Cassius Clay at the 1960 Rome Olympics

In memory of Olympians or people significantly connected to the Olympics who passed away in 2016.


Iolanda Balas in Tokyo_Tokyo Olympiad 1964_Kyodo News Service
Iolanda Balas in Tokyo, from the book, XVIII Olympiad Tokyo 1964 Asahi Shinbum
Waldemar Baszanowski of Poland at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics.

It’s a game of grams. Waldemar Baszanowski of Poland and Valdimir Kaplunov of the Soviet Union battled through the three events that make up weightlifting competition: the military press, the snatch and the clean & jerk.

The world record holder at the time, Baszanowski, trailed behind two other favorites, teammate Marian Zielinski and Kaplunov, after the completion of the military press. But Baszanowski got back into a tie for the lead with the Russian after the snatch. In the final round, both Baszanowski and Kaplunov ended lifting the same weight in the clean and jerk, resulting in a world record tie, a total of 432.5 kg over the three weightlifting events.

After the final lift, the final ruling was out of their hand. Here’s how Neil Allen in his book, Olympic Diary Tokyo 1964, told the story.

The moment of victory was most unclear in the weightlifting over at Shibuya Hall where Poland’s Waldemar Baszanowski beat Russian Vladimir Kaplunov by the margin of 10.5822 oz. (300 grams) This was the difference in his body weight and that of Kaplunov and it was the only way of dividing two men who both broke the world lightweight record with a total lift of 953 1/2 lb. (432.5kg) Baszanowski held the previous record of 947 3/4 lb. (429.9kg) But it was only after an enervating tactical battle, and records beaten in all three movements, that he was able to give the mixed smile of relieve and exhilaration which is the right of the champion.

That’s right – the tiebreaker in weightlifting is the difference in body weight. The lighter of the two, in this instance was Baszanowski. Only three hundred grams separated gold from silver.

While Baszanowski would win gold convincingly four years later in Mexico City, Kaplunov in 1964 may have been wondering what he had for breakfast that fateful day.

Phil Heath, front and back

It’s not about power. It’s about beauty. Beauty, of course, is in the eye of the beholder. But in the world of bodybuilding, beauty is massive muscles, ripples, depth of crevices between bulges and striations, as well as a pleasing symmetry to the entire body.

To others, it may seem grotesque, a CGI-like exaggeration of what a super-hero body could look like. But to fans and practitioners, bodybuilding, particularly competitive bodybuilding is a way of life.

American Tommy Kono, who won two golds and a silver in weightlifting at the 1952, 1956 and 1960 Olympics, was also a four-time Mr. Universe body builder. Kono was a hero to Arnold Schwarzenegger, who went on to become an international phenomenon in the groundbreaking documentary, Pumping Iron. Schwarzenegger would win the Mr. Olympia trophy seven times. The current champion, Phil Heath, has won it six times in a row. According to this fascinating look at Heath and the world of bodybuilding in The New York Times, at the age of 36, believes he can surpass Lee Haney and Ronnie Coleman, who have both won eight “Sandows“, the name of the Mr. Olympia trophy.

Heath has 22-inch biceps. His thighs are 32-inches each, both bigger in circumference than his waist. He is a few inches taller than me, weighs about 100 pounds more than me – but his waistline at 29 inches is 4 inches slimmer than mine. I make sure I exercise nearly every day, and eat reasonably well, but I don’t see myself ever getting back to 29 inches. Not that I’m comparing.

Competitive bodybuilding is all about maintaining and shaping the body, as well as being fully aware of how the body moves, and the muscles flex and modulate. “’It’s not about the weight, it’s about the movement,’ he said (in the article). He looked at himself carefully in the mirror between sets.” In fact, one of the keys to competitive bodybuilding is that you have to always be looking at yourself.

The article explains how he has pictures taken of him from behind and underneath his body so that he focus on the shape and movement of areas he cannot see. Even for the New York Times, he allowed only a handful of photos to be shot, as he does not want any photos of imperfection to become fodder for the internet trolls. “That can be hard to control in the age of iPhones and Facebook, but Heath’s living is entirely built on appearance. Every striation and crevice, every pimple and imperfection, will be scrutinized, praised or criticized.”

Diet is important to competitive body builders, not only to build the right kind of muscles, but also to look exquisite on the day of competition. “’Imagine eating a pound of food, eight times a day, with no fluid,’ he said. The effect of last-minute water loss is that the skin acts like shrink-wrap, showing every fiber of muscle and a maze of veins. The stress on the body and of the competition itself has sometimes left him with little memory of the two-day competition.”


But the world of bodybuilding can be rewarding financially, at least for the winners. According to the Times, Heath has five sponsors, and earns over a million dollars a year, something he hopes to continue to do for the next five to ten years. Age will take its toll, and one would assume in today’s day and age of doping, that it is rampant in the world of body building. Heath’s reply was curt: “Everybody is going to do what they do. But we get tested.” And the International Federation of Bodybuilding Professional League (IFBB) does, based on the World Anti-Doping Agency guidelines. So bodybuilders are randomly tested.

But fans of bodybuilders are less concerned about performance enhancing drugs. As the article points out, “Fans of Mr. Olympia do not seem caught up in the issue, perhaps because the sport is entirely about aesthetics, not strength or performance.”

So Heath and his fellow competitors continue to eat meticulously, shape muscles with laser-like focus, and search in front of mirrors constantly for imperfection. “The slightest change in a muscle, just a stripe in a striation is noticed.”

Well, that’s one worry I don’t have.

Yoshinobu Miyake and Isaac Berger (right) at the 1964 Olympic

Hiromi Miyake recently won the women’s 48-kg bronze medal at the weightlifting world championships in Houston, Texas. The silver medalist from the London Games in 2012 is the daughter of Yoshiyuki Miyake, who won a bronze medal at the Mexico City Olympic Games.

It is Hiromi’s uncle, Yoshinobu Miyake, who started the family dynasty. Yoshinobu won silver in Rome in the 56 kg bantam weight class, and then took gold in both Tokyo and Mexico City at the 60kg featherweight class.

In 1964, when the Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc dominated weightlifting, taking 15 of a possible 21 medals, Yoshinobu Miyake was the sole champion outside that Communist bloc. Miyake was so dominant that he was the only gold medalist weightlifter out of seven weight classes not to fail a lift. In other words, his competitors didn’t come close to pushing Miyake.

Yoshinobu Miyake had a technique named after him, like the “Ali Shuffle” or the “Fosbury Flop”. In fact, there were two names for that technique: the “Miyake Pull”, or more famously, “Frog Style”. When the 1.5 meter (5 foot 1 inch) man from Miyagi, Japan settled in front of his weights, his heels would sit close together, with his knees spread and toes pointed outwards at a 60 degree angle – as the picture below shows, he is said to resemble a frog. This frog style helped Miyake set 25 world records, reigning as the champ through much of the 1960s.

Miyake Pull

But Miyake worked at his technique. As a member of the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force, making some 12,000 yen (then $33) a month, he borrowed 80,000 yen (then $240) to buy a movie camera to film himself lifting, leading to a perfection of his technique, and eventually Olympic glory.

You can watch the frog style technique in this short video. You can see Miyake lifting at 18 second mark.