My 3 years to go Coca Cola pin

A friend of mine at Coca Cola gave me a gift that I treasure – a “3 Years to go!” pin, distributed to all Coca Cola Japan employees in anticipation of the Tokyo 2020 Games.

Coca Cola is a TOP Sponsor, which means they are one of 13 global sponsors of the Olympic Games. In fact, Coca Cola is the longest running sponsor of the Olympics, having first established its presence at the 1928 Amsterdam Olympics. They also produce Coca Cola branded Olympic pins, and sponsor pin trading centers at the Games.

The “3 years to go!” pin highlights the official Tokyo2020 logo and Olympic rings on the right, with a red Coca Cola bottle swathed in a green and gold kimono obi.

No, I won’t trade.

Girl skiier_love over bias

P&G’s long-running series of “Thank You Mom” commercials have been a powerful testament to the importance of the love and support of parents, particularly mothers. The global consumer goods company has worked hard to make the connection to caring mothers and their brand, and have leveraged sports stories during Olympic cycles to send particularly emotional messages.

Their most recent commercial, “Love Over Bias,” has – at least to me – a more intense resonance.

These are divisive times, with tensions emerging out of the economic dislocations that have slammed the middle classes in developed economies all over the world. The tensions have at times, in my view, manifested themselves in balder declarations of intolerance, in angrier expressions of victimization, and more frequent impulses to violence.

Ooh child, things are going to get easier

Ooh child things will get brighter

Love Over Bias

The message is that children at times suffer unnecessarily from bias, whether they are black with hopes of making it in a sport dominated by whites, or boys in a sport where boys’ sexuality are questioned, or children who have not compete with those who have, or girls of Islamic faith whose hibabs become emotional lightning rods, or disabled children who simply want a chance.

“Imagine if the world could see what a mom sees,” Is the tagline.

The message is universal. And yet…..

Madeline de Jesus
Madeline de Jesus

At the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, the American woman’s team won the gold medal in the 4×400 relay finals, easily breaking the Olympic record by nearly a second and trouncing silver medalists Canada by nearly 3 seconds, an eternity in sprint.

The 4×400 meters event, by definition, is a race run by four people. But due to the rules of track at the time, teams were allowed to list up to six people eligible for the relays, and if there were athletes who competed in heats, but who did not run in the finals, they could still be awarded a medal for helping their team to the medal podium.

Thus, at the LA Games, six women received gold medals, including Diane Dixon and Denean Howard, who helped Team USA to an easy victory in the preliminary 4×400 competition. They not only assisted in getting their team to the finals, they rested two of the team’s stars, Valerie Brisco-Hooks and Chandra Cheeseborough, so they would be fresh for the finals.

Team Puerto Rico, on the other hand, did not have that luxury it seems.

Madeline de Jesus was representing Puerto Rico as a long jumper and sprinter at the ’84 Games. During the long jump competition on August 5, she pulled her hamstring, and she knew she would not be able to suit up for the 4×400 relay six days later.

Only six days….but enough time to plan a caper.

According to this article, Madeline consulted with her sister Margaret who was a spectator at the Olympics. And they wondered if they could get away with it. No one knew that Madeline’s injury would keep her out of the relays, so if her sister could take her place in the relays, the Puerto Rican team would have a chance. After all, Margaret was a sprinter as well. She didn’t qualify for the Olympic team, but she had a particular quality that could make this work – Margaret was the identical twin of Madeline.

Madeline and Margaret de Jesus
Madeline and Margaret de Jesus

So Madeline suited Margaret up, presumably passing her sister all her credentials that gave her access to the village, the training facilities and the stadium. And on August 11, it was Margaret de Jesus lining up for the second leg of the 4×400 heat. Since there were ten teams competing for eight spots in the finals, Team Puerto Rico’s finishing time of 3:37.39 was enough to grab the eighth spot and qualify for the finals.

Margaret had fooled the world.

For a little less than a day.

Unfortunately for the de Jesus sisters, there was a journalist present for a Puerto Rican newspaper called

La Nación, This journalist had covered the sisters’ athletic accomplishments, and was actually able to tell the difference between Madeline and Margaret – a “beauty mark one had on her cheek.”

When the head of the Puerto Rican Olympic team heard of the deception, he immediately pulled his 4×400 team from the finals. After an investigation held by the Puerto Rican Olympic Committee, Madeline and Margaret were banned from future competition. The investigation also revealed that the relay team’s coach, Francisco Colon Alers, knew of the plan and allowed it, resulting in his lifetime ban from international competition. Sadly, the three other members of the track squad were also complicit, and they received a one-year suspension from competition.

Antigua and Barbuda finished almost two seconds behind Puerto Rico in the heats. Getting to the finals and racing one more time on the big stage would have been sweet…if not for those twins.

Samir Ait Said broken leg
Samir Ait Said

There is scary cute. And there is scary scary.

On this 31st day of October, aka Halloween, here are three legitimately scary moments in Olympic history. These images are not for the faint of heart.

Samir Ait Said, gymnast for France, broke his leg in a vault qualifier at the 2016 Rio Olympics, the snap of the bone so loud that people in the stands could hear it.

 

AFP_EE2G1
Andranik Karapetyan

Armenian weightlifter, Andranik Karapetyan, dislocated his left elbow attempting a lift in the clean and jerk competition at the 2016 Rio Olympics

Greg Louganis hits head on board

At the 1988 Seoul Olympics, diver Greg Louganis was performing a reverse somersault dive in the preliminaris of the 3-meter springboard competition when the back of his head slammed into the board full force. Despite the concussion and five stitches he received after that dive, he still went on to win the gold medal.

Ed Caruthers with picture of silve jump

Tommie Smith was in Tokyo for the 1967 World University Games. A Japanese reporter came up to him and asked him, “Were Negroes now equal to the whites in the way they were treated?”

According to Richard Hoffer and his brilliant book about the 1968 Mexico City Games, Something in the Air, Smith said that they were not. Then Smith was asked if a boycott of the Mexico City Games was a possibility. Smith replied “you cannot rule out the possibility.” Since there was absolutely no talk of boycotts up to that point, Smith’s comment to the Japanese press spread to the international press, and by the time the 200-meter sprinter returned to American and to San Jose State College, otherwise known as “Speed City” for those on the sprint team, he was deluged with requests for interviews.

John Carlos and Tommie Smith
John Carlos and Tommie Smith

By the end of 1967, a sociology professor at San Jose State named Harry Edwards began building a consensus among university administrators and athlete, finding his voice on the issues of black inequality in America. He had formed an organization called the Olympic Project for Human Rights (OPHR). On Thanksgiving Day that year, the OPHR via Edwards called for a boycott of the 1968 Olympics. This was soon followed by a list of demands, including

a boycott of all New York Athletic Club events (a logical move since the club maintained indefensible admission policies), It was also demanding the exclusion of South Africa and Southern Rhodesia from the Olympics, integration of the U.S. Olympic Committee, and, as a bonus, the return of Muhammad Ali’s championship crown. Edwards let it be known that they wouldn’t mind if Avery Brundage, “a devout anti-Semitic and anti-Negro personality,” be replaced as head of the IOC.”

In 1967, Ed Caruthers was the best high jumper in the world. After having tasted a bit of what competition with the best in the world was like at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, Caruthers was determined to return to Mexico City and win the gold medal. He told me that his track and field teammates in Tokyo, like Mel Pender and Willie Davenport, were committed and working hard to return to the Olympics and redeem themselves of the disappointment they faced in Tokyo. So when confronted with the possibility of a boycott, the initial reaction of these Black American athletes was different from others like Tommie Smith and John Carlos – they did not believe that a boycott was the right play.

“When Dr Martin Luther King was killed on April 4, 1968, there were a lot of things going on in my mind,” Caruthers told me. “What was I going to do? What is this country going to be like? There were a lot of issues that weighed on me. In the end, I was not in favor of the boycott, and I told those guys. I told them we had to run our asses off and win, which could give us more of a voice, more of an ability to throw light on these issues. You don’t get the best audience if you boycott.”

Ed Caruthers and Dick Fosbury

In the end, the desire to compete and to take advantage of the massive audience tuning into the Olympics won over those who considered a boycott. As Smith teammate, John Carlos said in this Orange County Register interview, “I strongly thought boycotting. For many of us, it as a childhood dream to compete in the Olympics. For Ed (Caruthers), it was a double-whammy because he’d been before, gotten a taste and he wanted to go and shine.

As the world saw, Smith and Carlos saw a non-violent way to protest the state of Blacks in America, by famously donning a black glove and raising their fists in the air while bowing their heads as they stood on the winners’ podium and listened to the American national anthem. They had won the gold and bronze medals respectively in the 200-meter sprint, but they were suspended from the rest of the Games for their actions.

As written in that Orange County Register article, Caruthers is still close to Smith and Carlos. A statue dedicated to the two sprinters was placed at their alma mater, San Jose State, remembering that time when they silently but powerfully spoke out for equal rights.

“If they’d boycotted the Games, nobody would remember them,” Caruthers said. “But now, here we are 40 years later, and people are still talking about it.”

Ed Caruthers at Santa Ana
Ed Caruthers at Santa Ana College

Still a freshman at Santa Ana College, high jumper Ed Caruthers was headed to the Tokyo Olympics in 1964. Caruthers had always been a football player, and as a pretty good wide receiver/defensive back, he hoped one day to get drafted by an NFL team. Out of football season, Caruthers dabbled in track and field. Strangely, with little effort, Caruthers would win most high jump competitions. In 1964, he told me, he “went to the AAU championships, and lo and behold, I jumped 7 ft 1 inch, and beat John Thomas, which then qualified me for the Olympic trials.”

Even more strangely, Caruthers wasn’t even aware that the Olympics were that year – 1964. He was simply more interested in preparing for the football season that Fall. But when he won the finals in the high jump at the Olympic trials in September, he realized that he wasn’t going to play football for Santa Ana in the coming months, and so did not register for school. As he told me, his track coach was “happy as a lark,” while his football coach had a hole in his team.

So Caruthers the football player, who was an accidental Olympian, took off for Japan in early October, about a week in advance of the Tokyo Olympics opening ceremonies. Caruthers was in good shape when he arrived, but with so much time before his competition, he needed to train. Unfortunately, it was hit or miss if a particular US team had dedicated coaches or not. The high jumpers, according to Caruthers, did not. And for a kid like Caruthers, who a month before wasn’t even aware the Olympics were taking place, a naïve kid who wondered why his teammates would not train with him, was suddenly thrust wide-eyed into the world of super mega-sports spectacle, complete with all the food you can eat.

The high jump competition was in the last two or three days so I was in Tokyo three weeks without competition. I didn’t have any coaching, and I didn’t go up to any coach and ask them either. I’m jumping by myself so I didn’t have that extra thing to push me higher. If John Rambo or John Thomas were out there training with me, I might have had the adrenaline going, wanting to show them. But (even though we were teammates) I was a competitor to them, so we didn’t.

Caruthers was not born of wealth, and was barely eating a bowl of cereal a day when he was a student in junior college. But when he came to Tokyo, and was privy to the bounty of the Olympic Village, he ended up eating eggs, waffles, bacon, cookies, ice cream, and lots of it. “I weighed 190 pounds when I arrived. After two weeks, I weighed 198 pounds. I thought maybe when you go to the other side of the world you gain weight, but no.” He just ate too much.

So prior to the high jump competition, Caruthers stopped eating. For three days, all he consumed was cornflakes, milk and salad. So, no, Caruthers was not feeling as strong as he wanted to at the start of the competition, nor feeling right or ready. As a consequence, Caruthers did not perform as well as he had expected, as he explained to me in detail:

I was getting up really good but I couldn’t tell what I wasn’t doing wrong. People in the stands who saw me jump said “we can’t believe you missed that… all you had to do is step one foot back”. I was about 3 – 4 inches over the bar. My plant wasn’t in the right place but I couldn’t tell. I’m 19 years old. The first jump was easy. But you have to make adjustments in your 2nd or 3rd jumps. At 7 feet everything has to be really refined and precise – there’s less room for error. I needed to make adjustments. After my second attempt I really needed someone to tell me but all I’m doing is I’m trying to run faster because I think I need more effort. I ended up jumping only 6-10 and a quarter.

Caruthers finished in eighth place. He sat on the bench and watched the others compete to the finish. Valeriy Brumel of the Soviet Union and John Thomas both jumped 2.16 meters, but could not go beyond that. Brumel took gold on fewer misses, Thomas silver and Rambo bronze. Caruthers thought, “damn, there are two guys on the medal stand I’ve beaten this year. There’s no reason I shouldn’t be on that stand.” He thought about the opening ceremonies, being together with thousands of athletes, all the flags of the world flapping around him, and “I’m right there in the middle of it. I am with the best athletes in the world.” He realized at his darkest moment that finishing eighth was not good enough, that his attitude and focus were inadequate, and that he wanted, needed to redeem himself in Mexico City four years later.

When Caruthers returned home to California, he was determined to focus more on track than on football. He was offered scholarships to play at USC or UCLA, but he picked the University of Arizona because it was 500 miles away from home, and from all the distractions of his friends and neighborhood. And he also wanted to make sure that he got his degree, and sought help from the university to ensure that he did well with his grades and graduated.

That’s what Tokyo did for me. Prior to that I only cared about two weeks from now. After Tokyo, my attitude was the difference between night and day. Training. Confidence. Everything. I knew what I was in school for. I had a schedule. I built up my strength. I refined my technique. I worked it so that I knew exactly what I should be doing to jump my best height.

In 1967, there was no better high jumper in the world than Ed Caruthers. He was primed for gold in Mexico City. He was determined. Nothing was to get in the way of his goal – to erase the memory of his poor performance in Tokyo. Nothing.

Nothing….except the Flop.

Ed Caruthers Dick Fosbury and Valentin Garilov
Ed Caruthers Dick Fosbury and Valentin Gavrilov

In 1967, Ed Caruthers was the number one high jumper in the world. As a senior at the University of Arizona that year, Caruthers won the high jump competition at the NCAA indoor championship and tied for first at the NCAA outdoor championships in Provo, Utah. Adding gold in the high jump at the Pan American Games in Montreal, Caruthers lived up to his nickname – “All World.”

On September 16, 1968, a few weeks before the Summer Olympics, Caruthers cleared 7′ 3″ (2.20 m) on his first attempt to win the US track and field trials and get his ticket punched for Mexico City. A 17-year-old named Reynaldo Brown surprised the field by also clearing 7′ 3″ on his first try to make the Olympic squad.

But the most watched athlete in the trials, Dick Fosbury, made 7′ 3″ on his final attempt. As Caruthers explained to me, if Fosbury had not cleared 7-3, then the third high jump spot would have gone to John Hartfield, who cleared 7ft 2 inches in fewer attempts than Fosbury.

So Caruthers, was going to his second Olympics, after faring poorly in Tokyo in ’64. As AP put it in a September 30, 1968 article, “on the basis of his past record and his timely readiness, Caruthers must be the favorite.”

Unfortunately, being a favorite is not a guarantee or even a promise. The line between first and fifth are slim centimeters. And the high jump competition can be a painfully long process. Here’s how Caruthers recalled the competition to me:

2.22 meters is 7-3 1/4. At that height, I had it down to a science. I wanted to jump 7′ 3″ or 7′ 4″ by my sixth time. Initial jumps are 6-6 (which I could skip). A lot of the others missed, so it took a long time to just get to a height I wanted to jump, at 6 11. I had already warmed up, but I had to sit for about 90 minutes because those guys were missing so much. So my plan didn’t work out.

I ended up missing twice both at 7′ 0¼”(2.14 m) and 7′ 1¾” (2.18 m), probably because I wasn’t warmed up. So I was getting scared. I didn’t warm up like I was supposed to, or get my speed going like I needed to. I wasn’t hitting my plant well. It was a long day for the rest of the guys, but it didn’t affect Fosbury at all. He had no misses. He was right on.

As many sports fans know, Fosbury introduced a revolutionary style of jumping. It may not seem so revolutionary today, because everybody leaps over the bar head first, one’s back arching over the bar with one’s legs whipping upwards and over, hopefully landing on the mat on one’s back staring at the bar in its place. But in 1968, everyone else straddled the bar, their foot being the first thing over the bar, and Fosbury’s Flop was thought to be so unusual and awkward, people were amazed it worked.

After three hours, only three men had cleared 7′ 2½” (2.20 m): Fosbury, Caruthers, and the Soviet, Valentin Gavrilov. Fosbury and Gavrilov may have had the mental edge, as they both had not missed a jump, while Caruthers had missed as many as 4 times up to that point.

However, when the bar was raised to 7′ 3¼” (2.22 m), Gavrilov crashed out, missing on all three attempts. Caruthers missed once, but then cleared the height. Fosbury, still on a roll, made the height on his first attempt. Thus it was down to Fosbury and Caruthers for gold.

The bar was raised to 7′ 4¼” (2.24 m). Caruthers told me he was tired, having jumped 10 times over a long dragged-out period. They both missed their first two attempts, but Fosbury made it over on his third.

And so now I’m trying to figure what do I do. Even if I clear it, I’m fighting myself. Do I not jump and wait to the next height around 7′ 5″ or do I go ahead and jump here, pass and get three more jumps? I can’t lose the silver medal. If I clear it I get three more tries.

But I’m getting tired. If I pass, it gives me another 6 minutes to sit there and get relaxed and put everything into one more jump. What did I want to do? I was really close on most of my attempts. Maybe I just get this height and sit down and relax. Fosbury started to have issues too.

I chose to go ahead and try to jump it. I’m over the bar but hit it coming down. My trailing leg, my left leg, hits the bar, scraping it as I’m coming down. If I had been an inch further out, I would have cleared the bar. That was the competition right there.

Caruthers and Fosbury pushed each other, setting the Olympic record three times in the course of the battle. Fosbury would emerge as one of the stars on arguably the best US team in Summer Olympic history. Not only that, Fosbury’s success in Mexico City changed the thinking of track coaches and high jumpers around the world, immediately impacting how high jumpers jumped. Four years later in Munich, more than half of the high jumpers employed Fosbury’s technique. And from 1972 to 2000, 34 of 35 Olympic high jump medalists “flopped.”

As Caruthers reflected, Fosbury’s way of jumping “was a novelty. But when he won gold, all the kids wanted to copy him.” And when Caruthers thought back to that September day at the US Olympic trials, when Fosbury made his fateful last leap to clear 7′ 3″, his body brushing the bar, he today understands that moment may have changed history.

If Fosbury had not cleared 7-3, John Hartfield would have made the team and Fosbury would have stayed home. If Fosbury had not been on the team, Caruthers may have stood on the top podium with a gold medal, and perhaps even more significantly, the Fosbury revolution would not have happened.

“That one jump in the trials in Lake Tahoe – if he didn’t make that last jump, it would have taken another two or three Olympic Games before anyone tried it. But because he won the gold medal, high jumping changed forever.”