Season_of_the_Sun_poster
1956 film, Season of the Sun (Taiyou no Kisetsu)

 

If surfing comes to the Tokyo Olympics, it’s possible surfers will have the American military to thank.

After the Pacific War ended and General MacArthur assumed nearly imperial-like status in running Japan, military bases with thousands of American troops were established throughout the country. As explained in a previous post, American soldiers and their families were particularly prominent in the Shinjuku and Roppongi areas, significantly influencing the fashion and music of those areas in the 1950s and 1960s.

 

Screen capture of Prof Shunya Yoshima and Kanagawa Prefecture
Screen capture of Tokyo University Professor Shunya Yoshimi’s EdX course, Visualizing Postwar Tokyo.

 

In Kanagawa Prefecture, which is just south of Tokyo are two major American military bases, Atsugi and Yokosuka. A spot in between those two bases is a beach called Shonan, which today is considered a popular place for sun worshippers and surfers. The image of Shonan as a surfer’s hangout was most certainly cultivated by American soldiers who brought their music and surfboards to the beach. As Tokyo University professor, Shunya Yoshimi, explained in his EdX course, Visualizing Postwar Japan, “Kanagawa Prefecture or Shonan area was one of the most important areas where American military facilities remained even after the 1960s. And from these military facilities, sporting culture, marine culture, music culture, many kinds of American military culture spread out which people enjoyed.”

Marketers in Japan immediately noticed the influence and the emerging love of beach culture in Shonan. As Professor Yoshimi explained further, Hawaii, or the image of a Hawaiian lifestyle began to enter the Japanese pop consciousness. Prof Yoshimi uses as a case in point an advertisement of TRIS Whiskey, in which the company, Suntory, offers a trip to Hawaii to a lucky 100 Japanese people. Hawaii in the 1960s, for mainland Americans and Japanese alike, was becoming the exotic paradise that people dreamed of visiting. Today, of course, Hawaii is one of the most popular holiday destinations for Japanese.

 

Suntory Ad for TRIS Whiskey
Suntory ad for TRIS Whiskey offering 100 people a trip to Hawaii.

 

One of the more influential movies of the time was called “Season of the Sun”, which came out in 1956, based on a novel by Shintaro Ishihara. Season of the Sun was a love story between a boy, who runs with a rough crowd, and a rich girl, with life on the beach as a central part of the storyline.

Influenced by the surfing culture of beaches like Shonan, and with a desire to inject youth and fun into the Olympics, the Tokyo Olympic Committee nominated surfing to become an Olympic sport in 2020.

Soichi Sakamoto, founder of the Three Year Swim Club in Maui and coach of champions
Soichi Sakamoto, founder of the Three Year Swim Club in Maui and coach of champions

“He made you believe that if you set your goals high enough, you could achieve anything,” said Olympian Bill Smith of his coach and mentor.

Said John Tsukano, “We were kids from this small town in Maui, so we believed anything was possible. We would tell all the other teachers and our friends that we were going to make it to the Olympics. They would just laugh.”

Soichi Sakamoto was not a swimmer. He was a learner and a teacher, who asked the simple question “What makes a swimmer go fast?” When Sakamoto passed away in August, 1997, it was clear he knew that answer better than most, as he personally coached five Olympic champions, making Hawaii a swimming hotbed.

Sakamoto was a grade school teacher and a Boy Scout scoutmaster on Maui who knew only basic survival swimming techniques. The school where he taught was near the Hawaiian Commercial and Sugar Company, a sugar plantation that utilized miles of irrigation ditches to water the canes. In the Hawaiian heat, the schoolkids would often cool off in the ditches. The management of the plantation were concerned for the safety of the children so they asked Sakamoto to supervise them. And when Sakamoto watched the kids swim in the ditches, he asked himself that question.

Training in the irrigation ditches of the Hawaiian Commercial and Sugar Company
Training in the irrigation ditches of the Hawaiian Commercial and Sugar Company

“I didn’t know anything about swimming, but I realized that, if I put them in the water and watched their progress, maybe I’d learn something,” Sakamoto explained in this article. “So I watched their progress and tried to eliminate haphazard movement. It was common sense.”

The ditches were 8-feet wide and 4-feet deep. While similar to the size of a swimming lane in a pool, this lane had a current. It occurred to Sakamoto that swimming against the current of the irrigation ditch in the most efficient manner could help develop a swimmer into a very fast swimmer. He marked off distances of 50, 100, 150 and 200 meters, and developed an interval training system that helped build up the form, strength and speed of his students.

“In that ditch, the current coming down offered them natural resistance, and when they swam up they were developing a stroke that was very efficient and practical,” explained Sakamoto. “If they had done it in entirely still water, I don’t think it would have developed. Drifting

Tony and Fred van Dorp_15 October, 1964_AP
Tony and Fred van Dorp_15 October, 1964_AP

They were born in Batavia in the Dutch East Indies, which is modern-day Jakarta Indonesia. And these brothers of Dutch nationals played water polo together for the Dutch national team…until 1963. The elder brother, (Anton) Tony van Dorp, had moved to the United States in 1957 and became an American citizen in due course. The younger brother, (Alfred) Fred van Dorp, stayed in Holland and competed for the Dutch team at the Rome Olympic Games in 1960. Tony debuted in Olympic competition in Tokyo in 1964, but with the USA team.

And three days after the commencement of the Tokyo Games, the brothers found themselves immediately facing off as Holland took on America. Fred had the first laugh, as he was able to fire a goal past Tony in the first minute of the game. In the final quarter, Tony got the second laugh as he stuffed Fred on a penalty shot. As AP related of the game,

“Right-handed players like myself throw to the right side of the goal in such a situation,” Alfred explained. “But I thought I’d fool him so I threw the ball to the left side.”

Said Tony, “I figured he’d try to trick me, and I was ready. Maybe I know my brother too well.”

But Fred got the last laugh as Holland emerged victorious 6-4, a nice birthday present for the younger brother. Said Tony, “We hated to lose, but we’ll consider the win a sort of birthday present for Al. It’ll save me buying him something myself.”

Kanako WatanabeKanako Watanabe is one of the up-and-coming swimmers from Japan, who won gold in the 200-meter breaststroke at the world championships in Kazan, Russia in early August.

More interestingly, in that same competition, the bronze medal went to three swimmers as they all finished with the identical time of 2 minutes and 22.76 seconds.

In the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, the regulations set by the international swimming body FINA dictated that times were measured in tenths of seconds, and the first arbiter of times were human judges. In fact, judges would line up at the end of the pool where the race would finish. Not only did they time the swimmers with hand-held stopwatches, they also used their eyes to determine when the swimmer in their lane touched the wall, presumably seeing finishers with their peripheral vision to determine whether they finished ahead or behind swimmers in neighboring lanes.

In the men’s 100 meter freestyle competition, Don Schollander took gold in an Olympic record time of 53.4 seconds. Brit Robert McGregor took silver with a time of 53.5 seconds. However, two men ended up with identical third-place times. Both Hans-Joachim Klein of Germany and Gary Illman of the USA were determined by the judges to have touched the wall at 54 seconds flat. But using the unofficial electronic time available at the Tokyo Games, Klein finished one one-thousandth of a second faster, and was awarded bronze.

So remember, even today, every one one-thousandth of a second counts.

Greg Louganis
Greg Louganis

Greg Louganis had won silver in Montreal and two gold medals for diving in Los Angeles in 1984. In 1988 at the Seoul Olympic Games, Louganis was favored to win gold again in both the 3 meter springboard and the 10-meter platform events.

But that changed suddenly when Louganis hit his head in the 3-meter preliminaries, and fell into the water with blood seeping from his head. As he explained in a recent episode of Hang Up and Listen (the Slate sports podcast), “in that split second, I was the underdog.” (Listen from the 36-minute mark for the Louganis interview.)

Louganis went on to win gold in both the 3-meter and 10-meter competitions, ending the Olympic career of who some say is the greatest diver of all time. But the competition in 1988 was the toughest he faced with the Chinese coming on strong and challenging Louganis for diving supremacy. And more personally, it was only six months before when Louganis learned he was HIV positive. If the Korean authorities had known that, it is possible they would not have let him into the country to compete in the Olympics.

As the Slate interviewers asked in disbelief, after getting a concussion in the prelims, leaving blood in the water hiding the fact that he is HIV positive, the Chinese breathing down his neck as he battles to stay in medal contention….how did he focus.

Louganis replied with a laugh, answering as it wasn’t that big a deal to do so.

“That was my upbringing. I’ve been performing (for so long). I started dance and acrobatics when I was 3. I was taught, “Hey, the show must go on.” As soon as that music starts, there is no looking back. if you lose your place, you gotta catch up. You don’t get second chances. It was easy for me to compartmentalize my life because I had done so for so many years. We get good at what we practice. That is something I practiced a lot.”

Louganis is not alone. Almost all athletes at that level can narrow their focus on only the elements they know will contribute to their success. It amazes me

From upper left clockwise: Johnny Weissmuller: 5 gold medals in 1924 and 1928; Don Schollander: 4 gold medals in 1964; Dara Torres: 4 gold, 4 silver and 4 bronze in 1984, 1988, 1992, 2000 and 2008; Mark Spitz: 9 gold, 1 silver and 1 bronze in 1968 and 1972; Jenny Thompson: 8 gold, 3 silver and 1 bronze in 1992, 1996, 2000 and 2004; Michael Phelps: 18 gold, 2 silver, 2 bronze in 2004, 2008 and 2012
From left to right:
Johnny Weissmuller: 5 gold medals in 1924 and 1928; Don Schollander: 4 gold medals in 1964; Dara Torres: 4 gold, 4 silver and 4 bronze in 1984, 1988, 1992, 2000 and 2008; Mark Spitz: 9 gold, 1 silver and 1 bronze in 1968 and 1972; Jenny Thompson: 8 gold, 3 silver and 1 bronze in 1992, 1996, 2000 and 2004; Michael Phelps: 18 gold, 2 silver, 2 bronze in 2004, 2008 and 2012

Except for Katie Ledecky, who won five gold medals and set world records, the US swimming team had a relatively weak World Championships. Despite the fact that the Americans were atop the medal standings, they had the lowest totals in an Olympics or Worlds in the past 50 years.

Americans have been dominant in swimming. At every Olympics since 1964, the American swimming team won the medal count, often overwhelmingly. There was one bump in this relatively smooth ride through the past 50 years of international competition, when the East German team had the largest medal haul, led by Kristin Otto, the first female to win 6 gold medals in a single Games.

But according to Michael Phelps in this NBC OlympicTalk blog post, the American swimming team finds itself in unfamiliar territory: “Honestly, I really don’t know what to say about what I’ve seen over there,” said Phelps. “An interesting place

Yao Ming supports Beining 2022 Bid
International and NBA basketball star Yao Ming.

It’s a sad day when the International Olympic Committee cannot even clear one of the lowest bars for choosing the host city for the Winter Games: snow.

A telling first line from the New York Times regarding the IOC awarding the 2022 Winter Games to Beijing. This is the first time the same city has ever been awarded the Summer and Winter Games, probably for the obvious reason that cities big enough to host the Summer Games simply don’t have big mountains or enough snow to host the Winter Games.

The reality is, the lack of snow did not prevent Beijing from being selected. Perhaps the main reason for Beijing’s success is that the Winter Olympics are currently considered a very expensive proposition by host cities, limiting the competition significantly. The only other candidate for these games was Almaty, Kazakhstan, which actually has snow.

In fact according to Andrew Zimbalist in his insightful book, Circus Maximus: The Economic Gamble Behind Hosting the Olympics and the World Cup, the Olympics in general, and the Winter Games in particular, have had a declining number of applicants and candidates in the 21st century due to rising cost. As a recent example, he cites that Vancouver, which hosted the Winter Olympics in 2010 is a billion dollars in debt for bailing out investors in the development of the Olympic Village, resulting in cuts in service to education,