Tamara Press was a phenomenon, winning gold in the shot put and discus in Rome, as well as gold in the shot put in Tokyo. She was a large woman, and as American gymnast, Ron Barak, told me in an interview, a hulking woman, fortunately with an equally hulking sense of humor.
“I was in line one day in the Olympic Village cafeteria, and right behind me, Tamara Press was waiting in line with a couple of Soviet teammates. My wife, who was fairly tiny, came rushing in. US officials had given wives of the gymnastic teams sweat suits so they could get in and out of the village. Barbie was coming to meet me for lunch, and was a bit late. She spotted me and hurried over. Focused on me, she somehow didn’t see Tamara, and butted right in front of her.”
“Well, Tamara Press is a very nice person. She comes up to her from behind, grabs her elbows gently and firmly and bench presses my wife above her 6 foot frame, holding her high up like a piece of lumber. Her head was pointed to the ceiling and her back was pointed to the ground. Tamara proceeded to spin her in a revolution above her head, before finally putting her down behind Tamara in line. Barbie’s eyes were wide open in shock.”
I’ve had the pleasure of meeting many Olympians from the 1964 Summer Olympics, over the phone, but yesterday I met in person with my very first oversees interviewee, Mr Makoto Sakamoto. Mako-san was visiting Tokyo, and it was a tremendous honor to meet the highest scoring performer on the US Men’s Gymnastics team in 1964.
Born in bombed-out Tokyo Japan, Mako-san left for the United States with his family when he was 7. At the age of 16, he got his US citizenship. At the age of 17, he was recognized as the country’s best gymnast, and represented America in the country of his birth, competing with the very best in the world, finishing 20th overall in the individual competition.
The world of men’s gymnastics at that time was dominated by countries like Japan, USSR,
Yugoslavia and Italy. The US was competitive, but not considered a threat.
But in 1984, a team whose head coach was Melbourne and Rome Olympian, Abie Grossfeld,
Keum Dan Shin, the North Korean star of the women’s 400 and 800 meter events had only precious minutes before the North Korean team got on a train to Niigata, to a boat to North Korea. Her father, Mun Jun Shin, who was separated from her daughter during the Korean War, was hoping to take advantage of the Olympics to see her daughter compete over the two weeks of competitions. Unfortunately, after 14 years of separation, they were only allowed to share several minutes together. “My daughter gave me ginseng as a gift, but the best gift for me was the warm, warm tears she shed when she recognized me,” according to a report in the October 15 1964 Japan Times.
Keum Dan Shin, the unofficial world record holder in the women’s 800 meters, and her father were caught in the middle of a geo-political conflict. On October 4, 1964, the North Korean team arrived in Tokyo to participate in the XVIII Olympiad. On October 8, they made an about face and returned to North Korea, only two days prior to the start of the Summer Games. The International Olympic Committee had already disqualified
So thought French track star, Michel Jazy. In 1964, when all one might hear and read about is whether the US or USSR would dominate in the medals race, Jazy dreamed of a new power, one formed of the united states of Europe, a vision hatched from the ruins of World War II, when leaders looked for ways to avoid all together the devastation of extreme nationalism.
Belgium, France, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and West Germany signed The Treaty
of Rome which established the European Economic Community in 1957. Jazy extended that thinking, and imagined a time when Europe would be the dominant player in the grandest of the global sporting competitions.
Sports Illustrated described this point in their October 5, 1964 issue.
Michel Jazy, the French distance runner, could see medals practically pouring from heaven as he explained his enthusiastic endorsement of a proposal that a European juggernaut be formed from countries in the Common Market, ostensibly to challenge Russia and the U.S. for team points—points that are unofficial and contrary to the best Olympic intentions. “A European team,” said Jazy, “would be world-beaters!”
Luke Jackson was a center and instrumental member of the US Men’s basketball team in Tokyo. In this picture from Beaumont Enterprise, Jackson shows what the best in the world play for.
“I had one thing in mind – to win the gold medal representing my country,” Jackson told me in an interview. ” When they call your name and the anthem is playing, you are just so touched when you receive the medal for your country. I cried like a baby. I love my medal. It’s beautiful.”
Luke Jackson went on to a career in the NBA right after the Tokyo Olympics,
There are many stories of Japanese going beyond expectations in helping foreigners in need, but this story was above and beyond the call of duty. Prince Bernhard of Holland lost his Dunhill tobacco pouch while observing equestrian events in Karuizawa. That’s when a platoon of Japan’s Self Defense Forces sprung into action, combing the entire 33 kilometer equestrian course, finding the royal pouch in under 60 minutes. “They are quite wonderfully organized,” he said, referring to the Japanese Self-Defense Forces men. “They are really worthy of a gold medal.” (Did he really say that?)
Prince Bernhard was not a man of insignificance. He established the World Wildlife Fund in 1961. Unfortunately, he was forced to step down from the WWF after being implicated in the notorious Lockheed scandals, accepting a million dollar bribe in exchange for influencing Dutch aircraft purchases. Lockheed also helped bring
One of the things that has not changed in Japan since 1964 is how people outside Japan view the Japanese. No matter where you go, people will say the Japanese are kind, courteous, helpful and respectful. One can argue that the reason the Japanese behave this way is because they truly care about this perception, and will work hard to ensure this view. This UPI report from January 2, 1964, 10 months before the commencement of the XVIII Olympiad, describes this mindset.
The major worry of government, civic and business leaders is not the unfinished projects. It’s the impressions of the Japanese people which the visitors to the games are likely to take home. Will they remember the Japanese as dignified, cultured and courteous, or as a people beset with social ills.