It is time to remember Olympians who participated at the Tokyo Olympics in 1964 and passed away in 2020. I’ve been able to identify 37 such Olympians, a few I knew personally. They were medalists and participants from all parts of the world, and a wide variety of sport. And in this annus horribilis, several were victims to coronavirus. They will be missed.

Here they are, in alphabetical order by last name.

Clockwise from left to right: Csaba Ali, Heinfried Birlenbach, Fernando Atzori, Cliff Bertrand, Kazim Ayvaz

Csaba Ali swam for team Hungary at the 1964 Toyo Olympics, in the men’s 4×200 meter freestyle relay as well as the 400 meter individual medley. He passed away on December 27, 2020 at the age of 74.

Fernando Atzori won the gold medal in flyweight boxing at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. From a small town called Ales in Sardinia, Italy. Atzori taught himself boxing, went on to be an Olympic champion as well as a European flyweight champion as a professional in 1967, defending his championship nine times before losing it in 1972. After a long illness, Atzori died on November 9, 2020 at the age of 78.

Kazim Ayvaz, three-time Olympic Greco-Roman wrestler from Turkey, died on January 18, 2020 in Heisingborg, Sweden. A native of Rize, Ayvaz won the gold medal in lightweight Greco-Roman wrestling for Turkey at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. He also competed at the 1960 and 1968 Summer Olympics. Ayvaz continued to wrestle until 1969 and was inducted into the FILA International Wrestling Hall of Fame in September 2011. He was 81.

Cliff Bertrand was a sprinter from Trinidad and Tobago, and he was a fellow New Yorker, running track at New York University, where he got his master’s degree. He  got his Doctor of Education degree from Columbia University, as well as a law degree at Queens College. Bertrand ran in the men’s 200 meters and 4×400 meters relay team for Trinidad and Tobago at both the 1960 and 1964 Summer Olympics. Bertrand died in Long Island City, NY on November 28, 2020.

Heinfried Birlenbach was a shot putter from West Germany, a three-time Olympian who competed at the Tokyo, Mexico City and Munich Summer Olympics. According to his profile, Birlenbach was “an educated draftsman, then gas station attendant, petrol station owner, owner of a sauna company, and eventually became an insurance businessman,” in addition to being an “avid discus thrower and weightlifter.” The man who was born in the city of Birlenbach, died there on November 11, 2020, a few weeks from turning 80.

Clockwise from left to right: Ernesto Contreras, Armando Herrera, Tony Blue, Miguelina Cobián

 

Tony Blue was a member of the Australian track and field team, competing in the 800 meters at the 1960 and 1964 Summer Olympics. He also competed in the 4×400 meters relay in Tokyo. He would go on to get his medical degree and practice medicine in Brisbane. The doctor from Dubbo died on October 1, 2020. He was 84 years old.

Miguelina Cobián of Cuba passed away on December 1, 2019 in Havana. She was 77 years old. At the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, she was the first Cuban ever to reach an Olympic sprint final, finishing fifth in the 100 meters. She was also on the Cuban 4×100 meter relay team that took silver behind the United States at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics. It is said that the great Czech runner, Emil Zátopek discovered her, and actually trained her early in her career.

Ernesto Contreras was a cyclist representing Argentina, who raced in three Olympics, from 1960 to 1968. Competing in the 4000 meter Team Pursuit in all three Olympiads, as well as the 100 kilometer Team Time Trial in 1968. Contreras was one of Argentina’s best known cyclists. He was born in Medrano, and died in Mendoza on October 25, 2020. He was 83.

Manuel da Costa was a competitor in the 50-meter rifle, prone, representing Portugal at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. He was a 44-year-old Olympian, who didn’t start shooting until he was 41 years old. He died on April 20, 2020, 93 years young.

Osvaldo Cochrane Filho was a member of the Brazilian water polo team at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. Born in Vitoria, Brazil, Filho passed away at the age of 87 on December 9, 2020 from the effects of COVID-19.

Armando “Chaparro” Herrera was the captain of the Mexican national basketball team who led his team at the 1960 and 1964 Olympics. The man from Juarez passed away on October 14, 2020, at the age of 89.

Clockwise from left to right: William Hill, Willi Holdorf, Alexander Ivanitsky, Maria Itkina, Wolfgang Hoffmann

 

William Hill was one of 39 members of the Hong Kong team that went to the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. Hill ran in the men’s 200 and 400 meter sprints, and also had the honor of carrying the Olympic torch as it made its way through Asia into Hong Kong. He was 75 years old when he passed away on July 27, 2020 in Wong Chuk Hang, Hong Kong.

Wolfgang Hoffmann won the silver medal in the middleweight division of judo for Germany, when that sport debuted at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. Hoffmann studied in Japan and taught judo for many years, publishing a book, Judo – Basics of TachiWaza and Ne-Waza, which he co-wrote with judoka Mahito Ohgo. Hoffmann died on March 12, 2020 in his hometown of Cologne, Germany, a couple of weeks shy of his 79th birthday.

The greatest athlete in the world in 1964 was Willi Holdorf, who won the gold medal in the decathlon at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. The native of Schleswig-Holstein in Germany, Holdorf was a humble man who led a powerful German team that took 3 of the top 6 spots in the decathlon, overcoming the favorite from Taiwan, C. K. Yang, as explained in my blog post here. Holdorf passed away on July 5, 2020, at the age of 80.

Mariya Itkina competed on the Soviet Union women’s track and field team in three Olympics from 1956 to 1964. As stated in her profile, she “has the unfortunate distinction of having placed fourth at the Olympics the most times of any athlete, four, without ever winning a medal.” She did so in the 4×100 meter relay at the Melbourne Games, in the 100-meter, 200-meter races as well as the 4×100 meter relay at the Rome Olympics. Itkina died on December 1, 2020 in Minsk, Belarus at the age of 88.

Alexander Ivanitsky won the gold medal in the heavyweight freestyle wrestling competition at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics.  After retiring from wrestling, Ivanitsky was a sports journalist until 1991, ending his career as chief sports editor for the USSR State Committee on Television and Radio. He oversaw the broadcast of the 1980 Moscow Olympics. It is said he died on July 22, 2020 after he went into a forest to forage for mushrooms. He was 82.

Clockwise from left to right: Gergely Kulcsár, Alfred Kucharcyzk, Matti Laakso, György Kárpáti, István Kausz

György Kárpáti of Budapest, Hungary was a four-time Olympian, winning three gold medals as a member of the powerhouse Hungarian men’s water polo team, including the infamous “Blood-in-the-Water” finals when Hungary defeated the USSR in the finals at the 1956 Melbourne Games. Kárpáti won his third gold medal at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, after which he also got his coaching degree. As coach, he helped lead Hungary to a gold medal the 1976 Montreal Olympics. Kárpáti died on June 23, 2020, a week before turning 85.

Dr. István Kausz, a two-time Olympian who won the gold medal in men’s team épée for Hungary at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. After obtaining his medial degree, he went on to become the team doctor for the Hungarian swim team and assisting as a member of the medical team for the Hungarian aquatic team from the 1972 to the 2012 Olympiads. Kausz passed away on June 3, 2020 in Budapest at the age of 87.

Alfred Kucharczyk was a Polish gymnast who competed at the 1960 and 1964 Summer Olympics. Representing the Radlin Gymnastic Club, Kucharczyk was an active coach and tutor to other gymnasts, including 2008 Olympic vault champion Leszek Blanik. The native of Radlin died on December 2, 2020, at the age of 87.

Gergely Kulcsár was Hungary’s greatest javelin thrower, winning a silver and 2 bronze medals over four Olympiads from 1960 to 1972. Kulcsár was Hungary’s flagbearer in the opening ceremonies in Tokyo, Mexico City and Munich. He continued to coach until 1980, seeing one of his athletes, Miklós Németh win gold in the javelin throw at the 1976 Montreal Games. Kulcsár died on August 12, 2020 at the age of 84.

Matti Laakso was a three-time Olympic Greco-Roman wrestler from Iimajoki, Finland. A welterweight, Laakso competed at the 1960, 1964 and 1972 Olympiads. His brother, Martti Laakso, was a two-time Olympic Greco-Roman wrestler, and they competed together at the 1972 Munich Olympics. A police officer throughout his career, Laakso was one of the most dominant wrestlers in Finland, winning 24 Finnish titles.  He died on November 3, 2020. He was 81 years old.

Clockwise from left to right: Maria Piatkowska, Dick Lyon, Jānis Lūsis, Leonid Osipov, Paul Nihil

Jānis Lūsis of Jelgava, Latvia passed away on April 29, 2020 in Riga. He was 80. The top men’s javelin thrower in the world in the 60’s and 70’s, Lūsis was a four-time Olympian from 1964 to 1976, winning bronze, gold and silver at the 1964, 1968 and 1972 Olympics respectively for the USSR. A world record holder in the javelin toss, Lūsis was married to Elivira Ozolina, who competed in the women’s javelin at the 1960 (gold) and 1964 Olympics. Their son, Voldemārs Lūsis, was an Olympic javelin thrower as well, competing at the2000 and 2004 Olympics for Latvia.

Dick Lyon was a member of the Lake Washington Rowing Club and a two-time Olympian. He was in the boat for the US men’s coxless fours that competed at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, and won the bronze medal despite overcoming near disaster In the heats. The native Californian, Lyon passed away on July 8, 2020, a month before he would have turned 80. I had the great honor of interviewing Dick for my book on the Tokyo Olympics, and I wrote about his passing here. I am so sorry he is no longer with us.

A legend of long-distance walking, Paul Nihil, passed away on December 15, 2020 in Gillingham, England. The native of Colchester became Great Britain’s first male track and field athlete to compete in four Olympiads when he raced in the 20-km walk at the Montreal Olympics in 1976. Twelve years earlier at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, Nihil took the silver medal in the 50-kilometer walk. A man who race walked into his seventies, Nihil died at the age of 81 after contracting COVID-19.

Leonid Osipov was a three-time Olympic water polo athlete who won bronze, silver and gold respectively at the 1964, 1968 and 1972 Olympiads on the team from the Soviet Union. He was 77 when he died on November 5, 2020.

Maria Ilwicka-Chojnacka-Piątkowska was a three-time Olympian who represented Poland in Athletics at the 1952, 1960 and 1964 Summer Olympics. Multi-talented, Piatkowska competed in the 4×100 meters relay at all three Olymmpiads, as well as the long jump in Helsinki and Rome and the 80-meter hurdles at the Tokyo Games. Piatkowski fell victim to COVID-19 and passed away on December 19, 2020 at the age of 88.

Clockwise from left to right: Gunter Pfaff, Janell Smith, Haydar Shonjani, Doug Rogers (with Masahiko Kimura), Balbir Singh

Gunter Pfaff was a four-time Olympic canoeist, who won a bronze medal for Austria in the kayak doubles with Gerhard Seibold. He rowed kayaks in singles, doubles and fours from the 1964 Tokyo Olympics to the 1976 Montreal Olympics, and served as the flagbearer for Team Austria during the opening ceremonies of the Montreal Games. Pfaff died on November 10 in Garsten, Austria on November 10. He was 81 years old.

Doug Rogers won the silver medal in judo’s heavyweight class in the Olympic debut of that sport at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. A Canadian from Truro, Nova Scotia, he moved to Japan when he was 19 to learn the martial arts among the best, studying under legendary judoka, Masahiko Kimura. His life in Japan is portrayed in a short film called “Judoka.” Rogers competed again at the 1972 Munich Games when judo resumed as an Olympic sport. I never interviewed Rogers, although I enjoyed exchanging emails with him. I really wished I had met him. Rogers passed away on July 20, 2020 at the age of 79.

Huba Rozsnyai was a sprinter on the Hungarian men’s track team, and ran in the 100 meter individual as well as the 4×100 meters relay competitions. On December 4, 2020, Rozsnvai passed away from the effects of COVID-19. He was 77.

Haydar Shonjani represented Iran as a swimmer in the men’s 100 meter freestyle at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, the first ever Iranian to compete as a swimmer in the Olympics. He returned to the Games in 1976 on the Iranian water polo team. Shonjani passed away on November 8, 2020 at the age of 74.

Balbir Singh was on the  field hockey team that restored golden glory back to India at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. Singh also competed on the 1968 team that took bronze. The man from Sansarpur, Punjab was a member of the Punjab Police, rising to Deputy Superintendent of Police, and retiring as Deputy Inspector General in 2001. Singh died on February 28, 2020 in his hometown at the age of 77.

I interviewed Janell Smith Carson for my book. She was 17 when she ran in the women’s 400-meter competition at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. Although she ran an American record of 53.7 seconds in the Olympics, she could not get to the finals. Born in Texas, she grew up in Kansas where she set the world record for the indoor 400 meters and got on the cover of Sports Illustrated. She told me that she was recruited by famed track coach Ed Temple to run for Tennessee State, but Smith did not want to leave home. Smith passed away on July 25, 2020 after a long battle with cancer. She was 73.

Clockwise from left to right: Wojciech Zablocki, Slaven Zambata, Kinuko Tanida Idogawa, Per Svensson, Juan Torruella

Three-time Olympian, Per Svensson won the silver medal in light-heavyweight Greco-Roman wrestling at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. The native of  Sollefteå, Svensson would go on to represent Sweden at the 1968 and 1972 Summer Olympics. He passed away in Sundsvall on December 17, 2020 at the age of 77.

Kinuko Tanida Idogawa was a member of Japan’s historic gold-medal winning women’s volleyball team that defeated the Soviet team at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, the first time volleyball was an Olympic sport. That match was one of the most watched sporting events in Japanese history. One of the famed “Witches of the Orient,” Tanida was known for her strong spikes, and contributed greatly to the team’s gold-medal victory. A native of Osaka, Tanida passed away on December 4, 2020 at the age of 81. I was proud to share the screen with her in the History Channel documentary, Tokyo Legacy, which covers the history of Tokyo since the end of the war to 2020.

Juan Torruella sailed in four straight Olympiads, from 1964 to 1976, representing Puerto Rico. A graduate of the Boston University law school, Torruella served associate judge of the Supreme Court of Puerto Rico before serving as  US federal judge for over forty years since President Gerald Ford appointed him as a federal judge to the district court in Puerto Rico. As stated in his profile, “his most publicized case came when Torruella ruled on the appeal of 2013 Boston Marathon bomber and murderer Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, which overturned his death sentence.” Torruella died on October 26, 2020 in San Juan, Puerto Rico, at the age of 87.

Wojciech Zablocki completed in four Olympiads as a fencer for Poland. After capturing silver medals on the Men’s sabre team at the 1956 and 1960 Summer Games, he ended his Olympic career at Tokyo with a bronze medal on the Polish sabre team. Zablocki was an architect who designed sports facilities as well as a watercolor artist, and married a well-known actress and activist, Alina Janowska, who passed away in 2017. Zablocki died on December 5, 2020 a day before his 90th birthday.

Slaven Zambata was the captain of the Yugoslavia football team at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. Although his team finished sixth in the tournament, the man from Sinj starred with Dinamo Zagreb, leading them to four Yugslav Cups. One of the most prolific scorers in his country’s football history, Zambata died on October 29, 2020 in Zagreb, at the age of 80.

 

There is only one legacy of the Olympics, of every Olympics, that really matters – the impact on the aspirations of children. On Wednesday, July 24, 2019, the organizers of the Tokyo2020 Games celebrated the One-Year-To-Go mark with a day of fun and games for the kids. With school out, parents took their kids to the Tokyo International Forum at the outskirts of the Ginza district, and future venue for weightlifting during the summer games next year.

 

 

As the Japanese word for five is “go”, and there are a total of 55 Olympic and Paralympic events, the organizers dubbed this event “Let’s 55!” And indeed kids of all ages had activities galore for a fun-filled “go-go” day.

 

 

Both inside and outside the International Forum, there simulations and games for: fencing, basketball, field hockey, cycling, karate, archery, volleyball, weightlifting, golf, baseball….you name it. And to make sure they tried everything, they were given a sheet with all of the activities to get stamped after an activity, and to receive other gifts.

 

T2020_1YTG_Miki Ando
Olympic figure skater Miki Ando.

 

Amidst the fun and games, the officials were proud and optimistic about prospects for the Games a year hence.

“Preparations are making excellent progress, thanks to the amazing work of the Organising Committee and with outstanding cooperation and support from the government and the business community, said Thomas Bach, the president of the IOC. “There is so much to look forward to. I have never seen an Olympic city as prepared as Tokyo with one year to go before the Olympic Games.”

 

T2020_1YTG_photo with Kanae Yamabe
Getting your picture taken with 2016 Rio Olympic judoka bronze medalist, Kanae Yamabe.

 

And with a nod to the youth, Tokyo 2020 President Yoshiro Mori said:

I believe the Tokyo 2020 Games will become an important part of Olympic history and a talking point for future generations. This–the second time that Tokyo will host the Olympic and Paralympic Games–will be an occasion where the world is united as one regardless of nationality, race, culture or religion. I fervently hope younger generations will learn to respect, understand and accept each other as a result of these Games and play a central role in realising an inclusive society in the future.

 

T2020_1YTG_weightlifting 1

 

Yoshioka Nomura and sakura gold torch
Tokujin Yoshioka and judoka Tadahiro Nomura

The 1964 Olympic torch was utilitarian.

The 2020 Olympic torch will be exquisite.

On March 20, 2019, just as cherry blossom buds were  beginning to reveal their delicate pink petals in Tokyo, the organizers of Tokyo2020 revealed their own beautiful blossom – the Olympic torch.

On March 20, 2020, torch bearers will commence the torch relay and carry this 71-centimeter, 1.2 kilogram aluminum torch from Miyagi in Northern Japan, to Okinawa at the archipelago’s western-most tip, and then back to Tokyo in time for the opening ceremonies on July 24, 2020.

As cherry blossoms bloom and fall in March next year, torch bearers will hold aloft a torch gleaming in gold with a hint of pink – a color dubbed “sakura gold” – fashioned in the shape of the iconic Japanese cherry blossom. Fire will arise from the cylinders of the five petals to form a single flame.

Tokuijin Yoshioka, the torch’s designer, was not only inspired by the Olympic rings, but also by schoolchildren at an elementary school in Fukushima he visited, whom he said drew beautiful renditions of cherry blossoms. “I was very impressed with the powerful expression in the cherry blossoms drawn by kids in this area,” Yoshioka said in the Asahi Shimbun. “They are trying to overcome challenges and trying to move forward. I wanted to share that with the world.”

Three-time gold medalist judoka, Tadahiro Nomura, stood on stage with Yoshioka at the unveiling, and was breathless. “To actually be holding this superb work, is frankly giving me shivers,” he said in this Kyodo article. “I can only imagine the joy on the faces of people lining the route of the relay when they see it.”

Tadahiro Nomura and sakura gold torch

Each of the torches to be produced will be made primarily of aluminum, 30% of which has been recycled from the temporary housing provided to those left homeless in Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima, in the wake of the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear plant meltdowns that stunned Japan on March 11, 2011.

After the flame is ignited in Greece on March 12, 2020, the flame will be transferred to the sakura torch eight days later when the torch relay will begin in northern Japan, making its way through 47 prefectures.

Ten thousand torches will be made, which is probably close to how many people will be needed to cross the nation in the four months prior to the opening ceremonies.

I want to be one of that ten thousand.

Sakura torch side and top views

Doko ni mo nai kuni

“Doko ni mo Nai Kuni” is a two-part drama and is the incredible and true story of how three men escaped war-torn China at the end of World War II and convinced General Douglas MacArthur to repatriate over 1.5 million Japanese abandoned in Manchuria. One of the three men is the father of Olympian, Paul Maruyama, a judoka who competed at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. If you’re in Japan, tune into NHK at 9PM on Saturday, March 24 and 31, 2018.

昭和20年。満州で丸山邦雄(内野聖陽)は終戦を迎えた。150万以上の日本人はソ連占領下の満州で略奪や暴行にさらされ、飢えと寒さの中、多数が命を落としていく。新甫八朗(原田泰造)、武蔵正道(満島真之介)とともに祖国日本に訴えるため満州脱出を決意する丸山。妻・万里子(木村佳乃)は後押しするが、新甫の妻・マツ(蓮佛美沙子)は危険な行動に不安を隠せない。脱出に踏み出す3人を次々と絶体絶命の危機が襲う。(NHK)

Yasuhiro Yamashita overcome 3
Yasuhiro Yamashita at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics

The Modern Olympics have been going strong since 1896, so there is no shortage of stories about Olympians or Olympics past. Here are a few I wrote about in 2017.

 

Mark Hamill with Olympian and Darth Vader stand in Bob Anderson
Mark Hamill with Olympian and Darth Vader stand-in Bob Anderson
Rose and Yamanaka
Murray Rose and Tsuyoshi Yamanaka

February

May

Betty Cuthbert 4_winning gold in the 200-meters at the 1956 Melbourne Games
Betty Cuthbert edges Christa Stubnick in 200-meter finals at the Melbourne Games

August

October

November

December

 

Syd Hoare from The A to Z of Judo
Syd Hoare portrait from back cover of his book, The A to Z of Judo

 

Penn Alumni at Meji Jingu_25Nov_8
On a tour of Meiji Shrine.

 

I have lived in Japan for over 16 years, and I still have so much to learn – what an amazing people, history and culture. I hope an article or two in this list give you some insight into Japan.

FullSizeRender (10)
Ted Mittet surrendering his American team’s cowboy hat, gifted by President Johnson to the male Olympians
Geesink vs Kaminaga 2_Tokyo Olympics Special Issue_Kokusai Johosha
From the book, “Tokyo Olympics Special Issue_Kokusai Johosha”

それは1964年10月23日だった。

日本武道館は多くの人でごった返していた。しかしそこに漂っていたのは、諦めにも似た空気だった。東京オリンピック閉幕前日の事だった。

3人の柔道家・中谷 雄英、岡野 功、猪熊 功が3日ほど前に3階級で金メダルを獲得していたにも関わらず、今回、無差別級日本代表・神永 昭夫が、果たしてオランダ代表アントン・ヘーシンクを倒せるのか否か、それは半信半疑といったところだった。

なぜなら、ヘーシンクは1961年の世界大会で、日本人以外の選手として初めて優勝を果たし、世界を驚かせた人物だ。もっと言ってしまえば、ヘーシンクは予選ですでに神永に勝利している。日本中が予想を覆す大勝利を期待する一方、観衆が出来る事と言えば、体重120kg・身長2mを優に超す巨人と、体重102kg・身長180cmの日本人が、横に並んでいるのを見つめる事だけだった。そしてその武道館で、天皇皇后両陛下もご観覧されていた。

真の柔道家なら分かることであるが、柔道において、勝つためには体格よりも技、バランスそして筋肉の整合がより大事になってくる。しかしそうは言っても、多くの観衆は大きくて強靭な外国人選手が勝つのだろうと思っていた。それはまるで、大きく屈強なアメリカ軍とその同盟軍が、太平洋戦争で大日本帝国軍を打ち破ったのと同じことであろうと。

事実、ヘーシンクはいともたやすく神永を破り、日本中を落胆させた。

そして同じく10月23日の夕暮れ時、神永が敗北した日本武道館から13キロ南西に離れた駒沢オリンピック公園総合運動場体育館では、日本女子バレーボールチームが決勝戦に向けて準備を進めていた。彼女らもまた、大きく屈強なソビエト連邦代表の選手達に立ち向かわなければならなかった。

しかしこの場所で漂っていたのは、東洋の魔女ならきっとソビエト連邦チームを打ち負かしてくれる、そんな人々の思いであった。事実、1962年モスクワで行われた世界大会では、日本代表は窮地に追い込まれながらも勝利を収めている。それもあってか、その金曜日の夜、4つの局が試合放送する中、全日本国民と言っても過言ではない程の人たちがテレビの前にかじりつき、勝利の歓喜に沸く瞬間を、いまかいまかと待ちわびていた。

とはいえ、へーシングが神永を畳に沈めばかりで、それは同時に、数あるオリンピック競技の中で、唯一日本のお家芸である柔道で金メダルを独占するという願いも、同時に沈められたばかりであった。私たちはまだ強くないのか、いやいや、十分強いはずだ、、、多くの人が自問自答したことだろう。

女子バレーボール監督大松 博文は、この挑戦を受け入れ、数年をかけて、選手達の体格故の弱点や強さスピードを如何に補うかに取り組み、そして難易度の高い技の習得や根性を選手たちにたたきこんだ。そして日本代表は、ソビエト連邦代表にストレートで勝利し、ようやく日本国中が安堵と歓喜に満ち溢れた。15-11,15-8,そして一進一退の攻防の末、15-13で最終セットを奪取した。

Japan's Women's Volleyball team victorious 1964_Bi to Chikara
Japan’s Women’s Volleyball team victorious from the book, Bi to Chikara

そしてその金曜日の夜、2週間に及んだ東京オリンピック閉会式前夜、小柄の日本人女性たちが遥かに大きいソビエト連邦代表に勝利した事で、彼女たちの国がいかに認められ、そして尊敬に値するのかを世界に示す事となった。

神永の敗北が未だ心を痛めるも、インドネシアのボイコットを遺憾に思うも、北朝鮮が去ってしまっても、そしてもしかすると、太平洋戦争に敗戦し、あの日玉音放送から流れ出た恥辱のようなものも、決勝戦で最後のボールがコートに落ちた瞬間、きれいに洗い流されたのかもしれない 

その日、日本は生まれ変わった。若く、自信にあふれ、世界を牽引できる国として。

 

For English version of October 23, 1964: How Judo and Volleyball Transfixed and Transformed Japan within the Span of a Few Hours.

僕が若く、今よりずっと若かった頃は

誰かの助けを必要とする事なんて何もなかった

でもいつしかそんな日々は流れ、僕は自信を失ってしまった

気が付けば僕の考えは変わり、そしてその扉を開けたんだ

Help! By John Lennon and Paul McCartney

 

1964年、日本は若かった。今よりも遥かに若かった。活気に溢れ、建物は新しく、近代的な国。世界がオリンピックを通して目にする事になるその国は、友好的で誇り高く、思いやりがあり、高い技術力を持ち、そして陽気であった。

1964年、ザ・ビートルズはアメリカを席巻する。彼らの前途は、そしてどこまでも続くその成功は、誰からの助けも必要としていなかった。彼らの記者会見からもわかる事がだが、彼らの宿泊先での悪ふざけ、エド・サリバンショーへの出演や、ワシントンDC・フロリダへの旅といったリバプールから来たこの4人の若者は、アメリカ人が一緒に街へ繰り出したいと願う友の様な存在であった。ロン・ハワード監督の映画、「The Eight days a Week」に映るのは、ジョン、ジョージ、ポール、そしてリンゴの4人が、共に過ごす時間を心から楽しんでいる姿である。

the-beatles-landing-at-haneda
The Beatles Landing at Haneda Airport

 

私がこの映画を観たのは、つい先週の事だ。その映画が良作なのか駄作なのかはさておき、ハワード監督はザ・ビートルズとその音楽に徹底的にこだわっていた。筋金入りのビートルズファンとしてみれば、鑑賞中は終始顔がほころんでしまう。作品の中で、活動の前半期にあたる1964年に焦点をあてた辺りは、彼らの愉快さをそのまま体現させたようなザ・ビートルズのポートレートとなっている。

ザ・ビートルズは、なにもアメリカでだけ時間を費やしていたわけではない。結論から言うと、彼らが交わしたレコード契約の報酬は決して十分なものではなく、自らツアーに出て、彼らが本来受け取るに相応しい金額を、自分達で稼がなければならなかった。1964年2月、彼らはアメリカで初公演を行い、その年の半ばには、デンマーク、オランダ、香港、オーストラリア、そしてニュージーランドを巡る27日間のツアーを開催。このツアーで彼らは計37公演を行った。そして8月にはアメリカに戻り、23都市30公演を決行。彼らは行く先々で、ファンに揉みくちゃにされるのである。

 

 the-beatles-ascending-the-stage-at-the-budokan

 著明な作家マルコム・グラッドウェルは、ロン・フォワード監督の作品の中で、ザ・ビートルズとは、この才能あふれる4人の人気が、新しいグローバルな10代文化の波に乗って起こした社会現象であると話している。1964年の10月、世界中のオリンピック選手が東京に集結した際、そのほとんどの選手が10代またはそれに近い年齢層であったため、ザ・ビートルズを知っているのはもちろんの事、彼らの歌もよく歌われていた。

 1964年、ブルガリアの走り幅跳び選手として東京オリンピックに参加していたダイアナ・ヨーゴバは、私に宛てた手紙の中でこう話している。きつい練習の合間に取る休憩時、彼女は女子寮の中にあったミュージックホールへ行き、好きな音楽を聴いた。彼女のお気に入りの一つが「With the Beatles」というアルバムで、これは1963年11月に発売されたものであった。傍らで行われている生け花レッスンを横目で見ながら、そこから漂う花の香りを楽しみつつ、彼女はお気に入りの曲を聴いた。All My Loving, Please Mister Postman, Hold me Tight, I Wanna Be Your Man.

 アダ・コック、オランダの水泳選手で1964年東京オリンピック100mバタフライと4×100mメドレーにて、銀メダルを2つ獲得した選手だが、彼女もまたビートルズファンの一人である。女子寮で彼女が私に話したのは、オランダ代表選手とオーストラリア代表選手は、メダルを獲得した際に、とりわけ騒々しいパーティーを開いていたそうだ。彼らはビートルズを歌いながら、夜通し祝っていたという。

 しかしだ・・・いつまでもいいことばかりではない・・・。

 1964年の東京オリンピックは、最後の純真な大会だと考えられている。最後の清廉潔白なるオリンピック。警備が最重要課題に上がる事もなければ、ドーピングが流行っていたわけでもない。スポンサーへのワイロの支払が、堂々と行われていたわけではない。皆が楽しい時間を過ごしていた。

 しかし地政学的な情勢が、そして社会の奥底でうごめく何かが、少しずつ明るみになろうとしていた。1968年メキシコオリンピックで、開会式直前に犠牲者数百人にも及ぶ大虐殺が行われ、1972年ミュンヘンオリンピックの選手村では、パレスチナのテロリストによって、11人のイスラエル人が殺害されている。世界はオリンピックを歓喜と純真から、冷笑と憂いに変えてしまった。

でもいつしかそんな日々は流れ、僕は自信を失ってしまった

1966年、ビートルズは初来日し、6月30日と7月1日に計4公演を行う事になった。1964年10月、オリンピック参加の為に来日した外国人選手たちがそうであった様に、彼らもまた手厚い歓迎を受けた。彼らをよく知らない人たちから見れば、きっと世界一の有名人が、日本国民から最大級のもてなしを受けていると思ったであろう。しかし、ホワード監督の作品によれば、どうやらそうでもなかったようだ。

オリンピックに間に合うように建設された日本武道館で、ビートルズはミュージシャンとして初めて公演を行う事になっていた。しかし、右派の人たちからみれば、そもそも武道館は武道家達のものであり、そこに外国人のミュージシャンが突然やってきて音楽を演奏する・・・武道館が乗っ取られるのではないか・・・そんな思いから、彼らの事を快く思っていなかった。公演はビートルズマニアの絶叫の中、無事に幕を閉じたのだが、そこには厳戒な警備と、滞在中は十分に気を付けるようにと、ビートルズにも警告が出されていた。

security-at-the-budokan-for-the-beatles
Security at the Budokan

 

1960年代後半は、オリンピックにとっても、ビートルズにとっても、そして私たちにとっても、試練の時となった純真な時代は終わったのだ。

For English Version of The Beatles Eight Days a Week: The Fab Four and the Olympics in 1964, Transitioning from Joy and Purity to Cynicism and Insecurity

Geesink vs Kaminaga 2_Tokyo Olympics Special Issue_Kokusai Johosha
Geesink and Kaminaga, from the book, “Tokyo Olympics Special Issue_Kokusai Johosha”

It was Friday, October 23, 1964.

The Nippon Budokan was packed. But perhaps there was a sense of resignation at this, the penultimate day of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics.

Despite the fact that three Japanese judoka, Takehide Nakatani, Isao Okano and Isao Inokuma had already taken gold in the first three weightclasses over the previous three days, there was considerable doubt that Akio Kaminaga could defeat Dutchman, Anton Geesink, in the open category.

After all, Geesink shocked the judo world by becoming the first non-Japanese to win the World Championships in 1961. More relevantly, Geesink had already defeated Kaminaga in a preliminary bout. So while the Japanese, including Crown Prince Akihito and Princess Michiko who were in the Budokan, were hoping Kaminaga would exceed expectations, all they had to do was see the two judoka stand next to each other to be concerned – the 2-meter tall, 120 kg foreign giant vs the 1.8-meter tall, 102 kg Japanese.

Even though judo purists know that skill, balance and coordination are more important to winning than size, deep down many likely felt that the bigger, stronger foreigner was going to win. After all, the bigger, stronger US soldiers and their allies had defeated the Imperial forces of Japan in the Pacific War.

And so Geesink did, defeating Kaminaga handily, sending the Japanese nation into a funk.

That was late in the afternoon on October 23. About 13 kilometers southwest of the Nippon Budokan and the site of Kaminaga’s defeat, the Japanese women’s volleyball team was preparing for their finals at the Komazawa Indoor Stadium. They too were going up against bigger, stronger adversaries, from the USSR.

In this case, however, there was a lingering sense that their magical women of volleyball would defeat the Soviets. They had in fact already done so at the World Championships in 1962, walking into the lioness’ den in Moscow and winning the finals. So when nearly every citizen in Japan had settled in front of their televisions that Friday evening, having the choice of four channels to choose from to watch the match, they were gearing up to explode in celebration.

And yet, Geesink had just sunk Kaminaga, as well as Japan’s hopes of sweeping gold in the only sport at the Olympics native to Japan. Maybe we just aren’t big enough, or strong enough, some may have thought.

Hirobumi Daimatsu, coach of the women’s volleyball team, accepted the challenge and worked over the years to train his players to compensate for relative weaknesses in size and strength, with speed, technique and guts. And much to the relief and joy of the nation, the Japanese defeated the Soviet Union in straight sets: 15-11, 15-8 and a tantalizingly close final set, 15-13.

Japan's Women's Volleyball team victorious 1964_Bi to Chikara
Japan’s Women’s Volleyball team victorious from the book, Bi to Chikara

And on that Friday evening, the day before the final day of Japan’s two-week Olympic journey to show the world that they were a nation to be recognized and respected, a team of diminutive Japanese women took down the larger Soviet women.

Whatever lingering sting from Kaminaga’s loss remained, whatever bad feelings of boycotts by the Indonesians or the North Koreans may have left, even perhaps, whatever shame that came from “enduring the unendurable” after the nation’s defeat in the Second World War, may have washed away in that moment the ball fell to the ground for the final point of the match.

On that day, Japan was a nation re-born – young, confident, world-beaters.