rose colored glasses

When I heard that four newspaper companies joined the growing number of local sponsors Dentsu has been signing up for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games, I couldn’t believe it.

The independence of the press, as far as I am concerned, is paramount. And yet, Yomiuri Shimbun, Nihon Keizai (Nikkei) Shimbun, Mainichi Shimbun and Asahi Shimbun all signed a contract with the Japan Olympic Committee to be sponsors.

Right after the Nagano Winter Games ended in February, 1998, the Japanese press reported on a bribery scandal of Olympian proportions. Eventually there were stories of how the Japanese authorities and Olympic officials wined and dined IOC members, particularly its leader, Juan Antonio Samaranch.

As explained in this article entitled “The Olympic Bribery Scandal” from the organization The International Society of Olympic Historians,

It was reported in the Japanese media that the Nagano bid committee spent an average of $22,000 on 62 visiting IOC members. But further investigational efforts were forestalled when it was discovered that Nagano had destroyed all the records of their bid committee. If they had a smoking gun, it had been put out. Samaranch attempted to elicit information on other bid committees by writing to each bid committee or relevant National Olympic Committee going back to 1990, and requesting evidence of IOC Member wrongdoing.

So here’s the question: Will Japan’s major newspapers, which are now paying for the right to be Olympic cheerleaders, going to have the guts to look in the shadows? Will they ask uncomfortable questions about freaky financing, suspicions of doping, backroom discussions?

A popular tabloid, Nikkan Gendai (日刊ゲンダイ), not an Olympic Sponsor, recently raised this issue, referring to renown sports journalist Gentaro Taniguchi. The Japan Times quoted Taniguchi’s interview in Nikkan Gendai:

(Sports journalist Gentaro Taniguchi) told tabloid Nikkan Gendai that the job of journalism is to “monitor those in power,” and here we have four such monitors “boosting an event in partnership with the state.” There’s nothing much you can do about TV, since broadcasters have to purchase rights to the Olympics in order to air the games, so they are already “part of the cheerleading team.” But print media? For the simple reason that they paid to be sponsors, these four newspapers, which are also profit-making organizations, will expect a “return on their investment,” meaning they will do what they can to guarantee that the Olympics are successful — so no negative coverage.

The Gendai article, which ran on Jan. 29, attempted to detail what it viewed as the hypocrisy involved. Together, the four newspapers paid the JOC ¥6 billion for the privilege of calling themselves official sponsors, which is one rank down from “gold partners,” who pay ¥15 billion each, but one rank up from “official supporters,” who pay between ¥1 billion and ¥3 billion.

Having said all that, newspapers being Olympic sponsors isn’t unprecedented. At the Vancouver Winter Games in 2010, 10 Canwest newspapers signed up as sponsors. Said the President and CEO of Canwest Publishing: “We’re still going to preserve the most important part of all of our mastheads, and that’s the integrity of the journalism that we publish every day.”

I hope they did.

Cathy Ferguson_Life_30October1964
From Life Magazine, October 30, 1964

Watching the build up to the 100-meter backstroke finals at the 1964 Olympic Games must have been like being in a pressure cooker. In the first preliminary heat, American Ginny Duenkel set the world record. In the next heat, American Cathy Ferguson broke Duenkel’s record. And finally, in the third heat, French women, Kiki Caron, set the world record yet again.

On October 14, 1964, three women who set three world records the previous day, were about to face off. As Ferguson wrote in the book, “Tales of Gold“, each of us had set a new world record, but only a fraction of a second separated us. In the finals, that would make the difference between gold and bronze.”

And so, in the pressure cooker of the National Gymnasium, the three record holders held even at the 50-meter mark when Ferguson began to pull ever so slightly ahead. In the end, Ferguson won the race at 1 minute 7.7 seconds, setting yet again, a world record.

You can see her crying on the podium as she hears the national anthem play, not only happy to win, but relieved it was all over.

I quit competitive swimming right before the ’68 Games. People ask me why I didn’t go on. But I knew I couldn’t win anymore, and when you know you can’t win, you can’t go on. I was only 19, but I just couldn’t get up for the races.

Most people do not understand just how much training takes out of you. It’s lonely in the pool. Just think of the countless hours in the water when you scarcely talk to another human being. All you have is that black line. It becomes your best friend. How many people can take that for more than six or seven years? I can remember being so tired at the end of the day that there was no way I had any energy left over to talk to the other kids.

Ferguson understood that her training and eventual triumph was worth it as her competitions and achievements took her to amazing places to meet incredible people. But her life, the life of a high-performance athlete can take its toll. In fact, when she was interviewed in the mid-1980s for the book “Tales of Gold“, she commented that athletes also need a program to help them transition out of life as an athlete.

I feel very strongly that we need some kind of detraining program for our former athletes. The East Germans have a program that helps their athletes get ready to move back into a normal life. It was very hard for me to be totally in the world of swimming and then, all of a sudden, to be completely out of it, then try to put that piece back in, only to find it doesn’t fit.

I felt quite empty when I left swimming. The thing I substituted for that programmed life was my first marriage. I was 19, and my husband was 26. in some ways I was probably 26 as well, but I had missed many of the experiences of being a teenager. Traveling all over the world and meeting important people was a fantastic experience, but I also needed those experiences that help one grow emotionally. When I was swimming, I was pretty much in control, but when I stepped out of that warm, secure cocoon, I didn’t control everything in my environment. I couldn’t control my husband, and I couldn’t control what was happening to me. At the time, I loved him dearly, but there was a needed growth period. Unfortunately, we both used marriage as a kind of sublimation for something else. I didn’t quite understand it then, but all I really needed was just to become “normal” again.

Cathy Ferguson_ESPN
Cathy Ferguson (center); Art Rickerby/Time Life Pictures/Getty Images

Apparently, that is something psychologists and the International Olympic Committee are coming to grips with. That the more you commit to the goal of achieving at the highest levels, the more people surrender their own personal identity to what is now being called the “Athletic Identity”. Psychologist, Chris Shambrook, explains this phenomenon in the book, The Secret Olympian.

There is a whole area of research around a concept called Athletic Identity. Athletic Identity is all about how closely my identity is allied to my performances as an athlete. If I am my results. If I am my performance. If I’ve handed ‘me’ over to that – that puts me in a very, very challenging place when the results and the performances aren’t there anymore. And it’s doubly challenging because you have to get pretty close to handling your personality over to that (mentality) in order to give yourself the best chance of winning. But it leaves you very vulnerable afterwards.

Kjetil Jansrud
Winner Kjetil Jansrud of Norway waves as he is introduced at an award ceremony following a men’s World Cup downhill race, also a test event for the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympics, at the Jeongseon Alpine Centre in Jeongseon, South Korea, Saturday, Feb. 6, 2016. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)

As Murphy’s Law continues its relentless attack on the Rio Summer Games half a year away, preparations for the PyeongChang Winter Games in 2018 are on time, and officials are optimistic. Last week, Korea held its first international downhill ski competition at the Jeongseon Alpine Centre, built for the upcoming winter games. Designed by two-time Olympian skiier, Bernhard Russi, the newly built course is getting rave reviews.

Kjetil Jansrud, a young Norwegian skiing sensation, won this International Ski Federation (FIS) World Cup Event, and said of the course: “I guess you never get a second chance to make a first impression. And PyeongChang just aced it. This will be a fantastic venue.”

We’re still two years away, but here’s what it’s like to ski like a pro. To hear what it’s like to have the wind race by and the skis slice through the icy snow, here is a wonderful video from the production team of The New York Times.

The Sounds of Skiing_NYT

Yamanaka Rose and Breen
1,500 meter winners: Tsuyoshi Yamanaka, Murray Rose and George Breen

What was it like?

It’s December 7, 1956 – 15 years to the day that Japan infamously entered World War II by declaring war on the Allies by bombing Pearl Harbor, and executing a series of simultaneous attacks on Hong Kong, the Philippines, Thailand, Singapore and Malaya.

Japanese swimmer Tsuyoshi Yamanaka is stepping up to the edge of the pool, readying himself for the 1,500 meter race against world record holders, American George Breen, and Australian Murray Rose. All three were born prior to the beginning of World War II, and all grew up listening to the propaganda of their respective countries during the war years.

But Yamanaka was in Australia. And while Australian attitudes to the Japanese today are overall quite positive and respectful, my guess is that in the 1950s, the many of the physical scars of the Pacific War may have faded, but not the mental ones. Memories of Australian POWS being forced to build the Burma Railway through the jungles of Thailand among others were powerful, and likely involuntarily arose when an Aussie confronted a Japanese.

I don’t know. And perhaps, Yamanaka was oblivious, as all high performance athletes tend to be towards distractions. What we do know is that the 1,500-meter race at the Melbourne Olympics brought war enemies together in a celebration of friendship, encapsulated in a photograph after Rose took gold and Yamanaka took silver, and seen by millions around the world.

Rose and Yamanaka
Murray Rose and Tsuyoshi Yamanaka

In this documentary on Murray Rose, the famed Aussie swimmer explains the symbolism of that time and that photograph:

Murray Rose: When I was growing up, I was part of a propaganda campaign for the Australian war effort. Fast forward a few years, and I’m swimming at the Olympic Games, and my main rival and competitor is Tsuyoshi Yamanaka-san. We embraced across the lane line and a photograph of that time was taken and was picked up by newspapers all over the world. For one main reason – the date was the seventh of December, 1956, the fifteenth anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. So it became symbolic of two kids who had grown up on opposite sides of the war and had come together in the friendship of the Olympic arena.

As the commentator John Clarke further explained in the video, Rose “did the Olympic Movement an enormous amount of good because it exemplified what Murray called the Olympic spirit.”

To watch Rose, Yamanaka and Breen battle it out, pick up the documentary entitled “Murray Rose – Life Is Worth Swimming” at the video below at the 21-minute mark.

Also see my post about the novel “The Narrow Road to the Deep North”, a moving story of the Australian POW experience.

The Tokyo Beatles 1

On February 15, 1964, 52 years ago today, “Meet the Beatles!” hit number one on Billboard album charts in the US. Anticipation had been building for the four lads from Liverpool, particularly since The Beatles were to make their second appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show the next day, so the album shot to number one in only three weeks after its release.

Way over in Tokyo, The Beatles were also popular, and were not to arrive on the scene until 1966. That didn’t stop four lads from Tokyo from adopting John, Paul, George and Ringo’s moptop hair style and starting a tribute band that performed in Tokyo clubs from 1963 to 1965.

They called themselves The Tokyo Beatles. They even recorded an album called “Please Please Me”, which had covers in English and Japanese of “I Want to Hold Your Hand”, “Please Please Me”, “Can’t Buy Me Love”, and “Twist and Shout”.

The Tokyo Beatles 2

 

This link takes you to a blog post that shares pictures of the band taken by photographer, Michael Rougier, during the summer of 1964, when Tokyo was building for excitement for the coming Olympic Summer Games in October, and clearly also going gaga over the Fab Four.

And now, “I Wanna Hold Your Hand”, by The Tokyo Beatles!

US Olympic Marathon Trials 2012
US Olympic marathon trials in 2012. Credit David J. Phillip/AP

On Saturday, February 13, over 370 runners competed for a spot on the US Olympic marathon team. The USOC will send the top three finishers in the marathon race held in Los Angeles. It is considered a very American competition as the threshold was any American running a marathon in 2 hours and 45 minutes or less. As Amby Burfoot, an editor of Runner’s World said in this New York Times article, “Each of our runners must earn his or her bid for the Olympics — we tell them to line up, we’re going to shoot the gun, and you decide for yourself. It feels very American. One athlete, one vote.”

Apparently, other nations pick their marathoners through a committee of officials.

This made me think -“Hmmmm, can I qualify for a sport in the Olympics? Any sport?” Apparently, there are approaches to this, according to this article in Forbes Magazine.Kosovo olympic

  1. Move to a Different Country: Kosovo and South Sudan are entering the Olympics for the first time. You should look into their citizenship requirements and get in touch with their Olympic committees.
  2. Identify an Easy Position: the article points out that being a coxswain in rowing events that require one has low barriers to entry. You need to be light and have a strong voice, with some sense of race tactics, but you don’t have to row. You just need to be strong enough to steer the shell. Apparently, China ran an American Idol-like competition in 2006, in which they tried to find two coxswains for the China teams at the Beijing Olympics in 2008.
jamaican bobsled team
Jamaican bobsled team: Michael White, Dudley Stokes, Devon Harris and Frederick Powell

3. Enter a “Target Sport”: Shooting a rifle or an arrow apparently doesn’t require you to be in tip-top, high performance shape. You just need a steady set of arms and very good eyesight.

4. Start Your Own Team: The country you’re in may not naturally have athletes for a particular sport. Think the Jamaican bob sled team, or Eddie “The Eagle” Edwards in the ski jump – both of whom were the first to represent their nations in their sports at the Calgary Winter Games in 1988.

5. The Old-Fashioned Way: Identify what skills and physical attributes put you in the top percentile in your age group, and train, train, train.

Japan Women's Soccer Team beats Brazil in 2012 Olympic Play
Japan’s Women’s Soccer Team defeating Brazil at the 2012 London Games.

I remember being surprised to read that the Japanese Women’s National Soccer team, the team that was the reigning world cup champions and went on to win silver at the 2012 London Olympic Games, had to fly economy class to London, while the men’s soccer team flew business class.

The Japanese Football Association, the organization that oversees soccer in Japan, stated that the men’s team were afforded this perk due to their “status as professionals”, according to this article from the Daily Mail. This was despite the incredible popularity and success of the women’s football squad, affectionately known as Nadeshiko Japan.

Alas, Japan isn’t alone in these sexist attitudes that are rapidly appearing blatant. Australia was also guilty of this as it sent its men’s basketball team to the London Games seated in business class, while the women’s basketball team flew economy.

In order to correct what apparently is a common practice in Australia, the AustrNadeshikoalian federal sports minister Sussan Ley and Australian Sports Commission (ASC) chairman John Wylie, jointly sent a warning letter to the top 30 funded sports organizations in Australia to refrain from this practice, according to this BBC story.

“In 2016, we can think of no defensible reason why male and female athletes should travel in different classes or stay in different standard accommodation when attending major international sporting events.”

Australian women's basketball team
Australian Women’s basketball team

 

This letter was sent recently on February 2, with a clear attempt to preemptively avoid any further embarrassing examples during the Rio Games in August. The veiled threat is that funding for the various sports associations would be impacted if treatment was viewed as not equal.

My guess is that Japan’s women’s soccer team will be afforded similar travel arrangements to the men en route to Rio. But will that hold true for all sports associations in Japan? Not so sure…..