

It’s easy to lead people where they want to go.

It’s difficult to lead people where they don’t want to go, but ought to.

As I had written in this post, Dr. Yutaka Nakamura played a key role in making the 1964 Tokyo Paralympics a reality. But he did so in the face of considerable challenge.

A graduate of Kyushu University in 1951, Nakamura was a medical doctor in orthopedics, with a growing expertise in rehabilitation. At the age of 31, Nakamura headed orthopedics at the national hospital of Beppu. At the time, like many others, he did not consider sports as a way to rehabilitate people with disabilities.

But a Health and Welfare Ministry grant in 1960 to support a six-month trip to the United States and Europe to study rehabilitation facilities and practices overseas opened his eyes. Like the elite Japanese students sent to foreign countries in the Meiji Era of the late 19th century, returning to Japan as institution builders, Nakamura became aware of better ways to improve the conditions of the disabled in Japan.

This thinking crystalized in his time spent with Dr. Ludwig Guttmann, who ran the National Center for Spinal Cord Injuries at the Stoke Mandeville Hospital. During his time with Guttmann, according to D. J. Frost in his paper, Tokyo’s Other Games: The Origins and Impact of the 1964 Paralympics, “Nakamura repeatedly expressed amazement at Stoke Mandeville’s success: after six months of treatment, 85% of patients with spinal injuries experienced at least some level of rehabilitation, with many leaving the hospital and returning to society.”

Apparently, Guttmann viewed Nakamura skeptically, one of many Japanese visiting his facilities who came and went. According to Frost, Nakamura quoted Guttmann from his biography as saying, “So you’re Japanese? Several Japanese have come here already. All of them have said that they want to imitate what we are doing here, and then they go back to Japan. So far, not one of them has followed through and done it.” As Frost explained, Nakamura agreed with that assessment, but was also determined to apply these new ideas in Japan.

Yutaka Nakamura
Dr. Yutaka Nakamura

 

However, Nakamura faced resistance at home. Beppu is world-famous for its hot springs, and was a center for bath and massage treatments. When Nakamura explained to colleagues that he wanted to treat people by having them participate in sporting activities, he was, according to Frost, “openly ridiculed” by other doctors. At the heart of this resistance was a fear that Nakamura was trying to “simply undo all the rehabilitative work they had achieved, and putting the disabled on public display at a sporting event was the moral equivalent of showing off freaks at a circus.”

And yet, Nakamura persevered, connecting with local government officials, local disability organizations, instructors and other medical specialists to organize Japan’s first ever disabled person’s sports competition – The Oita Prefecture Sports Meet for the Disabled – which was held on October 22, 1961. Frost explained that very few noticed this pioneering event, but fortunately a few who did notice were the proponents of holding the Paralympics in Tokyo. Perhaps to his surprise, Nakamura was invited to join a newly formed Preparatory Committee in 1962. It was one of the most important decisions the committee would make.

To the committee members, Nakamura provided a practical case study that Japan could organize a sports competition for disabled people. To Nakamura, the committee needed to move faster. As a newly minted committee member, he recommended that they send a Japanese team to the Stoke Mandeville Games in London in July, 1962. Since that competition was only 2 months away, the committee members were reluctant to rush because Japan really had no athletes and there was little funding available. But committee leader, Yoshisuke Kasai, understood the impact media coverage could have if they sent Japan’s first-ever athletes to the Stoke Mandeville Games in London, so he approved the trip.

Nakamura identified two athletes from Oita, likely participants of Oita’s 1961 competition. Nakamura also had to personally apply for a loan to fund the trip. There was a donation by British Overseas Airway Corporation to pay for one round-trip airfare, but since a total of five people were heading to London, Nakamura sold his car so that he could fund the remaining travel expense for the entire team.

According to Frost, Kasai was grateful, considering Nakamura’s effort essential to securing consensus and final approval in 1963 for Japan to host the 1964 Tokyo Paralympics.

Recounting his experiences at the Stoke Mandeville Games in 1963 when Japan’s bid to host the Paralympics was formally approved, Kasai later commented, ‘If it hadn’t been for Nakamura, we would have had nothing but problems’. According to Kasai, Nakamura’s familiarity with the staff and facilities, his knowledge of the Games themselves, and especially his relationship with Guttmann proved invaluable. “Without Nakamura,” Kasai observed, “the Paralympics might not have happened.”

1964 Paralympics_US vs Japan basketball
1964 Paralympics_US vs Japan basketball. from the book 1964 Tokyo Olympiad, Kyodo News Agency

The 1964 Tokyo Paralympics, which ran from November 8 to 12, had an immediate impact on Japanese society.

Only a few weeks after the exhilarating Tokyo Olympiad, the Paralympics created an entirely new set of images and impressions on the Japanese psyche regarding notions of what disabled people can and can’t do, as well as the individual Japanese attitude towards disabled people.

Hundreds of foreign Paralympians were in Japan, serving as models in terms of performance and attitude, which was a jolt to Japanese society. Seeichiro Ide of the Ministry of Health and Welfare said, “Japan had the culture of shunning people with disabilities,” and that “making the disabled more visible in society” was a new goal for the new Japan.

A paper entitled The “Legacy” of the 1964 Tokyo Paralympics, from the Journal of the Nippon Foundation Paralympic Research Group, examined the areas of impact of the Paralympics on Japanese society. My labels for those impacts are: Confidence in Ability, Not Shame in Disability; An Emerging Independent Mindset; Paralympians as Athletes; Medical Shift from Curing the Disease to Rehabilitation; and Instant Advances in Equipment Technology.

Confidence in Ability, Not Shame in Disability

The Japanese athletes who were asked to participate in the 1964 Paralympics likely had very little time to prepare as the institutionalization of sports for disabled people had really only just begun in Japan in the early 1960s. But when placed in a situation that tested their skills on a n international platform, Japanese participants felt a rush of elation at being asked to stretch and compete. The paper, written by Kazuo Ogoura, quotes a Japanese fencer, Shigeo Aono, a Japanese discus thrower, Masayoshi Koike, on the Paralympics:

Some said we were out of our minds for trying to compete in fencing, a traditional western sport, after just eight months of practice. Yet, we rejected the naysayers, followed through with our intentions and managed to win the silver medal…, which gave us a powerful realization that we could do anything if we tried. That sense of confidence gave me strong insight and courage, which has been a guiding force of my life ever since. – Aono

I had so much fun, with my spirit lifted high into the sky. – Koike

An Emerging Independent Mindset

With confidence came the realization for Japanese athletes that they were not disabled, but enabled. They took heart in seeing the foreign athletes in Tokyo, and how they carried themselves, particularly in terms of being independent. The paper cites the example of the Paralympians from Argentina, who “upon arrival in Japan, refused to use a lift vehicle provided by Japanese officials, and used crutches or had their arm around the shoulder of assisting Self-Defense Force personnel to walk down the gangway stairs by themselves to the wheelchairs on the ground.” Ogoura concluded that

Most of the athletes from overseas had worked… and lived a life the same way as able-bodied persons did. This difference forced Japanese Paralympians to face the importance of developing an independent frame of mind.

This understanding extended to the need for disabled people in Japan to take care of their health, and strengthen their bodies.

Another demonstration of overseas athletes’ independent mindset was their day-today efforts to boost their physical strength and athletic abilities. Japanese athletes were reminded of the importance of maintaining and increasing physical strength in daily life, when they witnessed a large number of injuries sustained by their teammates during the Paralympics. Two Japanese athletes suffered Achilles’ tendon injuries and 14 others sustained a range of other injuries during their respective events.

More importantly, people saw in the example of visiting foreigners that it was normal in other countries for people with disabilities to be happy and full of life, quoting an administrator of the Paralympic village, Eiichi Machida:

We were stunned to see overseas athletes in wheelchairs, hanging onto the back of a slow-operating Athlete Village loop bus to hitch a ride. It was sheer astonishment to witness their energy, enjoying themselves at a dance party at the International Club, or catching a taxi at night and loading their wheelchairs as well to go to Shibuya’s entertainment precinct.

 

1964 Paralympics_youtube video of wheelchair holding onto bus
Wheelchair Paralympians hitching a ride at the back of a bus; a screenshot from a video about the 1964 Tokyo Paralympics; click on the image to watch.

 

Paralympians as Athletes

The common attitude was to treat anyone with disability with kid’s gloves, people who needed constant care and careful handling. But at the 1964 Tokyo Paralympics, spectators and television viewers saw that the participants were athletes, not victims. Ogoura highlights this example of a Japanese swimmer.

One female athlete from overseas had to be carried by her husband to get into the swimming pool. When the race started, she was left behind the rest straight away. By the time the first swimmer finished the race, she had only just swum about 5 meters. She would start sinking, but get back afloat. Rescue staff was swimming about 2 meters behind her just in case. When she began sinking after so many times, the rescue staff proceeded to help, but her husband on the poolside used a hand gesture to tell them to stop. Two more meters to go…, one more meter… The progress was slow. Applause broke out in the spectators’ stand. After more than three minutes, she finally completed the 25-meter feat.” Episodes like this prompted eminent persons and sporting officials to express the opinion that “Disabled sports must be fostered as regular athletic events.”

Medical Shift from Curing the Disease to Rehabilitation

Another significant effect of the 1964 Tokyo Paralympics was the shift in the medical world, where more doctors and institutions realized the need to focus more on rehabilitation, not just on cure or prevention of the disease, that to ignore the state of the disabled, who may have the potential of athletes seen at the 1964 Paralympics, is to ignore the opportunity to bring confidence and joy to a significant part of the population. Ogoura quotes a healthcare worker:

Modern medicine focused too much on diseases and ignored people who suffer from them. It was the case of hunters being too busy looking for deer to look at the mountain itself, as they say in Japanese. Take spinal cord injuries for example. If medicine had focused more on achieving patients’ recovery than merely treating the condition, I have no doubt that those with spinal cord injuries today would have enjoyed a higher level of physical recovery, even joining in on the funfair of the Paralympics.

1964 Paralympics_wheelchair fencing
Wheelchair fencing at the 1964 Tokyo Paralympics

Instant Advances in Equipment Technology

The exposure to foreign equipment used by the disabled was hugely impactful. When the hundreds of foreign Paralympians, coaches and administrators came to Japan for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, they brought things that Japanese people had never seen, and immediately set the standard for Japan. Ogoura cited wheelchairs:

The greatest technological impact the Paralympics had was on the development and proliferation of equipment and tools for the care of those with disabilities, which were still underdeveloped in Japan at the time. There was a clear performance gap between foreign-made and Japanese wheelchairs and urine collectors, etc.   Commenting on this matter, Yutaka Nakamura said, “The difference of wheelchairs was as clear as day. British sport-use wheelchairs weighed 13 kilograms, whereas Japanese wheelchairs were as heavy as 23 kilograms.   Overseas players had wheelchairs made to suit their physique, while Japanese sport wheelchairs were the case of one-size-fits-all.

The Japanese could see the difference in performance based on the foreign athletes’ use of the wheelchairs compared to themselves: “Overseas players are bigger but very skilled at handling wheelchairs. We looked more like the wheelchairs were handling us. Then again, the experience gave us confidence that practice would improve our skills.”

The 1964 Tokyo Paralympics caused a monumental mindshift in Japanese culture. Dr. Yutaka Nakamura, one of the key players in making the Tokyo Paralympics happen, wrote in 1964 something that is the essential message of inclusion today:

Our society in general tends to underestimate the capability of people with disabilities. An event like this is significant in that it is a wonderful opportunity to demonstrate their capability to the rest of the society.

1964 Paralympics_poster

The 1964 Tokyo Olympics ended on October 24, 1964 to universal praise. On November 12, 1964, the Thirteenth International Stoke Mandeville Games for the Paralysed, otherwise known as the 1964 Summer Paralympics, also ended in success, and arguably with greater impact.

The Tokyo Paralympics helped maintain momentum, as the number of nations grew from 17 to 21, events from 57 to 144, and participants from about 180 to 375. As D. J. Frost wrote in his excellent paper entitled, Tokyo’s Other Games: The Origins and Impact of the 1964 Paralympics, “they were widely hailed as a success and credited with giving ‘hope, courage, and self-confidence to Japan’s physically disabled’.” The 1964 Paralympics raised awareness significantly for people around the world, particularly in Japan, and added to the tremendous global goodwill developed via the organization of the Olympic Games a few weeks before.

Incredibly, in contrast to the five years of planning and organizing devoted to the Tokyo Olympics, the Tokyo Paralympics came together quite suddenly, with an official organization to plan and execute the games coming together only in 1964. While the Paralympics and Olympics are a joint deal for host cities today, that was not the case in the 1960s. When the first Paralympics were held after the Rome Olympics in 1960, Frost wrote that “a mere handful of people in Japan were aware of their existence.” In other words, the idea of organizing an international competition for disabled athletes prior to 1962 was essentially non-existent. Frost tells the incredible story of how very quickly, how a small group of people established new organizations, created public awareness, built consensus among local and national leaders, raise funds and then actually run the event.

Again, citing a good chunk of Frost’s research, here is the timeline of disabled sports in Japan, which demonstrates the sudden alacrity with which Japan made the 1964 Paralympics a reality.

September 1960 – A Lone Japanese Meets the Father of the Paralympics: At the 1960 Rome Olympics, there were over 160 athletes, and likely dozens if not hundreds other Japanese scouting out the Rome Games in search of information and ideas to prepare them for their own Games in 1964. But there were zero representatives from Japan at the 1960 Paralympics in Rome, which was held in mid-September. The closest there was to a Japanese representative was Hanako Watanabe, the wife of the head of the Rome bureau for the Kyodo News Agency. Watanabe did have an academic background in labor and welfare policy, but more importantly, she had access to the father of the Paralympic movement, Ludwig Guttmann. It is said the two met and talked about the possibility of holding a similar event in Japan after the Tokyo Olympics.

1964 Paralympics_dartchery
From the book, Tokyo Olympiad 1964_Kyodo News Agency

February 1961 – The First Major Document in Japanese on Disabled Sports: Matao Okino, the director of the Japanese branch of the World Veterans Federation (WVF), received materials about disability sports from the head office in Paris. Interested in bringing greater attention to the topic in Japan, Okino joined with Masatora Hieda, the head of the National Disability Rehabilitation Training Centre, to translate the materials and prepare a 157-page booklet, titled ‘Sports for the Disabled’.

April 13, 1961 – An Influential Workshop: Two emerging experts appeared at a workshop on disability rehabilitation training, where Okino gave a talk entitled “Elevating Sports for the Disabled in Japan,” while Watanabe shared her experiences in Rome during the Paralympics. According to Frost, Watanabe’s influence was not insignificant. Hieda acknowledged that Watanabe’s introductions to Guttmann, to labor and welfare experts, and to media via her husband, were key to building this ragtag network of disability sports community.

May, 1961 – The First Official Organization Devoted to Disabled Sports: Okino meets Guttmann at an international congress for the WVF in Paris. This leads to an agreement to form an official organization to promote disability sports in Japan. This group, the Association for the Promotion of Sports for the Disabled, was formed in August, and was made up of representatives of 24 groups related to disabled people. However, Okino and his colleagues were still not quite confident they could organize a Paralympics in Japan, and few concrete actions resulted.

October 22, 1961 – The First Disabled Sports Competition in Japan: All movements need a spark. Arguably, the spark happened away from the ivory towers of Tokyo, in the fields of Oita, Kyushu in Western Japan. Dr. Yutaka Nakamura, and a local government official, Atsushi Hirata, organized Japan’s first competition for disabled athletes. Their success, while not highly publicized, became the model for a practical application for the thinkers in Tokyo.

March, 1962 – The Lions Club and Asahi Shimbun Offer Their Weighty Support: Now that people in Japan could see what a Tokyo Paralympics might look like, supporters began to emerge. Susumu Iimuro, a leader of a large volunteer service organization called Lions Club International, joined hands with Muneyoshi Terada, an official of the Asahi Shimbun Social Welfare Organization to announce that they would be very supportive if Japan hosted the Stoke Mandeville Games, which was then the official name of the Paralympics. They announced “across-the-board support.” Terada then led the creation of a concrete plan to bring the Paralympics to Japan, the decision to establish a preparatory committee, and then consensus-building meetings with relevant officials in the Health and Welfare Ministry.

May 10, 1962 – A Committee is Finally Formed: The Preparatory Committee is formed, made up of 21 individuals, who go on to make one of the more important decisions they will make: selected Yoshisuke Kasai, the then chairman of the Association for the Promotion of Social Welfare, to lead this committee. Kasai is generally recognized as a powerful driving force in realizing the 1964 Paralympics.

May 30, 1962 – Lions Club Leads the Fundraising: The Preparatory Committee asks the Lions Club to help them raise funds, and resolves to send Japanese disabled athletes to the annual Stoke Mandeville Games in London.

1964 Paralympics_prepping for the Games
Preparatory work for the 1964 Tokyo Paralympics

July 1962 – The First Japanese Disabled Athletes in International Competition: Two men from Oita prefecture are sent to England to participate in the International Stoke Mandeville Games, the first Japanese to do so.

August, 1962 – The Crown Prince Supports: Of all the acts and decisions made towards building awareness about the disabled in society and the impact sports can have on the health of disabled athletes, one of the strategically important ones was involving the Crown Prince of Japan, Akihito, and his wife the Crown Princess, Michiko. The fairy story of a commoner meeting the Crown Prince on a tennis court, leading to a royal wedding covered feverishly by the media, was still strong in the hearts of the Japanese. So when the Crown Prince met with members of the preparatory committee, and stated afterwards that he hoped that the Paralympics would become a reality in Tokyo in 1964, media coverage and subsequently favorability by the public towards the Paralympics grew. Riding the wave of support, Prime Minister Hayato Ikeda pledged government assistance.

May 13, 1963 – It’s Official: The Health and Welfare Ministry approved the incorporation of a newly formed committee, the Organising Committee for the Paralympic Games in April, and a few weeks later, on May 13, Kasai sent a letter to Guttmann and his fellow committee members of the Stoke Mandeville Games of their intent to host the 1964 Stoke Mandeville Games in Tokyo, after the Tokyo Olympics.

At that stage, once the plan was in place, superior Japanese skills in execution took over, ensuring that the five-day event from November 8 to November 12, 1964 took place flawlessly.

Police investigate a pickup truck used in an attack on the West Side Highway in Manhattan
Police investigate a pickup truck used in an attack on the West Side Highway in Manhattan_Reuters

On Tuesday, October 31, 2017, Sayfullo Saipov rented a truck in Passaic, New Jersey, and less than an hour later around 3pm was barreling down the scenic Hudson River Bike Path, mowing down runners, pedestrians and bikers alike. Victims and fatalities were found at different points along this 10-block killing spree, finally ending when his truck crashed into a school bus parked outside Stuyvesant High School.

Saipov was gunned down and captured by police who happened to be in that area investigating another incident. By the time the day ended, 6 people were killed on the spot, with two more dying later in the day.

This was the worst terrorist attack on New York City since September 11, 2001.

I feel pained at the loss of life and the inability to make sense of the murderous actions of this terrorist in my home town of New York, the frustration heightened by the fact that Saipov was apprehended outside my high school alma mater. Stuyvesant was only four blocks from the World Trade Towers, and thus ended up serving as a triage center for those injured and dying after the 9/11 attacks. On Tuesday, it served yet again as a backdrop to incomprehensible hatred.

A few weeks ago, the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) published their 2017 Safe Cities Index. In the dimension of “Personal Security”, which reflects the level of urban crime, violence or the likelihood of terrorism, New York City ranked 25th out of 60 cities surveyed. After seeing citizens run down on a bike path on a sunny afternoon, one might wonder why that ranking isn’t worse.

terror lower west side Stuyvesant

But on the whole, when EIU looks at all factors of security relevant to big cities, including digital, health and infrastructure safety, New York City ranks fourth safest in the world for cities with populations of 15 million or more.

At the top of the list, as the safest of the biggest cities, is Tokyo. In fact, Tokyo continues as the safest city in the world, maintaining its EIU reign since 2015. With the coming 2020 Tokyo Olympics, the public and private sectors in Japan are both working on measures to improve security, particularly in regards to digital security. While bombs and gun attacks are concerns, even in super safe Japan, great attention is being paid to ensuring Japan’s power grids, transportation systems, and digital platforms are not compromised now, or doing the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

The Japanese are highly detail oriented and biased towards checking and re-checking for points of weakness and flaw, which is something I and many others can take comfort from if we dare to think about how creative and diabolical terrorist and crime organizations can be.

And yet, how do you protect against someone renting a truck and plowing into a crowd?

Julia Mancuso, Lindsey Vonn, Elisabeth Gorgi on the Downhill Medal Podium at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics
Julia Mancuso, Lindsey Vonn, Elisabeth Gorgi on the Downhill Medal Podium at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics
All high performance downhill skiers experience injuries and setbacks and American Lindsey Vonn is no exception.

The three-time Olympian and 2010 gold medalist in the downhill, has had more than her share: season-ending knee surgery to repair a torn ACL and broken knee bone in early 2013, re-injury of the ACL later in 2013, which kept her off the slopes for all of 2014, including the Sochi Olympics, a broken ankle in August 2015 followed by a knee fracture three months later, ending her season, and finally a broken arm in November of 2016, which required surgery. She returned to the slopes two months later.

Forbes Magazine recently interviewed Vonn, sensing that her ability to bounce back from adversity time and again features a mindset common to successful entrepreneurs – one complete with a checklist for being resilient. And while high-performance athletes and serial entrepreneurs may appear to push this mindset to levels beyond the average person, there are powerful lessons for us all in this interview. Here is the list of Vonn’s 7 Strategies to Bounce Back From a Setback Even When It Feels Impossible. This is shortened, so go to this link for more:

  1. Prepare: The key to the comeback lies in the consistent, intentional training in advance. Develop personal training routines to keep yourself sharp, strong, and prepared for the next challenge.
  2. Internalize the lesson: If you are feeling stuck, reflect on the lessons hidden in the situation.
  3. Harness pressure to your advantage: Failure can be scary, but Vonn leverages fear to propel herself forward instead of paralyze her progress.
  4. Keep an open mind: Your brain is wired to keep you safe, which is why a setback can trigger stress and strong urge to fight or flee. If you feel stuck and blinded by your current situation, create emotional distance, gain perspective, and see if there are any creative solutions you may have missed.
  5. Define yourself: The story that we tell ourselves becomes who we are. Setbacks can be a catalyst for a new self-narrative that holds you back.
  6. Visualize: During stressful situations, the mind releases cortisol, which inhibits creativity. Practice mindfulness to quiet the mind and imagine a brighter future. Paint the mental picture with crystal clarity.
  7. Keep moving: Approach each situation as an iteration to learn from for the future.

 

Lindsey Vonn
Lindsey Vonn

From a personal and leadership development perspective, there are a number of nuggets of wisdom here: the importance of a development routine to maintain focus, the ability to see ways to improve when you’re doing poorly and when you’re doing well, facing fear and pressure by visualizing the joy and glory of what is possible.

I believe that great leaders, above all else, have an incredible sense of self – one’s strengths, weaknesses, likes and dislikes, and most importantly where one has come from and a clear view of where one wants to go. The more self-aware a person is, the more likely that failure, as she said, will not define you.

Odaiba Beach

We were shocked when we read about the levels of water pollution in Guanabara Bay that sailors and rowers competed in, and saw the waters of the diving pool turn a sickly green during the 2016 Rio Olympics.

And yet, here we are a year later, and we learn of the significantly polluted waters of Tokyo Bay, the intended site for triathletes and open-water swimmers.

According to Inside the Games, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government conducted a water quality test in Tokyo Bay over a 21-day period, which is a sample size as long as the actual Games themselves. The results, which were shared at an October gathering of the IOC Coordination Commission in Tokyo, showed “levels of E. Coli up to 20 times above the accepted limit and faecal coliform bacteria seven times higher than the permitted levels.

This Asahi News article quoted organizers as saying that “an inflow of raw sewage caused below-standard water quality in more than half of tests conducted.” Officials explained that “heavy rain caused overcapacity at sewage processing plants, and some of the untreated sewage flowed into Tokyo Bay,” and that “they are considering such measures as installing triple layers of a screen that can block the flow of coli bacillus.

 

warning signs odaiba marine park-odaiba-tokyo-bay-tokyo-japan-fncd4y
Sign at Tokyo Bay’s Odaiba Marine Park listing prohibitions, including one against swimming.

 

Is there any consideration to move the venue for the triathlon and the open-water swimming events?

Sports Director of the Tokyo 2020 Organizing Committee, Koji Murofushi, shut that idea down, stating that “measures will be taken so that we can provide an excellent environment for the sports.”

The truth of the matter is, there have been signs in the area planned for the Olympic events for years warning people not to swim in the bay. Will the organizers figure out to clean up this act? We’re a little more than a thousand days away. Tick tock.

Bethany Woodward

Bethany Woodward is a silver medalist in the 200 Meters (T37) sprint at the 2012 London Paralympics. She continued her career as a para-athlete, but has become disillusioned about the state of para-athletic competition. The Ringwood, England native made news recently for returning a silver medal won in a competition several years ago, not because she cheated, but because a person on her relay team was not disabled enough.

In this fascinating audio report from the BBC, entitled Paralympic Sport – Fair Play?, Woodward was interviewed regarding the growing issue of “classification cheating.”

The reporter explained that Woodward is classified as a T-37 sprinter. “T” stands for “track,” while 37 is a degree of disability. The lower the number, the greater the impairment. The purpose of the classification system is to create an equal playing field for the competitors. But either because of the challenge of classifying disabilities or purposely interpreting the criteria for a certain classification broadly, athletes can see inequities.

Reporter: Volunteers classify athletes based on how their disability impacts their performance, not on the disability itself. They look at the medical paperwork and the doctor or the physiotherapist does tests. Then a technical classifier, a sports scientist or a coach, for example, will assess the athlete. They’re also watched in competition before their classification is confirmed. Bethany Woodward said after the 2012 Paralympics, the make-up of her class seemed to change.

Woodward: In London there was no one in my classification I thought shouldn’t be there. But then suddenly classes were seemed to be opening up. I have hardly any dorsiflexion in it, or none. And within the criteria for cerebral palsy it said that you shouldn’t have any dorsiflexion . And then there was people coming who had dorsiflexion and I could see that when they were warming up.

Reporter: In other words, they could bend their foot.

Woodward: Yeah, they could bend their foot. So there were physical elements you could see that they were definitely a lot stronger in different areas than you. My cerebral palsy isn’t something that will fluctuate at all. And then you have people coming in who have a medical condition that really fluctuates. One day they could be absolutely fine and one day they are not OK. And we can’t ask for medical evidence because that is something deemed confidential.

When asked why she returned her medal, Woodward explained that nothing has changed since she first raised the issues. “Nothing has changed in a year. There was nothing I could do to fix it, but I can make I can step away with a clear conscience, a voice. In handing that medal back really closes the book for me – I did everything I could for this sport.”

Olivia Breen
Olivia Breen

Olivia Breen is a long jumping champion who has cerebral palsy and learning difficulties, and who went to Rio and made it to the finals of the T-38 100-meter finals. According to her father, Michael Breen, one of Olivia’s competitors had relapsing MS, which he felt was unfair when compared to athletes with cerebral palsy like his daughter, because their condition could be in remission at the time of the race, or controlled by drugs. He also claimed that another finalist objected to being classified at all.

What followed in the report was an insightful exchange that speak to the challenges of differentiating subtle differences in conditions.

Reporter: I’ve read interviews with athletes whose impairments have been questioned before an d they say, frankly it’s insulting for people to say that about me. They don’t know my medical history so you don’t know for sure what is or isn’t affection that particular athlete’s performance.

Michael Breen: That’s a really good point. I’m not going to try to justify every person who’s queried someone’s disability because it’s not possible. What I’m saying is, there is something fundamentally wrong with classification. It’s not fit for purpose and it’s broken.