Alejandro Chaskielberg photo 1
The members of a family sit in the place where their house stood before being destroyed by the tsunami of March 11, 2011, Otsuchi town, Iwate Prefecture, Japan_photo art created by Alejandro Chaskielberg

I was living in Seattle. I was called out of an important meeting because my wife called, moaning into the phone about intense pain in her stomach. I told her I’d rush home, but it was 5pm and Seattle rush-hour traffic was like everywhere else: not so good.

It took forever to get home, and when I did, she wasn’t there. As it turned out, she called 911, got carted off in an ambulance, and was transported to a hospital. I saw the note and took off for the hospital. A few hours hooked up to an IV later, she was told that the food poisoning was no longer an issue, so we hopped in a taxi.

We got home at 10 pm, May 10, 2011. In Japan, it was 3pm, May 11, approximately 14 minutes after a magnitude 9.0 earthquake struck just off the coast of northeastern Japan. We turned on the TV and watched the horror unfold on CNN, doing all we could to contact friends and family in Tokyo, where the effects of the earthquake were also significant.

So much has been written about the events and aftermath of 3.11’s triple disaster: the earthquake, the tsunami and the nuclear meltdown at Daichi Nuclear Power Station.

One thing I learned a couple of years ago shocked me. It hit me on the treadmill one morning, while reading on my Kindle the book, “Bending Adversity: Japan and the Art of Survival“, by Financial Times editor, David Pilling. Chapter 14, “Fukushima Fallout”, began with these words:

Dai-ichi Nuclear Power Station and Odaka
The sort distance from my ancestral home town and the Dai-ichi Nuclear Power Station.

It looked like any other provincial Japanese town. There was the Shiga Hair Salon, with its red, white and blue barber’s pole, offering cuts and ‘iron perms’. Next door was the Watanabe Cake Shop, doing business since 1990 and housed in a two-storey mock Tudor building. Outside the nearby Jokokuji temple, a tiny granite stone Buddha figurine stood at the entrance, dressed in a weather-worn pink ceremonial shawl. The traffic lights clicked on and off, from red to orange to green and back again. Korean pop music erupted from unseen speakers, breaking what had been a fetid silence. The only thing missing in the town of Odaka, located less than ten miles north of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Plant, was people.

The Shiga Hair Salon! That was the home of my grandfather’s younger sister, a very short drive to the birthplace of my grandfather! In August, 1988, in search of my roots, I was informed by the Odaka city office that I had relatives at the Shiga Hair Salon. So I walked on over, rehearsed an opening line in Japanese in my head, and walked in. After fumbling through an explanation in poor Japanese, showing them the documents that traced my past to this neighborhood over 150 years earlier, and that the hair salon’s founder, Chozo Shiga, was married to my grandfather’s sister….well we were suddenly family! I was ushered into their home, shown pictures, fed sushi and told stories. Later that day, they took me to the original home of my grandfather and ancestors, where the owner still cared for the tombstones of my ancestors.

Needless to say that time in 1988, and that moment when I learned my ancestral hometown was a ghost town, were both emotional jolts. Still today, I do not know what has happened to my relatives in the Shiga Hair Salon, although I’m pretty sure that the ancestral burial ground has been swept away as it was fairly close to the coast.

But my pain pales in comparison to those who truly suffered five years ago today.

When the demolition of the National Olympic Stadium began last year, and they needed a place to put the Olympic Cauldron, it was decided that the cauldron should be displayed in Tohoku. So on June 27 of 2015, the cauldron was unveiled in Ishinomaki, Miyagi, an area hard-hit by the effects of the tsunami. Athens Olympian and gold medalist in the hammer throw, Koji Murofushi, lit the cauldron, shining a light on Tohoku.

Koji Murofushi
Koji Murofushi lights the Olympic cauldron on June 27 at a park in Ishinomaki, Miyagi

The Olympic cauldron is expected to stay in Tohoku until 2020, when it would be returned to Tokyo to resume it’s spot in the new National Olympic Stadium.

Like the Olympic flame, which represents eternal peace and hope, the 2020 Olympics represent an opportunity to show that Japan is back, and the hopes and dreams of Tohoku are alive and well.

Rio Mayor Eduardo Paes
Rio mayor Eduardo Paes

Of the cities with the highest murder rates in the world, 41 of the top 50 are in Mexico and Latin America. Of those 41, 21 of them are in Brazil. It is both a stunning and unfortunate fact, particularly as Brazil is doing its best to get ready for the biggest sports show in the world – The Summer Olympics.

So by extension, there are concerns regarding crime in Rio de Janeiro.

Top 50 Most Violent Cities by Country_Wikipedia
Source: Wikipedia

A couple of weeks ago, Australian chef de mission, Kitty Chiller, announced that members of the Australian Olympic squad would not be allowed to visit the favelas “because we could not control visits involving a large number of athletes going to different places at different times.”

While the favelas in Rio, which are communities where the lowest income families often live, are a not-so-uncommon tourist destination, they are also apparently centers for crime: drugs, robberies, murder.

The mayor of Rio, Eduardo Paes, is doing all he can to fight off this negative perception. “There is a lot of ignorance about Rio and Brazil, a certain drama of how things are,” he said in response to Chiller’s announcement.

The world will come to Rio in August. Brazilians will welcome them with open arms. The first Olympic Games held in South America will be a tremendous event. And then life (and death) will likely go on…

See a previous post called “Life in the Favela: At War with the Pacifying Police

Robinson Leonard Ali
Sugar Ray Robinson, Sugar Ray Leonard and Muhammad Ali in Las Vegas in 1977. Both Leonard (1976) and Ali (1960), won gold medals in their respective Olympics before going on to glory at the professional ranks.
In 1988, when tennis debuted at the Seoul Olympic Games, allowing professionals to enter the competition, the gold medalist in individual play was Miloslav Mecir of Czechoslovakia. While he defeated Stefan Edberg, whom Mecir had lost to at Wimbledon that year, the Olympic tournament was missing quite a few stars of the time: Mats Wilander, Ivan Lendl, John McEnroe, Boris Becker for example. As I understand it, the Olympics provided no ranking points or remuneration so many of the pro stars were not motivated to be an Olympian.

In 1992, when FIBA allowed professionals to participate in the Olympics, many of the teams were transformed with players from the NBA and other international professional leagues excited to be Olympians. With Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, and Larry Bird headlining a team of unprecedented talent, Team USA swept through the competition with ease to win gold.

In May, 2016, the International Boxing Organization (IBO) will vote whether to allow professionals to compete in the Olympic Games going forward. Presumably, the reason is the same for every other international sports governing body – the very best in their sport should compete at the Olympics.

So if the IBO gives pro boxers the thumbs up for the Olympics, will the reaction by the pros be like tennis in 1988, or like basketball in 1992?

The Philippines have never won a gold medal in the Olympics. So why not Manny Pacquiao? Even though he was prepared to hang up his gloves after his next fight with Timothy Bradley in April, he has publicly said that he would step up if asked. “It would be my honor to represent the country in the Olympics,” Pacquiao told Agence France-Presse. “If I would be asked to represent boxing, why not? I would do everything for my country.”

manny pacquiao
Manny Pacquiao thinking about Rio.
Will others pros step up into the ring in Rio?

This isn’t clear yet – some will be bothered by the lack of financial incentives, and others may be enticed by the national glory. But one thing is clear – boxing is a brutal sport. And as pointed out in this discussion board devoted to boxing, people don’t just lose in boxing matches…they can get beat up. And if you’re a pro, you’re sacrificing potentially lucrative but limited paydays to possible injury. If you’re an amateur, you may end up getting battered way more than what a fellow amateur could do to you.

Cycling Olympic games-1964-Tokyo
Part of the road cycling route on the Hachioji Highway.
In 1964, there were 20 new countries participating in the Tokyo Olympic Games. Malaysia was participating for the first time, a newly formed federation that included Singapore, Sarawak and North Borneo.

If there is one thing you need to know about Malaysia, it is a part of Southeast Asia, which means temperatures are high. As they say in that area, there are three seasons: Hot, Hotter and Hottest. October in Malaysia is probably in the season “hotter”, with temperatures routinely around 27-30 degrees centigrade (80 to 86 degrees Fahrenheit).

Unfortunately, on the day of the 190 kilometer road race in the Western part of Tokyo, it was rainy and cold.

The new Malaysian Olympic squad had 9 cyclists, including Hamid Supaat of Singapore, a long-distance road racer. Supaat found the conditions very difficult. “My cheeks were red. My hands were very cold. And I could see smoke coming out of mouth,” he told me. “My coach told me to stack newspapers under my shirt to keep me warm. I had never raced in that weather before. It was always hot, hot, hot for me.”

Jpeg
Hamid Supaat, third from the right, with his teammates at the Cycling Village in Hachioji, not far from Mt Takao_from the collection of Hamid Supaat
Supaat was a spry 19-year old, someone who had raced long-distance road races many times. In fact, he had participated months before in the Tour of Malaysia, winning two stages and two time trials. But nothing prepared him for the cold. And the lack of experience didn’t help either.

Hamid Supaat 5The Europeans were all up front, and most of the Asians were in the back. The roads were wet, so it was very slippery. In the first few kilometers, we were all in one big bundle as we entered the first climb, where the road was very narrow. A few cyclists crashed, so those in front sprang ahead, while the rest got stuck.

Supaat was fortunate that he did not fall, but he had to do quite a bit of waiting before he could pick up any speed behind the crowd. He said he remembered everyone talking in many different languages how they were stuck and couldn’t do anything. In the end, the cold, wet weather took its toll on about 25 of the 132 cyclists who failed to complete the 190-kilometer course. Supaat told me he lasted only about half the race before he bowed out.

But he said it was a great experience as he had a clear view on how the Europeans, the best in the business, ran their race: what gears they used in the climbs, how they took turns, what kind of bicycles they rode. “The Europeans were all very tall and strong,” said Supaat. “If we were motorcycles, they were 1,000cc machines, and we were 500cc.”

Supaat had similar feelings about being in Japan. As the bus took the Malaysian team from

David Wottle on Winners Podium
02 Sep 1972, Munich, Germany — Hand over heart, America;s David Wottle stands on winner’s podium after receiving the Gold Medal in the Olympic men’s 800 meter race here today 9/2, with Soviet Silver Medal winner Evgeni Arzhanov in front of him, and Mike Boit (left) of Kenya, the Bronze medalist, behind. — Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS
You couldn’t miss him. In the finals of the 800 meter race at the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich, he was the only one wearing a cap. And he was all the way in the back of the pack.

But Dave Wottle did not remain in the back. The Kenyans were setting the pace. Then the Soviet star, Yevgeniy Arzhanov, took the lead with two hundred meters to go, and Wottle of Bowling Green State University is in fifth at the beginning of his kick. As the American broadcasters shout excitedly in this particularly partisan call, Wottle passes one runner after another until nipping the Soviet at the tape to win gold.

Most athletes would bask in the warmth of victory – either jumping in jubilation, or smiling endlessly with a quiet sense of accomplishment. Instead, Wottle wore an expressionless mask, perhaps one of shock. And when he stepped up to the winner’s podium, he made a mistake in etiquette that ruined this championship moment for him.

As the American national anthem played, Wottle forgot to remove his cap. And as he mentioned in this profile in the book, Tales of Gold, “I suppose what most people will remember about me as an Olympic athlete is that I was the one who wore a golf cap while running and also that I forgot to take it off on the victory stand. That episode just dampened my whole Olympic experience. I was never so embarrassed in my life! It should have been the happiest day but it wasn’t; I was simply too embarrassed to be totally happy.”

It was 1972, four years removed from the black-fisted protests of Tommie Smith and John Carlos on the medal podium in Mexico City, a time when the US was stuck in the quagmire of the Vietnam War, and only a few days before Palestinian terrorists broke into the Olympic Village, taking the Israeli team hostage, and eventually killing them. When people saw Wottle with his white cap on, and his right hand on his left breast, covering the USA patch, they may have wondered what he was protesting. The Vietnam War perhaps?

Wottle was mortified. He said he had absolutely no ill will in wearing the hat, that he simply forgot to take it off.

As Milton Richman wrote in the State Journal-Register, a local Springfield, Illinois newspaper, “The cap sells for 75 cents. You can get it for 35 cents wholesale. Dave Wottle wears it practically everywhere. He wears it when he runs. He wears it when he trains. He

Bud Collins and Dick Enberg
NBC announcer Bud Collins, left, with Dick Enberg in the television booth at the All England Club for the 1982 Wimbledon. Photo: Walter Looss JR. /Sports Illustrated/Getty Images

I was a big tennis fan when I was growing up in Queens, New York, getting lessons at Cunningham Park, and playing with friends on the awful concrete court on the grounds of the Queens General Hospital. And I remember in the 1970s watching Breakfast at Wimbledon on NBC, with Bud Collins, when Bjorn Borg was the dominant male tennis player of the time, routinely defeating Jimmy Connors, Guillermo Vilas and Roscoe Tanner. And I remember the epic five-setter in 1980 when John McEnroe lost to Borg at Wimbledon. Bud Collins was always there.

Collins passed away on March 4, 2016.

But what I just learned is that Bud Collins, who essentially began his journalistic career as a college student for his school paper, went, somewhat on a whim, to the 1948 London Olympic Games as a spectator. The goal was to cheer on a fellow Baldwin-Wallace College student, William Harrison Dillard.

A few years ago, Collins wrote this wonderful article for ESPN, recalling his early days in Berea, Ohio, where he literally delivered newspapers (Cleveland Plain Dealer) on the Baldwin-Wallace campus and its environs as a 14-year old. When he became a BW student, world-class hurdler Dillard also decided to join BW. Dillard could have gone to Ohio State, the alma mater of Jesse Owens, the last American to win Olympic gold in the 100 meters in 1936, but as Collins relates in the article, Dillard wanted to stay closer to home.

harrison dillard 1948
William Harrison Dillard in 1948 at the London Summer Games.

 

Collins continues to write this amazing story of how Dillard was pretty much expected to win gold in the 110 meter hurdles easily at the re-boot Olympics in 1948, the first Olympics since Berlin in 1936, postponed for 12 years due to world war. (in fact, Dillard served in the US military, seeing significant action on the Italian front.) But for some reason, at the Olympic trials, Dillard competed poorly and would not be asked to compete as a hurdler. He did place third in the 100 meters, so was put on the team to possibly compete in the 400-meter relay team.

So when young Bud Collins, and his editor on the school paper, decided to use their savings and borrow money so they could go to London, there was only a slim possibility of watching their buddy, “Bones” Dillard, compete at the 1948 Olympic Games. As it turned out, in a London still climbing out of the rubble of World War II, Dillard was crowned the fastest man in the world, and a budding journalist named Bud Collins was there.

Thank you Bud, for the memories.

Winning National Stadium Design
Winning design for 2020 Olympics National Stadium

 

Oops!

If you’re going to design an Olympic Stadium, you have to include plans for a very large cauldron that feeds the Olympic flame for two weeks.

Due to increasing costs that strained the patience of even government bureaucrats, the stadium design by world renowned architect, Zaha Hadid, was scrapped quite suddenly, pitting the Japanese government and the Tokyo Olympic Organizing Committee in a pissing match with the architect.

Subsequently, new designs were rushed into competition, and the winning architect stated that the stadium would not be completed in time for the 2019 World Rugby Cup, which has been particularly unpleasant and embarrassing for the organizers.

And now it was revealed that the winning architects forgot to design a place for an Olympic cauldron, something that the IOC specifically stipulates must be visible both inside and outside the stadium. On top of that, the new design will rely heavily on wood in the interior part of the stadium. As you should be reminded, wood is susceptible to burning. And bringing a massive fire close to wood may have negative ramifications.

But the designers will move things around and find some innovative fix that will allow a fantastic stadium to be built. After all, they caught this design flaw early. Let us not forget, there have been many instances where design flaws hidden or ignored eventually led to disaster. Here’s a great link called, The 50 Worst Architecture Fails. And here are a few of the more interesting fails:

The Aon Center
The Aon Center in Chicago, Illinois

The Aon Center: This skyscraper in Chicago, Illinois used carrara marble on the exterior of this building. When a marble slab fell off and crashed into the roof of the neighboring building, they decided that it was safer to spend USD80 million to resurface the building than wait for another marble slab to fall to earth.

Lotus Riverside
The Lotus Riverside in Shanghai, China

The Lotus Riverside: This 13-story residential structure in Shanghai, China fell over due to the effects of an underground parking lot being built underneath. Actually, the reason is kind of complicated. Here’s how the article explained it: “When creating a parking structure beneath the building, workers had placed removed earth into a nearby landfill The weight of the added dirt caused the banks of a bordering river to collapse and the resulting water infiltrated the building’s base, turning the foundation to mud and causing the building to topple onto its side.”

highway 19 overpass
Highway 19 Overpass in Laval, Quebec, Canada

Highway 19 Overpass: A 20-meter section of an overpass in a Montreal suburb simply broke off and dropped to the road below, killing five people in their cars.

Tacoma Narrows Bridge: Opened on July 1, 1940, this suspension bridge in Tacoma, Washington lasted only four months. Yes, when you don’t pay for support materials like trusses and girders, you definitely save money. There are other costs however. Watch this amazing video of the bridge actually breaking apart in the 40 mph wind.