The XXXII Olympiad’s opening ceremony is the evening of Friday, July 23 in Tokyo.

 

But the Tokyo Olympics actually begin on the morning of Wednesday, July 21, in Fukushima. It’s the women who kick off the Games, when Japan takes on Australia in softball from 9 am (JST)  at Azuma Baseball Stadium. In fact, there will be three opening round softball matches in Fukushima on July 21, as well as three more on July 22.

 

Women’s soccer will also debut on the two days prior to the Opening Ceremonies, with  Great Britain taking on Chile in Sapporo, Hokkaido, China battling Brazil in Miyagi,  Sweden against the US in Tokyo, and a second match in Hokkaido in the evening, pitting Team Japan against Team Canada.

 

As Tokyo and neighboring prefectures Chiba, Saitama, Kanagawa, as well as Osaka and Okinawa are under varying forms of a State of Emergency, spectators have been banned from Olympic events in those areas.

 

Fukushima and Hokkaido prefectures are not in a State of Emergency, but officials there chose to also ban spectators from the softball matches at Azuma Stadium, as well as soccer matches at Sapporo Dome.

 

As of this writing, however, a limited number of fans will be allowed to attend the football matches in Miyagi Stadium, which is in Rifu, Miyagi. The governor of Miyagi, Yoshihiro Murai, has held steadfast in his desire to have fans in the stands.

 

The governor cites the fact that on July 24, the women from China and Zambia compete in a soccer match at Miyagi Stadium, while on the same day there will be a warm up match for Team Japan’s men’s baseball team at Rakuten Seimei Park in nearby Sendai, Miyagi, which is scheduled to have about 13,000 fans. (Professional baseball in Japan has allowed limited number of spectators throughout the year.)

Spectators, as of this writing, appear also to be allowed for soccer matches in Ibaragi and cycling events at Izu Velodrome in Shizuoka.

So, if you want to attend a live Olympic event, try to get a ticket to soccer matches at Miyagi Stadium on July 21, 24, 27, 28, 30, or 31, or at Ibaragi Kashima Stadium on July 22, 25, 27, 30, 31, August 2, 3 or 5. Cycling at Izu Velodrome will be from August 2-8.

Here’s the full schedule for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Yoshiro Mori and Saburo Kawabuchi_Asahi Shimbun

February 12 Update: Less than 24 hours after the news of Saburo Kawabuchi’s expected succession to president of the Tokyo Olympic Organizing Committee, it was announced that no successor had been identified. According to the Japan Times, “Tokyo 2020 CEO Toshiro Muto said during a news conference Friday evening that a ‘gender project team’ as well as a selection committee to pick Mori’s successor will be formed, though it’s unclear when a selection will be made. ‘We need to select a replacement as quickly as possible,’ Muto said.”

 

On Thursday, February 11, 2021, sources stated that the president of the Tokyo Olympic organizing committee, Yoshiro Mori will resign after a public backlash to comments he made about women a week earlier.

 

At an online meeting of the Japan Olympic Committee, Mori made a sexist comment in regards to the goal of increasing the JOC’s board directors to 40%. According to Asahi Shimbun, Mori said

 

A meeting of an executive board that includes many women would take time. Women are competitive. When someone raises his or her hand and speaks, they probably think they should speak, too. That is why they all end up making comments.

 

The protest was immediate and global. A former prime minister of Japan, Mori was criticized in the twitterverse for being out of step, too old, too domineering. A former member of the JOC called him the “don” of the Japan sports world because what he says, goes. So one might expect that Mori’s successor would appear markedly different.

 

In tandem with the news of Mori’s resignation, it was revealed that his successor would be Saburo Kawabuchi.

 

Kawabuchi is indeed a legend in the world of Japan sports. The Osaka native and Waseda University graduate, Kawabuchi, played football at Furukawa Electric from 1965 to 1970 in the early days of the Japan Soccer League. He was a member of the national soccer team representing Japan at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, where he scored the go-ahead goal that led to the defeat of Argentina at Komazawa Stadium, and advanced Team Japan to the quarter finals.

 

He went on to become the head coach of the Japan national football team in 1980. But more significantly, he established the Japan Soccer League, aka J-League, Japan’s first professional soccer league, and was the first chairman of the league, where he served until 2002.

 

And when FIBA, the international governing board of basketball, expressed great displeasure that the two basketball leagues in Japan, the National Basketball League and the BJ-League, were at each other’s throats and refused to come together, they called on Kawabuchi to head the taskforce that would lead to the creation of a single league – the B. League.

 

In other words, Kawabuchi was the leader at the birth of not one, but two professional sports leagues in Japan.

 

It’s hard to argue with his qualifications to run the Tokyo Olympic organizing committee. It’s the optics that may be a bit concerning.

 

Kawabuchi is 84, a year older than Mori. And Kawabuchi’s leadership style may appear to be similar to Mori’s – autocratic.

 

When FIBA barred Japan’s basketball governing association, the Japan Basketball Association, from allowing its team to participate in any international competition in November, 2014, there was great concern that Japan would not be able to get its act together so that a national team could compete at the Tokyo2020 Olympics, even with a free pass as the host country.

 

Kawabuchi entered the scene and essentially manhandled the relevant parties into an agreement to merge and create the B. League. As this 2015 Japan Times article explained, Kawabuchi doesn’t mind that telling people it’s my way or the highway.

 

Kawabuchi is often described as an autocrat for arbitrarily making decisions for the J. League and JFA, but he doesn’t care. He does what he believes is right.

 

“I’m fine being called that,” Kawabuchi said with a grin. “If I’m called an autocrat, I tell them I am. I’m like, ‘What’s wrong with that? Tell me if I’ve done anything wrong being an autocrat.’ ”

 

To Kawabuchi, an autocracy is equivalent to strong leadership, and Japanese sports needs more of that. He added that proposals supported by the majority tend to be accepted as the best ideas in Japan, but he strongly disagrees with this viewpoint.

 

“If you think you’ll have the best idea by gathering more opinions, that’s a big mistake. That’s not my way,” Kawabuchi said. “Regarding (Japan’s basketball reform), if they say that Kawabuchi set the vision by himself, let them say so.”

 

To be fair, it is unclear what Kawabuchi’s attitude is towards women. And as the head of the Tokyo Olympic organizing committee, he certainly has a challenge in front of him, with only a little over 5 months to go before the opening ceremonies on July 23.

 

But people will be watching him, perhaps unfairly, with a cynical eye.

 

Meet the new boss. Hopefully, not the same as the old boss.

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.

Haripal Kaushik

Haripal Kaushik

Haripal Kaushik was a three-time Olympian and won two gold medals on the dominant India field hockey teams of the 20th century. An assistant captain of the team, he witnessed India’s string of six consecutive Olympic championships end at the 1960 Rome Olympics when Pakistan took gold, but was on the field when India defeated Pakistan at Komazawa Olympic Stadium in 1964. Karushik served in the Sikh Regiment of the Indian Army, and after the Olympics had a career as a field hockey administrator and television commentator. He passed away on January 25, 2018 at the age of 83.

 

Kaoroly Palotai_1964

Károly Palotai

Károly Palotai was midfielder on the Hungarian football club, Győri ETO FC, and was on the strong Hungarian national team that won gold at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics.

Palotai went on to a long and successful career as a referee, on the field officiating at the 1974, 1978 and 1982 FIFA World Cups, as well as the 1972 and 1976 Olympics. Palotai died on February 3, 2018 at the age of 82.

 

 

Sir Durwold Knowles_1964

Durwold Knowles (right)

Durward Knowles

Durward Knowles was a sailor from the Bahamas who, with Cecil Cooke, won the first Olympic gold medal for the Bahamas in the Star class at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. The native of Nassau died on February 24, 2018, nearly 4 months into his 100th birthday. Knowles was an 8-time Olympian, first representing Great Britain in 1948 before representing the Bahamas from 1952. It was thought that the 1972 Munich Games was his last, until Knowles returned to competition at the 1988 Seoul Olympics, becoming one of only four Olympics to have competed over a span of 40 years. Knowles was, at the age of 80, easily the oldest competitor at the Seoul Olympics and was the Bahamas flag bearer in the opening ceremony.

 

Sven-Olov_Sjödelius_1960

Sven-Olov Sjödelius

Sven-Olov Sjödelius was a two time gold medalist in the K-2 1000-meter canoe event representing Sweden at both the 1960 Rome and 1964 Tokyo Olympics. The native of Svärta, Sweden. Trained as a mechanic, Sjödelius also served as a member of the Swedish Olympic Committee. He died on March 29, 2018 at the age of 84.

 

Jan Cameron
Janice Cameron

Janice Cameron

Janice Cameron (née Murphy) won a silver medal at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics on the Australian 4×100 freestyle swim team. The native of Sydney, Australia went on to coach swimming in Australia, Canada and the US before settling into a long career as coach and sports administrator in New Zealand. She was appointed national coach for the New Zealand swim team in 2001. Cameron passed way on April 30, 2018 at the age of 71.

 

Irena Szewińska 1964
Irena Szewińska

Irena Szewińska

Irena Szewińska, née Kirszenstein, passed away on June 29, at the age of 72. The native of Warsaw, Kirszenstein was one of the greatest women athletes of the 20th century, the only sprinter in history to have held the world record in the 100, 200 and 400-meters. She competed in five Olympics from 1964 to 1980, winning three golds, two silver and two bronzes in the sprints and the long jump. The “Athlete of the 20th Century in Poland” was a busy sports administrator from the mid 1980s, serving on the IAAF, the EAA as well as the IOC. She was also a stage actress before focusing on athletics, once portraying Ophelia in Hamlet.

 

Hans_Günter_Winkler_1966
Hans Günter Winkler_

Hans Günter Winkler
Hans Günter Winkler was an equestrian show jumper who appeared in six consecutive Olympics from 1956 to 1972, compiling five old medals, a silver and a bronze, primarily in team jumping. Representing Germany, and then West Germany, Winkler won his sole individual jumping medal at his Olympic debut at the 1956 Stockholm Games where his mare, Halla, carried him to victory despite a painful groin strain. Winkler went on to a successful career as a representative in a pharmaceutical company and a US mail-order company. Winkler passed away on July 9 at the age of 91.

LCFC in Thailand
The Leicester City Football Club in Bangkok, Thailand, attending chairman Vichai’s funeral.

Thirteen members of Premier League’s Leicester City Foxes arrived in Bangkok, Thailand for the funeral of their club’s owner and chairman, Khun Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha. Manager Claude Puel, strikers Jamie Vardy and Shinji Okazaki, team captain Wes Morgan and goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel were among the visitors who flew the 12 hours from England on a chartered flight that left soon after their victory against Cardiff City on Saturday.

The players paid their respects during the second day of seven dedicated to the club owner’s funeral, the first three days sponsored by the Thai Royal family.

While the Thai tycoon, a man who made his riches in duty free shopping, did not live a flamboyant or public life in Thailand, he did indeed have a significant impact on the Thai psyche and may very well have a great impact on the future of Thai football.

Thai Pride: The Guardian quoted a few Thais who are grateful to what Vichai has meant to Thailand and Thai football.

“It’s Thailand’s team,” said Chatworachet Sae-Kow, a Leicester City fan in Bangkok. “It brought fame to Thailand when they won [the title]. He carried the Thai flag with him and made people know more about Thailand.

“I could feel your commitment and dedication to what you do, and the warmth and love you had for me,” said Kawin Thamsatchanan, goalkeeper for the Thai national team who plays for Oud-Heverlee Leuven – the Belgium football club also owned by Vichai. “Thank you for the opportunity and confidence in me.”

Said Anutin Charnvirakul, head of the Bhumjai Thai political party, “He is a self-made man, worked hard and loved friends dearly. We just lost someone who made big contributions to the public. I am sure his legacy will live on.”

King Power Thai Power Project: Part of Vichai’s legacy will be the ways his company has promoted football in Thailand. According to The Bangkok Post, one component of the project is “Sports Power,” in which King Power is investing 200 million baht earmarked to build artifical turf fields at an international standard at schools across Thailand, targeting 100 schools by 2022.

Additionally, the project will contribute one million soccer balls ensuring young Thais of the most important article required to play. The balls and the fields will undoubtedly contribute to the general development of the sport in the Kingdom.

Fox Hunt: King Power is also sponsoring a scholarship program for promising Thai footballers under 15 years of age. According to The Nation, King Power selects top teenage football talent. It takes a year to identify and evaluate, but the stakes are high – world-class training for 30 months at Ratcliffe College in the UK. King Power foots the bill of about Bt15 million for one player, but the potential for rapid development of their talent is great. Leicester City’s chairman, Aiyawatt Srivaddhanaprabha, son of chairman Vichai, said “One of the most important experience for then will be sports science which is different from ours. They will also learn to depend on themselves too as great self disciplinary will lead them to succeed.”

Said Watcharaphong Tunkitjalorn, a 15-year-old midfielder from Suphanburi Sports School who was selected in year two of the program, “I dream of leading a Thai national team to the World Cup. It’s so hard to believe that I have been selected and I will learn as much as possible when I’m there.”

King Power and the Leicester City Foxes did not just make dreams possible in England. They are doing that in Thailand as well.

Vichai and Leicester City Premier League Champions
Out of nowhere: Vichai’s footmen stunned the world. Credit: ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP/GETTY IMAGE

Leicester City is famous for King Richard III, killed in the waning days of the War of the Roses and buried in Greyfriars Friary in Leicester.

But the Shakespearian take on the Leicester City Football Club (LCFC) and its famous run to the Premier League Championship in 2015 is less King Richard III’s “A horse! My kingdom for a horse,” and more King Henry V’s “We few, we happy few, we band of brothers.”

The untimely death of LCFC’s chairman, Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha on October 27, 2018, was a sad story for the fans of LCFC and the community of Leicester City. But the global outpouring of grief for the family of Srivaddhanaprabha and LCFC fans is due to the historic run of the LCFC to the Premier League championship in the 2015-2016 season.

In arguably the most popular football league in the world, England’s Premier League has had, really, only four teams that win the championship: Manchester United, Chelsea, Manchester City and Arsenal. There has been only two teams outside of those four which have won the championship since the start of the Premier League in 1992. One of those is Leicester City, a team that has historically spent more time in lower divisions, and has never come close to the upper echelons of English football, and was 5,000 to 1 odds to become champions that year.

And yet, the Leicester City Foxes defied those odds.

English football is organized through a series of leagues that form a pyramid, the Premier League showcasing the best teams in England, followed by The English Football League, which has three levels: The Championship, League One and League Two. Based on performance, teams get promoted or demoted into leagues. Part of the incredible story of the LCFC is that Leicester City were in League One in 2008. And yet, in only 7 years, the Foxes climbed through two lower leagues to get to the Premier League in 2014. That season started poorly for Leicester City, and the team was threatened with demotion back to The Championship League, until they staged The Great Escape, winning seven of their final nine matches in 2015 to escape relegation.

Despite their great finish to stay in the Premier League, no one had any idea that Leicester City would become the most talked about football team in the world in the 2015-2016 campaign. Below are the details of Leicester City’s incredible run, which included a change in managers and the record-breaking goal-scoring feats of LCFC striker, Jamie Vardy.

  • Jul 13, 2015: Italian Claudio Ranieri becomes manager of the LCFC after the sacking of Nigel Pearson, whose issues off the field became untenable.
  • Aug 8: Leicester City 4 – Sunderland 2 (W) – first victory of the season
  • Sep 13: Leicester City 3 – Aston Villa 2 (W) come from 0-2 to win, is in second place behind Manchester City
  • Sept 19: Stoke City 2 – Leicester City 2 (T) down 0-2 and comes back to tie
  • Sept 26: Leicester City 2 – Arsenal 5 (L) drops LC to 8th place
  • Oct 3: Norwich City 1 – Leicester City 2 (W)
  • Oct 17: Southampton 2 – Leicester City 2 (T) again come back from 2 down; Jamie Vardy scores both, for goals in sixth game in a row
  • Oct 24: Leicester City 1 – Crystal Palace 0 (W) Vardy connects for 7th game in a row, LCFC climbs back up to 5th.
  • Nov 21: Newcastle United 0 – Leicester City 3 (W) Vardy scores the first goal and ties league record of goals in 10 consecutive games; LCFC moves to third, ahead of Manchester United
  • Nov 28: Leicester City 1 – Manchester United (T) Vardy scores the first goal to break the league record of goals scored in consecutive games – 11
Jamie Vardy
Jamie Vardy
  • Dec 26: Liverpool 1 – Leicester City 0 (L) After winning the next three, LCFC suffers their only their second loss of the season
  • Jan 23, 2016: Leicester City 3 – Stoke City 0 (W) After drawing against Manchester City and Bournemouth to reach 2nd place, LC defeats Stoke City convincingly to assume first place
  • Feb 2: Leicester City 2 – Liverpool 0 (W)
  • Feb 6: Manchester City 1 – Leicester City 3 (W)
  • Feb 14: Arsenal 2 – Leicester City 1 (L) Leicester City loses their third match of the season, but holding onto slim lead over Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal. It is the last time the Foxes will lose in 2015.
  • Feb 27: Leicester City 1 – Norwich City 0 (W) in 89th minute Vardy scores the winning goal
  • Mar 1: Leicester City 2 – West Bromwich Albion 2 (T)
  • Mar 5: Watford 0 – Leicester City 1 (W)
  • Mar 14: Leicester City 1 – Newcastle United 0 (W)
  • Mar 19: Crystal Palace 0 – Leicester City 1 (W)
  • Apr 3: Leicester City 1 – Southampton 0 (W)
  • Apr 10: Sunderland 0 – Leicester City 2 (W)
  • Apr 17: Leicester City 2 – West Ham 2 United (T)
  • Apr 24: Leicester City 4 – Swansea City 0 (W) – 7points ahead of Hotspur, need 3 more for the title
  • May 1: Manchester United 1 – Leicester City 1 (T)
  • May 2: Tottenham 2 – Chelsea 2 (T) – Tottenham is up 2-0 at half-time, but Chelsea comes back to equalize, which means The Leicester City Foxes are the champions of the Premier League.
  • May 7: Leicester City 3 – Everton 1 (W)
  • May 15: Chelsea 1 – Leicester City 1 (T)


RIP Vichai

“Brighton for Chilwell again…and Graaay…Goal for Leicester City!” shouted the play-by-play announcer as Demarai Gray of Leicester City Football Club knocked a half volley into the Cardiff net. Gray immediately removed his shirt to reveal the words “For Vichai,” and then joined his teammates to celebrate with LCFC fans in their corner of Cardiff City Stadium.

“And the perfect tribute for their former chairman, who died so tragically a week ago, beautifully taken by Demarai Gray. And just look at the collective celebration, players and supporters alike.”

Demarai Gray celebrates goal against Cardiff Demarai Gray celebrates goal against Cardiff

Leicester City (LCFC) defeated Cardiff City on Saturday, November 4, 2018, in a somewhat meaningless game in the Premier League standings, but oh so meaningful to Leicester City and Premier League fans all over the world.

It was only a week ago on Saturday, October 27, when the routine turned into disaster as LCFC’s chairman, Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, boarded the team helicopter at the end of a Leicester City game from the middle of the LCFC pitch. Only moments later after barely making it out or the stadium, the helicopter spun out of control and crashed into the stadium parking lot in a ferocious ball of flames.

While players, staff and fans speculated, it took several hours before the press told the world what was suspected – Vichai, along with two members of Vichai’s staff, Nursara Suknamai and Kaveporn Punpare, pilot Eric Swaffer and the pilot’s friend, Izabela Roza Lechowicz, perished in the accident.

It has been a week of shock and tears for Leicester City fans, whose love for their former chairman is bottomless. Fans and experts credit Vichai with a turnaround that is, essentially, unprecedented in the Premier League. In 2010, Vichai was part of a consortium that purchased the English Football League Championship club Leicester City, and became chairman a year later.

Leicester City Cardiff City moment of silence Moment of silence before start of match between Leicester City and Cardiff City

Leicester City would then go on a run that is essentially unprecedented. The team made it to the top football league in England, the Premier League, and in the 2015-2016 campaign, despite being given a 5,000-to-1 shot of winning the league championship, decisively brought the title home to Leicester City. Imagine a Double AA team in America’s baseball farm system rising together to make it to Triple A ball, the Major Leagues, and then winning the American League East. In America, that’s not possible. But then again, no one thought Leicester City’s rise to the heights of England’s top league was possible either.

As one fan said after Vichai passed away, “he made us champions.”

FCLC’s chairman was also the founder of King Power, the dominant duty-free business in Thailand, which is the name that adorns the team’s stadium and jerseys. And while there has been resistance to foreign owners of Premier League football clubs in the past, Vichai helped bring a winning attitude to the team while demonstrating a powerful common touch, reaching out to the fan base in intimate ways. He would provide beer and food to fans in the stadium, handing them personally to them. He awarded 60 random season ticket holders free renewals this year on his 60th birthday, a special birthday for Asians.

“It’s a big thing for Leicester City, this,” said one elderly lady paying tribute outside King Power Stadium. “And he was the best bloke you could have. He never went without acknowledging you. He was OK giving you bacon sandwiches you know, your cup of tea before you went your breakfast.”

Gab Marcotti, senior writer for ESPN FC, remarked how unique Vichai was:

Without question Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, from the moment he took over Leicester City FC, well before the miracle and whatever else, he invested money in the club. He was also very clear about having a footprint in the community, donating money to local charities, taking time to stay and greet the fans before and after games. It’s very easy to be cynical about these billionaires who buy Premier League clubs. Is it just a play thing? Is it something where he wants a financial return? It might have been those things but it was also something he really lived for every match day.   It’s no coincidence that it led to his passing that he made the effort of coming over there, flying his helicopter onto the pitch, on and off before and after the game. Without question, he was one of the most beloved owners of the Premier League.

Vichai The Boss

A couple of days before the match with Cardiff City, LCFC manager, Claude Puel said that “The game is not important. The result is not important, but our desire, our actions to give our best on the pitch to honour our chairman, is the most important thing. About our conviction, our focus, we will be ready. I am confident the players can give their best.”

At the end of the match with Cardiff City, happy they could win the game for their beloved chairman, the team stood together in front of their fans. As Cardiff City Stadium emptied out, the LCFC fans in their corner of the stadium, many wearing white t-shirts with Vichai’s face boldly saying “The Boss,” stood and sang Leicester City songs, held up flags of Thailand, chanting “Vi-chai.”

For a long time, amidst the empty stadium, the players and fans communed, trying their best to say good bye. The players finally parted, and made their way to the locker room to begin preparations for a long flight to Bangkok, Thailand to attend the funeral for their chairman.

Operation Christmas Message

Over 200,000 people have been killed during an ongoing conflict in Colombia that pits the government, paramilitary groups and crime organizations against left-wing groups as FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia) and ELN (The National Liberation Army). For over fifty years, guerillas hiding deep in the jungle have been playing a deadly cat-and-mouse game, and the government has tried everything to bring them out of the jungles and send them home to their families.

They have even tried an advertising campaign, the likes of which you might see in a mall or on YouTube, to market a company or its products. In this case, the campaign has been powerfully effective.

The goal has been to get FARC and ELN guerrillas to demobilize, and thus weaken the guerrilla bands. The appeal has been to their hearts. And what better way to appeal to the hearts of Colombians is through Christmas and soccer. As explained in this December 11, 2016 60 Minutes report, the Colombian military hired a creative ad executive named Jose Miguel Sokoloff in 2006 to create a campaign that would convince members of FARC to go home.

On December 10, 2010, the military and Sokkoloff launched an advertising campaign called “Operation Christmas,” in which 9 very tall trees were decorated with lights that would only turn on if the motion-detection sensor noticed movement in that area. So if a FARC guerilla walked by one of those designated trees, it would light up like the proverbial Christmas Tree. At the same time, another light would shine on a sign that read:

If Christmas can come to the jungle, you can come home. Demobilize. At Christmas, everything is possible.

As Sokoloff explained in 60 Minutes, “What we did was try to make coming back home for Christmas an important thing. And we knew that if we put up these Christmas trees with that sign up there, we would touch the hearts of the guerrillas, ‘cause my heart was touched. And they went and they did it.”

The result of that campaign was that over 300 guerillas, about 5% of the total, left the jungle and surrendered.

The following year, the Colombian military staged “Operation Rivers of Light,” another campaign to reach further into the jungle by floating plastic balls that contained messages and gifts to the guerillas. They also lit up with soft purple light, to send another powerful message of peace and beauty into the heart of the jungle. Some 7,000 of those balls resulted in the demobilization of another 180 guerillas.

Another campaign was also launched in 2011, in conjunction with the 2011 FIFA U-20 World Cup, which happened to be hosted by Colombia from July 29 to August 20. As Sokoloff said, football moves this country. Football is our passion.” So during this campaign, soldiers had thousands of soccer balls signed by players and celebrities and fans. Theses balls – all with a sticker saying “Demobilize. Let’s play again” – were thrown from helicopters into the jungle, resulting in another wave of guerillas leaving the jungle.

Sokoloff claims that over eight years of this campaign, 18,000 guerillas have come home, and got FARC to the bargaining table.

Still FARC and ELN fight for survival in the jungles, soldiers and guerillas die. But still negotiations continue as the government and FARC look to find peace.

Perhaps it will be quiet today in Colombia, for it is Christmas, and family calls.

Akwasi Frimpong

He slept on the ground of his crowded home as a child, his grandmother working hard to get food on the table for nine grandchildren. Akwasi Frimpong grew up in a village called Kumasi in the Republic of Ghana, and while he aspired to a better life, he probably had no thought of becoming an Olympian in the speed sliding sport of skeleton.

Skeleton Olympic champions have emerged from only 8 countries in the world, including the US, Great Britain, Canada, Russia and Switzerland. Certainly, running full speed into an icy track of twists and turns, head first on a tiny sled, is not the first thing 99.99999% of the world’s population would try to do, let alone think, particularly in a country where the coldest it gets is about19 degrees Celsius.

And yet Frimpong defied the considerable odds, and has put himself in a position to become Ghana’s first ever Winter Olympian representing his country at the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics in the skeleton competition. To become an Olympian, he has to qualify at the skeleton world cup in mid-January of 2018 by getting into the Top 60 in the world. If he does, he’s going to South Korea.

Perhaps Frimpong’s first big break was leaving Ghana at the age of 8, and move to the Netherlands where his mother had emigrated to. In a more developed economy with more opportunities, Frimpong was shaped by his coach at his junior high school into a track star.

His second big break was having Sammy Monsels as his junior high school coach, a man who competed as a sprinter at the 1972 and 1976 Summer Olympics. According to this article on Olympic.org, Monsels created a vision for Frimpong.

“It was Sammy who really instilled the dream of the Olympics in me. Within two months, I went to the Dutch Junior Indoor Championships and missed out on the 60m final by 0.01 seconds. That summer, I missed out on the 100m final, again by 0.01 seconds… I asked my coach what I needed to do to become a gold medalist. He spoke to me about self-discipline and it all started from there.

Frimpong went on to become the 200 meter Dutch junior champion. But because he was still an illegal alien, he could not benefit from any international competition. What if immigration would not let him back into the country? Competing overseas was too big a risk. And his illegal status stopped him from asking to enter any high school. Fortunately, there existed an institution that looked beyond Frimpong’s legal status – the Johan Cruyff Institute. Named after Holland’s (and the world’s) most famous soccer player, Johan Cruyff, this school is designed to develop the abilities of students, athletes as well as business professionals.

Frimpong’s third break was to have a neighbor who cared. The neighbor was a writer, and she wrote so persuasively, even explaining Frimpong’s illegal status, that the Johan Cruyff College took a chance on the Ghanaian. Frimpong enter the school and earned his school’s international student of the year award. The award was to be presented in Barcelona, Spain, but because Frimpong was too scared to leave the country, Johan Cruyff himself flew to Holland just to present the award to Frimpong.

Eventually, in 2008, at the age of 22, Frimpong became a Dutch citizen. He got an athletic scholarship to study in America at Utah Valley University, and dreamed of making the Netherlands track team for the 2012 London Games. But he was not able to qualify, hampered by an injury.

Entering the second half of his 20s, his dreams of running track in the Olympics was fading. But he got a visit from the Dutch bobsleigh team, and was asked to try out as their brakeman for a World Cup race in Utah. Frimpong showed enough promise that he progressed to make the Netherlands national bobsleigh team. Unfortunately, his results were just under the cut, and Frimpong missed out on the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics.

At the age of 28, failing to make both a Summer Olympics and a Winter Olympics, Frimpong could have ended his pursuit of an Olympic Games. And that’s when he discovered skeleton. And for some reason, this sport clicked.

I set myself the goal of becoming the first African to win a medal in Winter Olympic history. I knew it would take me four to six years to become really good, so initially my target was the 2022 Games. But when I started racing in 2016, I surprised myself. A lot of coaches said that I was sliding like someone who had been doing the sport for several years.

And so Frimpong is at the door of his long journey to make the Olympics. If he does qualify for the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics, he will be first black skeleton athlete in Olympic history.

 

Note on February 2, 2018: On January 15, 2018, he got his wish and is headed for the Olympics.

Christian Pulisic of the United States mens national team
Christian Pulisic of the United States mens national team reacts to their loss to Trinidad and Tobago during the FIFA World Cup Qualifier match between Trinidad and Tobago at the Ato Boldon Stadium on October 10, 2017 in Couva, Trinidad And Tobago. © Ashley Allen / AFP

The headlines in America were devastating:

  • Shocking loss to 99th-ranked Trinidad leaves U.S. out of World Cup
  • Stunned U.S face major questions after World Cup debacle
  • What does World Cup failure mean for soccer in the USA?
  • U.S. out of excuses after defeat in Trinidad leaves it out of World Cup
  • Where does U.S. Soccer go from here? 10 immediate aftershocks of World Cup failure

When the US national team lost to the Trinidad and Tobago team in the CONCACAF tournament, a meeting of North and South American teams qualifying for the 2018 World Cup in Russia, USA was expected to continue its string of appearances in the World Cup since 1990. After all Trinidad & Tobago (or T&T) was ranked 99th in the world, the US ranked 28th, its population a little over a million, while the US is well over 300 million with a well-established professional soccer league.

Trinidad and Tobago defeat US in World Cup Qualifier
Trinidad and Tobago defeats the US 2-1 to deny US from qualifying for the 2018 World Cup

On top of that T&T was already out of the running for the World Cup, deep in last place having lost 7 out of 8 matches in the tournament when they faced off with the US squad. The US was in third and needed a win to get their tickets punched to Russia next year, but T&T were aggressive, scoring two goals in the first half of their qualifier match on October 10, 2017.

But while most of the headlines you might see in the internet suggest that the storyline is the dramatic failure of the mighty US, the flip side of the story is the dramatic triumph of David over Goliath. And for those soccer fans in the two-island nation off the northern coast of South America, there was also satisfaction at achieving a measure of revenge. T&T came so close to qualifying for its first world cup in 1989, needing only to draw to advance. But they lost to the US 1-0, thus propelling the US to the World Cup in Italy the following year.

Here are a few of the comments from the liveblog of the match as posted by Kwame Laurence of the Trinidad Express during the game:

10:56 USA OUT!

T&T’s 2-1 victory over the United States has booted the Americans out of the 2018 World Cup. Honduras beat Mexico 3-2 and Panama defeated Costa Rica 2-1, the combination of results forcing USA into fifth spot in CONCAF qualifying.

10:59 SWEET REVENGE FOR T&T!

It took 28 years, but T&T finally enjoyed sweet revenge over the United States. With T&T’s fourth win in 26 matches against USA, the home team avenged the November 19th, 1989 1-0 defeat that prevented T&T from qualifying for the 1990 World Cup in Italy.

Double 10 Drama

Double 10 – October 10th – will go down in T&T football history as a date to remember, alongside November 19th. Tonight’s 2-1 victory came too late to propel T&T into the 2018 World Cup. But there was the satisfaction of ending USA’s World Cup qualification bid. One could say this was the ultimate revenge for USA’s 1-0 win on November 19th, 1989, a result that abruptly ended T&T’s hopes of qualifying for the 1990 World Cup in Italy.