It’s a week away. I’m so excited. I’m getting chills.
I will be in South Korea for the opening ceremonies of the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics, with the world’s best winter sports athletes, world leaders, celebrities, the North Korean cheering squad and 35,000 other participants….freezing our butts off.
I routinely look at the weather app on my iPhone for the temperature in the area of the PyeongChang Olympic Stadium, and it’s always minus-something celsius. In fact, over the past ten years, the average temperature of this northern part of South Korea is -5.8 Celsius.
And because the Olympic Stadium was built without a roof – to save costs – there are fears that the cutting winds of that area will give the “lucky” spectators a chance to sit for 4-5 hours in a wind chill of -12 degrees. This may not be healthy. According to this article, six people were treated for hypothermia at a concert they attended in the Olympic Stadium in November, 2017.
In order to prevent the mountain winds from sweeping through the stadium, organizers have built a wall 3.5 meters high, that circles around the stadium for 350 meters, which they hope will keep the wind chill down. They will also hand out blankets and heat packs to each of the participants. You can bet I will have those little instant heat packs all over my very layered body.
A: Bundle up. Gangwon Province is one of the country’s coldest places. The wind is brutal, and the stadium for the nighttime opening and closing ceremonies is open air and has no heating system. Locals make it a matter of pride not to complain about daily wintertime life, but visitors risk misery if they’re unprepared.
Fortunately, misery loves company…and maybe 35,000 people together can bring the heat!
I enjoy talking to Olympians, people who have dedicated a good chunk of their lives to unlocking the secrets to even higher performance. The TeamUSA site published this article that shares the insight of American Olympians who have competed in multiple Winter Olympics or Paralympics. The way I would summarize their advice:
Learn from Experience and Your Mistakes
Sometimes Ignorance is Bliss
Don’t Let the Moment Define You
Learn from Experience and Your Mistakes
Successful athletes will often view failures and mistakes as positives. Thomas Edison famously responded that he never failed when developing the light bulb. “I didn’t fail 1,000 times. The light bulb was an invention with 1,000 steps.”
Erin Hamlin is a three-time Olympian in the women’s luge at the 2006 Torino Olympics, 2010 Vancouver Olympics and, finally stepping up to the medal podium with a bronze medal at the Sochi Olympics had this to say about failure. “The more bad runs you have, the more ways you know how it didn’t work,” she said. “You can take that and figure out how to do it right.”
Sometimes Ignorance is Bliss
At some point, you can get too much advice on how to succeed at the Olympics, or in any high-pressure moment. Two-time gold medalist in alpine skiing, Ted Ligety, thinks that it’s important for people to not think too much, and trust in yourself and abilities may be the best advice for athletes stepping on the big stage for the first time.
“I wouldn’t have that much advice for myself,” said Ligety when asked what he would say to himself if he could go back to 2006. “Being a little naïve back then was a good thing.”
Don’t Let the Moment Define You
Oksana Masters is a summer and winter Paralympian in nordic skiing, rowing and cycling, and felt the pressure early in her career. “Oh my gosh, everyone single person is watching, and it’s the biggest race, and if you mess up, it’s over.” But her advice to others would be to just treat the big race as just another training session.
Kelly Clark is a four-time Olympian, who has won gold and two bronze medals in the halfpipe since the 2002 Salt Lake City Games, said that the competition in the Olympics is merely one moment in your long life. “We can get wrapped up in four years of intensity for 30 seconds [of performing on the Olympic stage], and we make it into something that defines us, we make it into a destination,” she said. “You don’t need to make it a destination or something where you need a T-shirt that says, ‘I survived the Olympic Games,’” she said. “Instead, think, ‘I got to do this wonderful sport.’”
Perhaps the most practical advice came from Masters about packing so much clothes for the Olympics. “You’ll never use them.”
It was a cold and desolate Sunday when I walked around the grounds of the new Musashino Forest Sports Plaza. Located a short walk away from Tobitakyu Station on the Keio Line, the Musashino Forest Sports Plaza is right next to Ajinomoto Stadium, the home of the J-League Division 1 soccer team, F. C. Tokyo.
There were no events scheduled at either the Sports Plaza of Ajinomoto Stadium on the January afternoon I visited, but come July 2020, this quiet area of Chofu, very near the American School in Japan where my son went to high school, will be filled with thousands of noisy fans. The Musashino Forest Sports Plaza opened on November 27, 2017, the first of eight new permanent Tokyo 2020 venues to be completed. The Plaza will host badminton and pentathlon fencing in the 2020 Olympics, as well as wheelchair basketball during the 2020 Paralympics.
According to this article, the Musashino Forest Sports Plaza is built to serve the community long after the Olympics end. The facilities include a swimming pool, a gym, a multi-use sports area and two fitness studios which are available to the public. The roof of the facilities are made up of solar panels, to help provide a more sustainable energy source.
And in line with Tokyo2020 Accessibility Guidelines, “the facility designed to be accessible to all, including the elderly, people with impairments, parents with infant strollers and those with guide dogs. The main arena has space for wheelchairs, and the space is designed with enough height difference between the rows of seating to ensure that those in wheelchairs can see clearly, even if spectators in front of them stand up.”
Ajinomoto Stadium will also host matches in the soccer competition during Tokyo 2020, and will be called Tokyo Stadium during the Olympics in accordance with its non-commercialization policy.
Holding the five-day Tokyo Paralympics from November 8 -12, was an amazing triumph for Japan. As previous posts have explained, Japan went from zero awareness about the rehabilitative power of sports on the disabled to hosting the first Paralympics in Asia in a matter of years.
Even more amazingly, Japan organized not one, but two competitions for the disabled, one right after the other. The first competition was the Tokyo Paralympics, an international event. The second competition is less well known, a domestic competition that was more daring than the famous first competition, for it expanded the scope of competitions.
According to Kazuo Ogoura, in his paper The “Legacy” of the 1964 Tokyo Paralympics, the British, led by Ludwig Guttmann of Stoke Mandeville Hospital, focused the competition of disabled athletes only on those who had spinal cord injuries, who got around via wheelchairs, but that “in the 1960s, there emerged a growing call for including those with vision impairment and amputees in such sporting events.
In fact, as D. J. Frost has written in his paper, Tokyo’s Other Games: The Origins and Impact of the 1964 Paralympics, “by the early 1960s, a handful of Japanese medical experts interested in rehabilitation had established relationships with European specialists outside of Great Britain who were actively promoting sports for those with disabilities besides spinal injuries. Japanese organisers of the 1964 Games also appear to have been in regular contact with Norman Acton, who eventually became head of the International Sports Organisation for the Disabled (ISOD). In July 1963, at Acton’s urging, Japan dispatched a team of athletes to participate in what various Japanese sources identify as the First International Sports Festival for the Disabled held in Linz, Austria.”
Awareness of the impact sports can have on the disabled beyond those with spinal cord injuries was indeed growing in Japan. Frost explained that when a group of early supporters that included members of the Health and Welfare Ministry, The Asahi Shimbun Social Welfare Organization and the International Lions Club organized a preparatory committee to consider the organization of a Paralympics in Tokyo in 1964, they initially agreed that “that the International Games held in Tokyo should be a multi-disability event, including athletes with paraplegia, blindness, hearing impairments, and other physical challenges.”
But as Ogoura explained, the officials at Stoke Mandeville, who were the patrons and coordinators at the international level, were not ready to make that shift beyond wheelchair athletes.
During the preparation stage for the Tokyo Paralympics, Yutaka Nakamura, who was one of the event’s central figures, campaigned in response to requests from German officials to include athletes with vision impairment and amputees in the 1964 Tokyo Paralympics but failed to secure consent from Stoke Mandeville officials.
Amazingly, the Japanese organizers were not deterred, and decided to split the baby by keeping the Stoke Mandeville scope for the 5-day international Tokyo Paralympic Games, but also by holding a separate domestic 2-day event soon after the first one. As Frost wrote, “it was the perfect plan. It did not threaten to alter the approach of the Stoke Mandeville Games themselves, and it addressed Japanese desires to serve a larger portion of the disabled population. Yet, the Games were clearly not equal in length or prestige, and as a result, the National Sports Meet attracted far less attention.”
The so-called “National Sports Meet” ran from November 13 – 14, 1964, and despite the fewer number of days, was larger than the highly publicized “International Sports Meet.” The international meet was three days longer than the domestic meet, but had fewer athletes (375 vs 480) and fewer sports (9 vs 34). As Frost described, this pioneering decision was both intimidating and inspiring.
With more than 34 sporting events for men and women with a wide range of disabilities, the National Meet added a layer of complexity to the planning efforts that in later years would play a role in other potential host sites’ decisions to decline the Paralympics. The structure adopted for these Tokyo Games reflects the commitment to hosting a multi-disability event that was apparent in some of the earliest organisational efforts.
Today, the Paralympics is indeed a multi-disability, multi-sport event which includes a highly complex mix of disabilities, with thousands of competitors coming from over 100 nations. The 1964 Tokyo Paralympics, both its international and domestic meets, played a significant role in the evolution and history of disabled sports.
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.”
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.
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?