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.
The 18-year old from Oswego, Oregon became the Golden Boy of the 1964 Olympics. Before there was Mark Spitz, there was Don Schollander, who won four swimming gold medals at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. In fact, Schollander became the first person to win four golds in a single Olympics since 1936, when a man named Jesse Owens blazed to glory a the Berlin Olympics.
But the four gold medals was in some part hinging on a race strategy of deception, in a competition that Schollander was not commonly a participant – the 100-meter freestyle. Schollander was dominant in the middle and long-distance competitions of the 400 and 1,500 meters. And as he mentioned in his 1971 autobiography, Deep Water, only Olympic champion Johnny Weissmuller had won both the 400 and 100-meter races. “The two races are just very different and training for them is different. In the 100-meter, the emphasis is on speed, in the 400, on endurance. In the 1,500 the emphasis is also on endurance, obviously, and the 400 and the 1,500 are a fairly common double. But I had made up my mind to swim the 100.”
The press believed there was a likelihood that Schollander could win gold in the 400-meter freestyle, the 4×100-meter freestyle relay and the 4×200 meter freestyle, in addition to the 100-meter freestyle. But the 100-meter freestyle, arguably the marquee swimming event, was the first one, which put pressure on Schollander, who had little experience at this distance.
…because it was my first event, I felt that this race could make me or break me for the rest of the Games. If I won, I would be ‘up’ for the rest of my events – my confidence would be flying high. If I lost, I would be ‘down.’ That sounds temperamental, but I have seen an early race work this way on swimmers. So this 100 free took on much more importance than just another event.
Because Schollander was seen as more of an endurance swimmer, who took advantage of his extraordinarily strong kick to dominate in the latter half of a competition, it was a foregone conclusion that Schollander’s strategy would be to win in the second half of the 100 meters. And Schollander made sure everyone believed that was how he planned to swim his race, even though the conventional wisdom was to take the first 50-meters and hold on for the latter half. Schollander pointed out a couple of reasons why that was a valid strategy.
A hundred meters is a short distance, so a quick lead can be maintained to the end. The second more important reason is that in the 100-meters, all swimmers hit the wall at the 50-meter mark at nearly the same time, which creates a tremendous amount of backwash at the wall. If you’re behind the top swimmers, the backwash can hit you hard enough to slow you down enough to cost you in a short race. As Schollander explains, “any swimmer who is even a split second behind turns right into this wash. And swimming against it is like swimming against a rip tide. This was is peculiar to the sprint.”
So Schollander knew he had to be out in front with the leaders at the mid-point to have a chance at leveraging his advantage of endurance. But he thought it would be better to let his competitors think that he was a second-half swimmer.
So I began to talk about my second lap. Whenever someone would ask me how things looked in the 100 free, I would emphasize my second lap. I would say, “well, I’m a middle-distance swimmer and I may not have much speed, but I have a good last lap.” Or, “You know, I’m a come-from-behind swimmer. I’ve always got my last lap.” Even my friends began to talk about my last lap. I wanted everyone in that race to think that if he was going to beat me, he had to do it early – because he would never do it on the second lap.
Schollander was strong and confident enough to play this ruse through the preliminary rounds. In the qualifying heats, he swam the first 50 in 25.9 seconds, while those winning the early heats were doing so in 25.1 or 25.2 seconds. And true to the script, Schollander powered to a finish strong enough to advance. So when it came to the finals, Schollander was in the final eight, along with teammates Mike Austin and Gary Ilman, Alain Gottvalles of France, Hans Klein of Germany and Bobby McGregor of Great Britain.
True to his secret plan, Schollander blasted into the pool, not in the lead, but just behind. If his plan worked, he hoped to get into the heads of his competitors.
All week I had worked to convince everyone that I was a dangerous man in the second lap. In the heads and in the semi-finals I had held back at the start and shot ahead in the second lap. Now I burned up that first lap, hoping to be right with them at the turn. I hoped that for an instant they would panic and think, “What’s wrong? Did I go out slower than I thought? If he’s right here with me now, what will do to me in the second lap?
Five swimmers hit the 50-meter wall at about the same time of 25.3 seconds, far better than the standard of 25.9 seconds Schollander wanted the others to see in the preliminary races. Ilman hit some waves off the wall and that may have thrown him off. Schollander could tell he was pulling away in the second half of the race and thought he would win, until he noticed the speedy Scotsman, McGregor, actually ahead of the Oswegan.
Going back, on the second lap, because I could breathe to the right, I could see that I was ahead of all of them and pulling away. But I couldn’t see McGregor, to my left, in lane two. Ten meters away from the wall, I actually had the thought – and I’ll never forget it – I’m going to win! I’m going to win! But at that point, although didn’t know, it McGregor was actually ahead of me. With 5 meters to go he was still ahead. He had gone out so fast that, if I had not gone out as fast as I did, there would have been no way I could have caught him. But he had gone out too fast, and during those last 10 meters he was decelerating and I was accelerating. And I just touched him out. I just touched him out – by one-tenth of a second.
It was day two of the competition and Schollander unexpectedly took gold, setting up the prospects of at least 3 more. As he told the AP after the race, “It’s the greatest feeling of my life.”
Before the 1960 Rome Olympics, very few people knew who Ingrid Krämer was. After her victories in the women’s 3-meter springboard and 10-meter platform diving competitions in Rome, she was the face of German sport. According to Der Spiegel in an article in 1964, the newly emerged blonde superstar, Krämer, was inundated by requests for marriage.
Krämer, who eventually accepted a proposal by weightlifter, Hein Engel, proved she was no fluke. In fact, she proved to be the most dominant female diver in the world, by talking gold in springboard and platform by double digit points over her second place competitors at the 1962 European Championships. So when the 1964 Olympics began, Engel-Krämer was a frontrunner.
In the 3-meter springboard competition, Engel-Krämer’s competition were two Americans named Jeanne Collier and Patsy Willard, who aimed to restore glory to the United States and prevent the East German Engel-Krämer from repeating her gold medal victory in Rome. But Engel-Krämer was dominant in the springboard again, taking gold handily.
According to the book, Olympic Games 1964 Innsbruck – Tokyo, edited in German by Harald Lechenperg, Engel-Krämer’s advantage was precision.
People say of the former Olympic victor, Mrs. Engel, that she has no longer possesses the elegance she used to have. Well, her strongest point was never elegance, but sureness. Ingrid Engel dives with a precision of movements which is lacking in everyone else. She makes no mistakes. It is easy to slip up on springboard diving when the body, as if touched by magic, turns, twists and moves about its own axis.
Collier told me that if not for a single dive, she could have challenged Engel-Krämer for gold at the Tokyo Olympcis. Collier’s first of the competition’s ten dives was horrible, scoring a horrible 4.5 of ten. But her final two dives, which had high degrees of difficulty, allowed her to pass her teammate to win gold. “Ingrid Kraemer was a beautiful diver,” Collier told me, “and deserved to win. She was the most consistent.”
By taking gold in the springboard, Engel-Krämer would reach the heights of famed diver Pat McCormick, who was then the only woman to have won gold medals in both springboard and platform in two consecutive Olympics. But Lesley Bush of America would have none of that. While the competition was close, Engel-Krämer would take silver.
According to Lechenperg, Bush was relatively unknown, someone who had only taken up platform diving three years prior to the Olympics. But she executed on her plan. “Leslie Bush knows the recipe for success: safety first. She takes the lead during the first compulsory dives. Later on she lets go of it. The “iron” Ingrid now for the first time shows her nerves. She risks everything with one dive, but the judges only give her 16.80 points. Leslie Bush has won.”
British journalist, Christopher Brasher, wrote in his book, A Diary of the XVIIIth Olympiad, that Engel-Krämer may have been a reluctant participant in the Olympics, which could have affected her performance.
I have heard that she didn’t really want to come to Tokyo. She was married a year ago to one of East Germany’s best weightlifters, Heinrich Engel. They are both students at University and the combination of being a Hausfrau and a student doesn’t leave her much time for training. But east of the iron curtain it is only too easy for the authorities to put some gentle pressure on a reluctant athlete. With many of the necessities of life, to say nothing of the luxuries, in short supply, the stars of sport are often given preferential treatment – so it pays to keep on competing.
Der Spiegel offered another explanation why Engel-Krämer was not able to repeat her gold-medal ways in the platform dive – she was a bit too curvaceous. Here is a Google translation of part of that article:
Thus the German, as the first jumper in the world of the double-screw somersaults – a one-and-a-half-turn about the longitudinal axis of the body, with a simultaneous twisting of the body and its transverse axis – succeeded just as accurately as an ordinary head-jump. A 10-meter jump case takes at most 2.1 seconds, a jump from the three-meter board even less. Ingrid Engel-Krämer made her work very quickly.
In Tokyo, Ingrid Engel-Krämer was no longer able to finish her turn so early. A disadvantage that cannot be compensated by training and energy in the long term is the following: the best in the world does not have the ideal figure for her sport. Ingrid Engel-Krämer is only 1.58 meters tall, but weighs 56 kilograms and tends to fullness. “She is as wide as high,” her first coach mocked.
Still, three golds out of four makes Engel-Krämer one of the greatest divers of the 20th century. Despite references to her looks and her moniker, the Doll from Dresden, Engel-Krämer jumped hundreds of times every week, climbing the tower steps 10-meters, smacking into the water painfully, pausing about three minutes and doing that again, over and over. As the Der Spiegel article mentioned regarding her 500 jumps a week, Engel-Krämer become so good that legendary American diving Olympic champion and coach, Sammy Lee admitted that “On a bad day, she’s still good.”
If you want to be the best, you need to train like the best. Here is a link to a great self-help article on the strength and flexibility exercises that Olympians use. In trying to understand these exercises, I did an image search so that you can see what the article is trying to describe.
Carrie Gaerte is a physical therapist and athletic trainer for USA Gymnastics, and she recommends the seated spinal stretch, the reclined half-pigeon and the achilles extension.
Water polo athletes, Kami Craig, Courtney Mathewson and KK Clark build their strength and endurance with these routines: the leveled plank, the dumbbell step up, and the step jump.
The coach of gold-medal winning wrestler, Helen Maroulis, recommends push ups, the dumbbell row and the pause squat in Maroulis’ training regimen.
The sport of yachting is not the sport of the common man. At the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, the Crown Prince Harald of Norway competed in the 5.5 meter competition, while Prince Bhanubanda Bira of Thailand sailed in the Dragon competition.
So when Keith Musto and Tony Morgan of Great Britain decided they wanted to be on the British sailing team at the 1964 Tokyo Games, competing in the Flying Dutchmen category, they knew that their class and blood was not going to get them there. As Musto said in this video interview, “we felt if we wanted to go to the Olympics, our background probably wouldn’t allow us to be invited to the Olympics. We had to earn our place.”
The first thing they understood was that they were not supreme physical specimens, but that they could work on their strength.
We felt the only way to address that was to be fitter than our competitors. We went up to the local school one evening, and we asked the PE instructor how we could get fitter. And he said, what do you do? What are the body movements? We told him and then he put us through a process for exercises, and finished up by saying, “If you do that every day between now and the Olympics, then you’ll win a medal.” So we did it every day. Christmas Day. Boxing Day. Everyday. Basically it was the start of circuit training as we now know it today.
The crew member in the Star Class spends more of his time outside the boat than inside it. He hooks one leg and one arm over the gunwale and then lowers his body over the side to keep the boat as upright as possible. But he, poor lad, spends most of his time with waves breaking over him. Tony Morgan, the crew member on Lady C, does not get quite so wet because he swings out on a trapeze attached to the top of the mast. But to hold this position for half an hour at a time requires tremendous strength in his stomach muscles and hands. It is no wonder that he has had to train for three years.
What’s fascinating is that, according to Morgan, training hard was frowned upon by his colleagues in the sailing world. Perhaps it was a class attitude, that people of privilege should be effortless in their ways, without a thought of having to or needing to win. Here’s what Morgan said a student colleague said to him regarding the training Musto and Morgan were putting in as preparation for the Olympics:
Keith and I were regarded as a couple of people below the salt on the table. One day we were chastised verbally by the most senior person in the class, saying “I hear you train. We don’t do that.” I said, “I don’t know what you mean.” He said, “I heard you do a hundred press ups. I think this is a very in appropriate way to behave.”
Morgan and Musto of course ignored the naysayers. They were going to train. They were going to be selected to the Olympic team. And they were going to win, no matter what people would think. Musto reflected on that attitude, remembering the moment he entered the National Olympic Stadium that beautiful day of October 10, 1964.
At the Opening Ceremony you were waiting outside for many hours, and when you went in through the main entrance to the arena, it was s tremendous shock, the noise and the atmosphere hits you like a brick wall. It was fantastic. Up on the big notice board was the Olympic motto. I forget the exact wording but it was to the effect of “the spirit is to participate, not to win”. And I thought, “Rhubarb to that. I haven’t come here just to participate. I’ve come here to win.”
But alas, while physical prowess and tactical sailing skills are key to success in sailing, a wind shift here and a lack of wind there can change the fortunes of boats instantly. Ahead throughout the competition, Musto and Morgan thought they had the gold medal wrapped up with two races to go. But in the final of 7 seven races, a mighty wind took the sails of the New Zealand dragon class boat, and sent them flying past the British boat on to gold medal victory.
Disappointed, Musto moved on, knowing that the time in Tokyo was just one moment in a long life. Musto would go on to form a successful global fashion and sailing equipment business called Musto, and never look back.
He was an officer in the US Army, serving in Korea.
He was an Olympian, a two-time gold medalist in platform diving.
And he was a coach of Olympians, both formally and informally, not just of American medalists, but of divers around the world.
He was Dr. Sammy Lee. And on December 2, 2016, this great man passed away.
I am an Asian American, and I am proud of the example my grandfather, and my father – both of whom are people I can openly say are my role models. But for Asian Americans, we sometimes complain about our lack of Asian American heroes on the big screen, in the big leagues, in the government. It’s a silly thought of course – examples abound and I won’t list them here (because I am Asian).
But if I were to mention one special role model in the sporting world, it would have to be Dr. Sammy Lee, a Korean American and a diving legend. To be honest, until I started my book project on the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, I was not so aware of him, although I was familiar with the name. However, when I met diving Olympians like Frank Gorman, Soren Svejstrup, Jeanne Collier, and Bob Webster, I realized that Sammy Lee transcended race, that he was a role model for the world, particularly for the world of diving.
He inspired: He was the very best in platform diving in the world, winning the gold medal in the 10 meter dive at the 1948 London Games, and the 1952 Helsinki Games, in addition to being a medical doctor and an officer in the US Army.
He knew how to get the best out of you: In this article, two-time gold medalist Webster told me that Lee knew how to light a fire in your belly, how to believe in yourself, and how he would do it with equal parts pressure and humor. He was regimented in his training plan for you and he was strict in making you follow it, but he got results out of you.
He was committed to you, in many cases, for life: Lee took diving champion Greg Louganis into his home to train him for the 1976 Montreal Olympics. In this article, I wrote that he spent time coaching promising young divers who showed up without coaches, eventual champions like Gorman and Svejstrup, and always stayed in touch.
Collier told me that Lee would always have a camera and would make sure he took a picture of the divers he knew as they stood on the medal podium, and then send it to them. “He is one of the greatest people on the planet,” gushed Collier.
Said Svejstrup, who said that at a time in his career when he was inexperienced and unsure of himself, Lee stood up for him. “I was grateful, and of course I lost my heart to Sammy forever.”
Twenty-six sports were recommended as new additions to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. As many of you now know, Tokyo2020 and the IOC selected five new competitions: baseball/softball, karate, skateboarding, sports climbing and surfing.
But there were others recommended that I was either surprised about or unfamiliar with. I’ve created a list below of all the “sports” that were considered officially by Tokyo2020 for the next Summer Games. I took the liberty to make sense of them by organizing them into four categories, which you could most certainly dispute.
The Olympics are, in a way, an endorsement of the international relevance of an organized sport or gaming activity. This year, there was a conscious emphasis to increase the youth following, so skateboarding (roller sports), sports climbing and surfing were added.
Baseball and softball were actually Olympic competitions from 1992 to 2008, so it probably was not a difficult decision with the Olympics returning to Asia, where baseball is very popular. However, tug of war, which was an Olympic competition from 1900 to 1920, did not make the cut.
I was faintly familiar with Netball, which is popular in Singapore where I lived a couple of years. It is a derivative of basketball, played mainly by women. But I was not familiar with Korfball, which originated in the Netherlands and is similar to basketball, but certainly not the same. First, the teams are composed of both 4 men and 4 women. Second, you can score from all angles around the basket. Third, there is no dribbling, and fourth, you can’t shoot the ball if someone is defending you. Watch this primer for details.
Orienteering is new to me, but then again, I was never in the Boy Scouts. Orienteering is a category of events that require the use of navigational skills, primarily with the use of a map and compass. Most are on foot, but some are under water, or in cars or boats. Think The Amazing Race, without all the cameras. The video gives you an idea of what this activity is like.
DanceSport is essentially competitive ballroom dancing, which is popular in Japan. The 2004 movie “Shall We Dance” with Richard Gere and Jeffifer Lopex is a re-make of the 1996 Japanese film of the same name. A film that you may know that focuses on the competitive side of dance (with a smattering of American football) is “Silver Linings Playbook” with Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper and Robert DeNiro.
And then there’s Bridge and Chess, what most people refer to as games as opposed to sports. I used to play chess a lot, since I grew up in the days of Bobby Fischer and Boris Spassky. And while I won second place in a chess tournament when I was 13, I would never experience the mentally and physically draining levels of tension that world-class chess masters go through. Still, is it a sport?
He cut a dashing figure, this officer of the Imperial Japanese Army, who did more for Japanese-American relations in the 1930s than anyone else. Takeichi Nishi, who won gold in equestrian show jumping at the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics, was a star.
He was the son of baron in the Japanese peerage system of the time. His horse was Italian. He spoke English. And he ran in the circles of Hollywood royalty – Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks. He was the most popular Japanese man in the United States already. But on the final day of the 1932 Olympics, Nishi mounted his horse, Uranus, and slayed a difficult course that six of the final eight competitors failed to complete.
“Baron Nishi” as he was called, was not only a champion, he was a shining light of pride for Japan. But he was one of many new heroes in the Japanese sporting pantheon.
Through three Olympiads from 1912 to 1924, Japanese athletes garnered a total of only three medals (in tennis and wrestling). In 1928 in Amsterdam, Japan began to show some life with five medals. Mikio Oda (triple jump) and Yoshiyuki Tsuruta (200-meter breaststroke) became the first Japanese to ever win gold.
It was at the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics, when Japan sent 142 athletes and amazed the sporting world. Japanese athletes took home a total of 18 medals, placing ahead of European powers Hungary and Great Britain. Their 7 gold medals was better than prominent powers of the time, Hungary, Finland and even Germany that was to be the host of the Berlin Games four years later.
In addition to Baron Nishi’s star turn, Japanese swimmers became overnight heroes. In fact, 12 of Japan’s 18 medals won at the 1932 Games were in swimming, including gold medals in the men’s 100 meter backstroke, 100-meter freestyle, 1,500-meter freestyle, 200-meter breaststroke and the 4×200-meter freestyle relay. In fact, in the 100-meter backstroke, Japan swept gold, silver and bronze. With headlines of “Team Swimming Championship Will Go to Sons of Nippon”, this August 13, 1932 Associated Press article explained the triumph this way:
The turn of affairs came suddenly yesterday, as expected, when the Japanese finished one, two, three in the 100-meter backstroke final. Masaji Kiyokawa outclassed his field to win by three yards in 1 minute 8.6 seconds. He was fourteenths of a second short of the only Olympic record of the whole water festival which withstood attack.
Prior to the 1932 Olympics, Japan was somewhat of a mystery to the West, so far away, so different. Increasingly they were a threat as well. The Japanese had defeated the Russians in a great naval battle in 1904-5, re-setting the global balance of power. And when the Japanese invaded Manchuria in 1931, they became an instant competitor with Western imperialist powers for colonies and natural resources in Asia.
The Japanese success at the 1932 Olympics put human faces on these so-called inscrutable Asians, and gave momentum to Japan’s bid to hold an Olympic Games in Tokyo. The writer of this August 13, 1932 AP report thought so too.
“Japan’s improved showing all along the Olympic lines has been a conspicuous feature from the start. The Japanese have high hopes of landing the 1940 Olympics for Tokio.”