The Gregory Brothers

The Gregory Brothers are an amazing group of musicians who have used pitch-correction software to turn verbatim into joyous song. The video below is of a song they call “Speechless,” stitched together with the words of joy of 2016 Rio Olympians. See Olympic stars Monica Puig, Mo Farah, Andre deGrasse, Kevin Durant and Simone Manuel in their singing debut.

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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

 

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.

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Ted Mittet surrendering his American team’s cowboy hat, gifted by President Johnson to the male Olympians

If you’re flying in and out of Haneda Airport from January 9, 2018, you may be surprised to see a new team on hand to assist you. The team will be made up of seven robots designed to assist staff and visitors at the busy domestic and international airport, located very near the central part of Tokyo.

Robots will be there to provide information, offer interpretation into four different languages or carry your bags, for example. When you’re at Haneda in January, you’ll see a C-3PO ancestor, the”EMIEW3″ robot, which is less than a meter tall and can provide you with information in English and Japanese.

 

Robots at Haneda 2
The EMIEW3

 

With the number of foreign visitors to Japan climbing rapidly – the total number of visitors to Japan exceeding 24 million this year – combined with a tight labor market, Haneda officials realize that they will need robots to increase productivity and meet the needs of travelers. Additionally, there is a pride associated with showing the world during the Tokyo2020 Olympics that Japan is cutting edge.

As Yutaka Kuratomi, a representative from the Japan Airport Terminal, said in this article, “We want foreign tourists to think that the Japanese people are cool when they come here.”

Life Magazine_Emperor and Empress 3

These are fascinating pictures of Emperor Hirohito and the Empress in the summer of 1964. Taken from the September 11, 1964 issue of Life Magazine, these black and white photos reveal the Emperor to be a somewhat ordinary man, grandfatherly, academic. In fact, the couple looks like they’re having fun looking for mollusks.

The magazine even quotes the Emperor describing the “umi ushi” they found. “This is an easygoing chap, not in the least alarmed at being caught.”

Life Magazine_Emperor and Empress 1

Americans who saw this set of pictures in Life Magazine were probably surprised to see a totally different Emperor Hirohito. Perhaps their memory of him was a leader who sent suicide dive bombers to attack Pearl Harbor, or drove soldiers to kill themselves in the name of the Emperor rather than be captured by Allied forces. But to see the Emperor at all in the 1960s was due to efforts by the Supreme Command of the Allied Powers (SCAP), the entity that governed Japan in the post-war years, as well as members of the Japanese government.

After World War II, in the immediate aftermath of Japan’s defeat at the hands of overwhelming American military firepower, one would think there would be too much concern over what to eat, where to sleep, and how they will cope the next day for people to care about the Emperor, and whether the imperial family as an institution should be maintained.

And yet, support for continuing the imperial throne was strong, a survey in October, 1945 revealing “widespread enthusiasm or deep awe and veneration comparable to that of the war years,” according to John Dower in his seminal book, Embracing Defeat. While forceful calls for the dethronement of Emperor Hirohito and elimination of the imperial system in Japan were common in America and other allied nations, the head of SCAP, General Douglas MacArthur, agreed that it was important to keep the emperor in place.

Life Magazine_Emperor and Empress 2

Dower quoted a memo from Brigadier General Bonner Fellers to MacArthur about the reasons why the Emperor should remain as a symbol of Japan, emphasizing the fact that the Emperor, by going on the radio and announcing Japan’s defeat and need to lay down arms, “hundreds of thousands of American casualties were avoided and the war terminated far ahead of schedule.” in the case of trying the Emperor for war crimes, Fellers argued that “the governmental structure would collapse and a general uprising would be inevitable.”

SCAP was therefore insistent that Hirohito remain as Emperor, and not be tried for war crimes. In place of a deity as the head of Japan, SCAP sought to “humanize” the Emperor. A big part of those efforts were sending the Emperor on tours across the nation to meet the people in 1946. SCAP made sure pictures were taken and film was shot to document the Emperor walking amidst his people, a scenario unthinkable during and before the war years.

Life Magazine_Then Crown Prince Akihito Crown Princess Michiko and Current Crown Prince
Then Crown Prince Akihito Crown Princess Michiko and Current Crown Prince

The above is a great video explanation of the venues of the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics. Below are a few of the fun facts I like.

The Impermanence of the Olympic Stadium: The PyeongChang Olympic Stadium, which will house 55,000 people (including me) is a temporary structure. After the Games, it will be dismantled. Apparently, the 1992 Albertville Winter Games were the first to decide that taking care of a Winter White Elephant was simply not smart economics, and the organizers of the PyeongChang Olympics thought similarly.

2018 pyeongchang olympic stadium
2018 PyeongChang Olympic Stadium

Winter and Summer Fun: The Alpensia Ski Jumping Center in the Taeback mountain range was originally planned as the site for the opening and closing ceremonies. Instead it will be host to ski jumping and the Nordic combined events in February. What’s interesting is that the landing area for ski jumping is about 100 meters, so the organizers thought that the space could be converted into a football stadium, seating 11,000, for the summer months.

Alpensia ski jumping and football pitch
The Alpensia Ski Jumping Center

Remember 2018: The Alpensia Sliding Center, which will house 7000 spectators to watch the bobsleigh, luge and skeleton competitions, has a snaking track that runs exactly 2,018 meters, so bobslieghers will never forget the year they glided to glory in South Korea.

눈내린 동계올림픽 슬라이딩센터
Alpensia Sliding Center

Desecration or Modernization: The Jeongseon Alpine Center is a series of new ski routes and structures built on previously virgin forest ranges on Mount Gariwang. As is explained in the video, this area was one of the few areas that could fulfill a requirement of a slope that had a virtual drop of 800 meters, and so the Korean Forest Ministry okayed the opening up of the 500-year old protected forest that is now the site of the alpine events. This development has been the object of ongoing protests regarding the sites impact on the environment, among other things.

Jeongseon Alpine Center

1912_Summer_Olympics_poster

Going au natural was considered not only natural, but beautiful, in ancient Greece. The nude athlete is a powerful image in Greece. It is said that when a runner named Orsippus of Megara lost his loincloth in the midst of a sprint, he was said to run even faster, gaining him victory and fame. Running naked became a competitive advantage.

As archaeologists like Heinrich Schliemann, who uncovered the site of ancient Troy in the late 19th century, captured the imagination of people the world over, the thinking and customs of the ancient Greece became idealized. The nude athlete in particular was de rigeur in posters advertising the early Olympic Games.

1920 antwerp olympics poster

In fact, from 1912 to 1936, the male body was the main feature of the Olympic poster, with the 1912 Stockholm Olympic poster being the most, how shall we say, intriguing, showing that there’s a lot you can do with a ribbon. And after World War I ravaged Europe, the Olympics came to Antwerp, Belgium in 1920, where the poster also employed a fully nude man, private parts covered this time by a swirling towel.

1924 Paris Olympics poster

The French were not so revealing, but the poster for the 1924 Paris Olympics did emphasize the bare chests and midriffs of virile young men ready to go into athletic battle. The poster for the 1928 Amsterdam Olympics was less suggestive, but still featured a yearning half-nude man.

Then, there are the prudish Americans, who featured a man of chiseled musculature, but whose torso was covered by a white t-shirt.

The Germans in 1936, the Brits in 1948 and the Finns in 1952 all did variations on a theme with the male body, until the Aussies came along and changed the look and feel dramatically. They removed the human, and replaced it with, what looks like a card, or invitation to the Olympic Games.

Nude guys were no longer a thing.

1932 Los Angeles Olympics poster

Life Magazine_30October1964_3

I recently bought a copy of Life Magazine’s October 30, 1964 edition, featuring a young Don Schollander staring off into the distance, his four gleaming gold medals draped around his neck. (Read about that here.) But equally interesting to me were the ads in the magazine, a time capsule containing artifacts of a consumer goods era long gone.

Polaroid: Polaroid saw the future was in instant images. Why wait days to get your print photos when Polaroid could do it in 60 seconds? Polaroid is still around, albeit more as a novelty. Although you can’t tell in this ad, this Polaroid Color Pack Camera expanded like an accordion, and appears very popular amidst the biggest names in rock and roll according to this site. Polaroid’s brand and IP is now owned by “The Impossible Project,” an organization dedicated to keeping Polaroid’s instant film legacy and business alive, a decade after Polaroid gave up on instant film cameras.

Life Magazine_30October1964_1

Encyclopaedia Britannica: Did you own a set of that massive collection of Western-centric knowledge? My family did. I remember chucking it into a dumpster as we cleared out the detritus of 20th century knowledge management, replaced ruthlessly by the Internet. The last paper version of this massive set of tomes – all 32,640 pages – was published in 2010.

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Yellow Pages: This was a directory of telephone numbers and addresses amassed by AT&T, a tome published every year to help find the contact information of a business in your area. This tome too is now a relic of the past – see Encyclopaedia Britannica.

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Admiral: In the early 1960s, Admiral was one of the leading names in electronics, famous for their televisions, radios and record players among a vast lineup of products. In their heyday, Admiral helped lead the transition from vacuum tube technology to transistors. Today, Admiral is still around as a television brand marketed by a company based in Taiwan. More interestingly, vacuum tube amplifiers today are all the rage.

Life Magazine_30October1964_6

Winston: I had thought that you couldn’t advertise cigarettes or tobacco products in American magazines, so I thought I’d highlight this antiquated ad for Winston Filter Cigarettes, with its iconic slogan, “Winston tastes good…like a cigarette should!” That ad made Winston the best-selling cigarette in the world in 1966, two years after this ad. While advertising tobacco products on the television and radio was banned in America in 1971, apparently, companies can still advertise tobacco products in magazines and newspapers. However, tobacco companies can get significant blow back if they try.

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.