The Olympians has been a labor of love for exactly two years. It is my sketchbook as I prepare for the mural masterpiece, a book on the 1964 Tokyo Olympics.
While my book’s focus is on the XVIII Tokyo Olympiad, I use my blog as an excuse to write about anything even remotely related to these areas: the Tokyo Olympics, the Olympics overall, Japan, and sports in general. In other words, I think of my blog as therapy for a restlessly curious mind.
How else could I go 730 straight days without missing a post?
It’s been exactly two years since I started my journey to understand the context, the organization and the stories of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. My father was at those games as a news producer for NBC, and I turned one years old on Opening Day.
I moved to Tokyo for a third time in January, 2014, excited by Tokyo’s selection as the host city for the 2020 Summer Games. Surprised to find not a single book on the 1964 Tokyo Olympics in English, I endeavored to write the definitive record. On May 1, 2015, I started my blog, The Olympians is in many ways, the first draft of my book.
All, thank you for your wonderful comments and support!
We live in a 24/7 always on world. When NBC delayed broadcast of premier sporting events at the Rio Olympics, so that they could present them during prime time in the evenings, their strategy backfired for many. After all, in today’s world, people can learn of the results instantly.
NBC recently announced that for the PyeongChang Winter Olympics in early 2018, all broadcasts will be live, no matter the time in the US.
“That means social media won’t be ahead of the action in any time zone, and as a result, none of our viewers will have to wait for anything,” Jim Bell, president for NBC Olympics production and programming, said in a statement. “This is exciting news for the audience, the advertisers and our affiliates alike.”
Since South Korea will be 14 hours ahead of the East Coast of the United States, if an ice hockey match starts at 8pm in Korea, then New Yorkers can watch it real time, but they’ll have to be up at 6 am to do so. Of course, if you’re a big hockey fan, trying to avoid hearing the score for another 12 hours before watching it prime time would be a pain in the neck, if not impossible.
This may actually be ho hum news for most people.
But in 1964, the prospect of broadcasting the Tokyo Olympics live to other continents was an exciting thought.
Live broadcasts in 1964 were not new. The 1936 Berlin Olympics were shown live on German television. The 1960 Rome Olympics were the first to be broadcast live across Europe. But, according to John Slater of Western Carolina University, Japan wanted the 1964 Tokyo Olympics to be the first broadcast live to another continent.
Slater wrote in this abstract that members of the Tokyo Olympic organizing committee wanted the Tokyo Games to be known as the Technology Games. And so they contacted the American government in Washington D. C. if they would be willing to adapt American communication satellites designed for telephone communications to relay television signals. American officials also thought it would be very cool to be the first Games to broadcast signals literally across the globe.
NHK, the Japanese Broadcasting Corporate, built a transmitter in Japan, and the US Navy made modifications to a communications facility in California, and NASA which operated the satellite Syncom II, moved its orbiting location from the Atlantic to the Pacific. And when they tested the ability to send visual and audio television signals from Japan to North America real time, it worked! But as Slater wrote, NBC, which owned the broadcast rights in the United States, got very defensive.
The U.S. Department of State coordinated the use of the necessary radio frequencies. The system worked, and the Communication Satellite Corporation offered to make satellite time available. Both CBC and the European Broadcasting Union signed up for an hour a day, at a cost of U.S. $150 a minute.
But NBC chose to protect its investment in exclusivity. It got hung up on NASA’s policy that programs sent via experimental satellites should be made freely available to all competing media. In the end, only the opening ceremonies were televised live in the United States, and then only in the East. During the competition itself, U.S. viewers had to wait to see next-day videotapes of the Games, while viewers in Canada and Europe got the full benefit of live coverage. The Canadians had embraced the new technology, while the U.S. broadcasters tried to fend it off as a threat to their commercial interests.
NBC got an earful for promising live broadcasts, but actually providing tape-delayed shows in the evenings.
But that was 1964. Today, on the eve of the PyeongChang Winter Olympics, NBC will be giving sports fans immediate gratification.
All of the rows on either side of me faded to nothing. And all sounds completely dissipated. All that I could hear was the sound of the spray trickling onto the water. Time slowed down and it was just me and the dive.
Matthew Mitcham, with his back to the water atop the 10-meter platform, exhaled, and lept into the void. The Australian then executed a two and a half somersault with two and a half twists in the pike position, and nailed it. Liang Huo of China, who was in first up to the last dive, climbed the platform to execute the same dive, and was unable to deliver the precision of Mitcham. Huo fell to fourth, and Mitcham, to his wonder and surprise, took the gold medal. In fact, at these 2008 Beijing Olympics, Mitcham was the only non-Chinese to win gold in the 8 men’s and women’s diving competitions.
Mitcham won because he was able to execute a dive of the highest difficulty at the time. FINA judges rated Mitcham’s and Huo’s attempt at 3.8 degree of difficulty (D.D.). But as is true in sports that employ D.D. in their judging, like figure skating or aerial skiing, the bar will continue to rise. At the Beijing Olympics, you had to have a D.D. of well over 3. Today, it needs to be over 4.0. In fact, FINA has identified 13 dives that have a difficulty of over 4, compared to over 10 years ago when it was only 2.
So where are divers and coaches getting insight into new ways to twist and tumble to greater dives? That’s right – mathematicians.
My doctoral thesis focused on optimal shape change control and achieved three primary goals: using the geometric phase to improve planar somersault performance, developing the mathematical framework to describe the twisting somersault, and innovating new dive sequences yet to be performed by real world athletes.
No, I can’t quite fathom that either. So the Technology Review article dumbs it down for us by explaining that Tong and Dullin have created a mathematical model for how a human body twists and turns in the air, with the expectation that they can propose new sequence of movements to increase the speed of these movements. Increasing speed is essential for the simple reason that the law of physics limits the time one can stay in the air after leaping off a ten-meter platform or a three-meter springboard – 1.43 seconds in a freefall to be precise. The diver can currently increase that to 1.6 seconds with his body movement.
Tong and Dunn have designed a dive that includes five twists and 1 1/2 somersaults that would take 1.8 seconds, based on their mathematical model, “assuming the diver generates only moderate levels of angular momentum during takeoff.”
This is longer than divers have in the air. But the pair say that there are various ways to make gains. An obvious way is to increase the amount of angular momentum during takeoff. Also, the diver spends a significant amount of time—0.4 seconds—with arms and legs stretched out to achieve the full 1½ somersaults. This could be reduced by taking a tucked or piked position (although their model is as yet unable to incorporate these positions).
This dive, labeled the 513XD dive, has never been executed. But the researchers say it is a matter of time. “By simulating the 513XD dive we hope to provide coaches and athletes with insight and motivation so that the dive may one day be executed in competition.”
It was looking bleak for the divers from the USA at the 2000 Sydney Olympics. The traditionally strong men’s team had not medaled in the 10-meter platform or the inaugural synchronized platform diving event. The American women were also shut out of the inaugural synchronized 3-meter springboard competition.
Laura Wilkinson of Houston Texas was on that synchronized swim team that finished fifth, adding to Team USA’s diving woes. But some felt that there was a chance as the Chinese, the powerhouse over the past four Olympics, had entered two very young divers, Sang Xue (15) and Li Na (16). It was thought that they could break under the pressure.
They didn’t. In fact, Sang and Li were 1-2 going into the final round. Wilkinson was fifth, and considered way behind. When asked after the semi-finals what it would take to beat the Chinese? “My best,” said Wilkinson (in an AP article). “I need to hit all my dives.”
It was only six months before Olympics that Wilkinson broke three bones in her right foot. And while she was able to recover in time to win a spot on the Olympic team by winning the US diving trials, she had to wear a big rubber kayaking boot to protect her foot as she climbed the 10-meter platform. She told reporters that the broken bones would rub against each other in a way that made it feel like she was walking on a rock.
So imagine, you’re way behind in fifth, an entire country is pinning its hopes on you. And you have to block out the foot as well as the expectations.
Which is what Wilkinson did.
In the final round, her third dive – a reverse two-and-a-half somersault – the 22-year-old split the water with nary a splash. Even with a perfect dive, Wilkinson needed help. And she got that. Li and Sang both had poor third dives, and Wilkinson suddenly was in the lead, which she clung to, to the very end.
Wilkinson unexpectedly won the 10-meter platform gold medal, ending a 36-year drought for US women’s platform diving.
Wilkinson would go on to win the 10-meter platform competition at the 2005 World Championships, and compete in the 2004 and 2008 Olympics, but she will forever be remembered for her gutsy come-from-behind victory in Sydney.
He had a Beatles’ moment, even before the Fab Four would land in Tokyo two years later. It was October, 1964, and Don Schollander had just landed in Haneda Airport.
The plane put down in Tokyo and for a second I had that fatalistic feeling in my stomach. Outside it was daylight and hundreds of reporters and photographers and spectators were there to greet us. We pulled ourselves together and straggled down the ramp. I hadn’t slept at all and I was one tired guy, coming down that ramp with the rest of the team. Then all of a sudden I heard it, all around me there were Japanese people and they were shouting, “Schollander! Schollander!” They remembered me! The guys laughed and kidded me about it but I felt good. I felt at home.
As five-time gold medalist, Don Schollander explained in his autobiography, Deep Water, he had a deep appreciation for Japan, even before his arrival for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. Swimming competitions had brought him and his Team USA swim teammates to Japan twice before, in 1962 and 1963. He was a 16-year old his first time in Japan and Schollander felt that the Japanese loved young people, although it may be more accurate to say, they loved young, handsome blonde people in particular, as they may have represented the idealized Hollywood version of America they read about in their literature.
Perhaps more significantly, he was a winner, having never lost a race there, and so expectations were high when he landed in Japan. “Looking back on it, I guess I felt sort of like a gladiator going into the arena, wanting to get into the fight and yet nervous about going out to face it.”
By the time the XVII Olympiad in Tokyo had ended, there were very few more popular people in Japan than Don Schollander. The slim, six-foot 18-year old from Oswego, Oregon, who was to become a freshman at Yale after the Summer Games, was a star.
Here is how the San Francisco Examiner described it:
As far as the Japanese are concerned, Don Schollander is the indisputable hero of the Olympic Games. Whether it’s his almost white hair or his four gold medals or his Adonic looks, he had caught the fancy of this tight little island.
That article from October 23, 1964, went on to say that Schollander was receiving letters and packages that filled a room:
On one side were at least 500 packages. On the floor were three large baskets filled with letters and telegrams. “With few exceptions, these are all for Schollander,” (J. Lyman Bingham executive director of the USOC) said. “This is the greatest expression of goodwill for an individual I have ever seen in my life… He is so young, strong, handsome and appealing Japan has just decided he is something of a god in a land where worship is complex religion….”
Schollander could not go anywhere without being stopped for autographs or having his photo taken. “Even to touch him was considered as a rare privilege.”
Schollander wrote in his autobiography that after his last golden victory in Tokyo, he was exhausted and finally got to be at 4:30 in the morning. Three hours later, photographers from Life Magazine banged on his door to wake him, resulting in one of the iconic photos of the 1964 Olympics.
I opened my one eye. My roommates were nowhere around; I didn’t know whether they had come and gone or hadn’t come in yet. Life wanted more pictures.
“Come back later,” I mumbled.
“No,” they said. “We want to get a picture upon the roof and now the sun is right. Come on. We’ve got your medals.”
I pulled on my sweats and at 7:30 in the morning, up on the roof, they shot that picture that appeared on the cover of Life.
So many Olympians from 1964 have told me how much they loved their experience in Japan, that the Japanese people in particular made their time in Tokyo so special. Many who have been to multiple Olympiads cite the 1964 Games in Tokyo as their favorite. I wouldn’t be surprised if Schollander felt the same:
After my race they had mobbed me as though I were one of them, and someone told me that the Japanese people had sort of adopted me. I had come to japan when I was fifteen, completely unknown, and I had had my first big victories there and things had gone so well for me ever since. The Japanese people felt that I got my start there and that Japan was lucky for me. They even used my name and address in a school textbook to illustrate how to address letters in English. I think this genuine affection on the part of the Japanese people was very good for me.
Don Schollander was the king of the pool at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, winning four gold medals. In fact, he would go on to Mexico City and win another gold and silver for the US, two more golds if you count the ones he received as a swimmer in the preliminary heats of relay teams that finished first in the finals.
To win consistently is a challenge, and requires a distinct edge. According to Schollander, in his autobiography, Deep Water, the edge was psychological.
When you get the eight fastest swimmers in the country or in the world into a pool for a race, they are so nearly equal in ability that mere ability is no longer the deciding factor. A race is won on strategy and psychology and very often by psyching out a competitors long before the race and some distance away from the pool.
Schollander was the king of the pool because perhaps he was the king of what he called the “psych-out”, an attempt to make a tremendous show of confidence, and/or undermine the confidence of the competition.
Showing confidence: An example Schollander gave in his book was demonstrating a totally carefree attitude while others steeled themselves up for the battle.
Before the race I would be standing near the pool talking with someone, perhaps a reporter, and when my race was announced I would appear not to hear the call, and while the other swimmers were taking off their sweats, loosening up, I would just keep talking. The would announce the race again – or someone would yell over to me that my race was beginning – and finally when I knew that all my competitors had noticed that I wasn’t there, I’d turn around and say, “Oh, hey! I’m on!” and walk over to my block and get ready to race. My purpose was to create the impression that I thought I could win hands down.
Undermining Confidence: Here are the kind of things one might say to another swimmer to enhance any lingering or creeping doubts.
A psych-out of a single competitor can be worked for a period of several days before the race by discussing his real or imagined weaknesses. “I watched your work out today. Do you always start kicking like that before you hit the water? Doesn’t that slow you down?” And, the next day, “I’m really amazed at the way you begin to kick early like that. I’m really amazed.” On the starting blocks, you hope, he’ll be worried about kicking too soon, and if he is worried, he will have a bad start.
One of the more intimidating examples of Schollander in total psych-out mode was when he worked on 100-meter freestyle competitor, Alain Gottvalles of France, prior to the 100-meter competition at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. Schollander wrote that Gottvalles irritated the Americans for his perceived arrogance towards them. So during the heats leading up to the 100-meter freestyle finals, Schollander saw Gottvalles sitting on the bench, looking as Schollander thought, “nervous about the race.” He wrote that Gottvalles was sitting on a bench. Schollander wrote that he started his psychological battle with glances. Then he started walking closer to him, to the point where he was standing right over Gottvalles, prompting the French swimmer to slide further down the bench. Then, Schollander got a bit edgy.
Finally he (Gottvalles) got up and headed for the locker room and went into the bathroom. And I followed him. He stepped up to a urinal and although there was another one free, I stood behind him and waited for him. When he finished he turned and almost ran out of that bathroom. I wouldn’t have horsed around like that in the finals but that night I thought it was sort of a cool thing to do. He had talked so much and he was so arrogant, and I wanted to see if it would work.
Did it work? Schollander won the 100-meter freestyle in an Olympic record time of 53.4 seconds, while Gottvalles finished fifth with a time of 54.2 seconds. After the Olympics, Schollander would enter Yale University, with the intent of majoring in psychology. You could say this high school student was ready for the master’s program.
Now you could put your own value judgments on that, but that’s the kind of thing that goes on all the time at the Olympics. In fact that’s a mild psych-out ploy, compared to some I’ve heard about. Psyching-out is part of the game. You’ve got to be able to take it, and you’ve got to be able to do it. training, conditioning, natural ability are not enough – with only those you won’t win. In Olympic competition a race is won in the mind.