AKIRA_(1988_poster)

In 1988, a nuclear explosion destroyed Tokyo sparking World War III. That was the alternative universe of Katsuhiro Otomo, who co-wrote the famed manga “Akira“, as well as directed the cult anime classic by the same name.

Otomo established this dystopian vision of the future in 2019, and quite coincidentally, made the Olympics a part of the storyline. The image below shows that only 147 days remain before the opening of the 30th Tokyo Olympiad.

2020 Olympics Akira

The next image is of the “Neo-Tokyo Olympic Stadium” which is under construction. According to this site, the stadium is actually the secret seat of the military where covert operations were taking place, including where Akira, a person who possesses extraordinary and potentially destructive psychic capabilities. Thus the stadium becomes, in the film, the staging area for the final conflict between the film’s protagonists, Tetsuo Shima and Shotaro Kaneda, and Akira’s awakening.

Neo National Stadium_Akira

And if you have read this far, you may want to see this mash-up between Akira and Doraemon. As the creator of the video below explains according to this site, Doraemon was named as a special ambassador to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, and Akira predicted the Tokyo Games in 2020.

The Hachioji Velodrome in 1964, from the book
The Hachioji Velodrome in 1964, from the book “THE GAMES OF THE XVIII OLYMPIAD TOKYO 1964 – The Official Report of the Organizing Committee”

The Velodrome was in Hachioji, a suburban town in Tokyo where the cycling events were held in the 1964 Summer Games. About 43 kilometers from the Olympic Village, or about 70 minutes of travelling time in 1964 traffic, the Hachioji Velodrome was made of cement mortar, which was considered suitable for all kinds of weather….since the velodrome was outside…and it rained a lot. As it turns out, on October 19, the cycling events at the Velodrome were postponed because of rain.

As described in this blog post, the Hachioji Velodrome is long gone, a deserted baseball park in its place. Hachioji did make a bid to bring cycling back to its neck of the woods, but it was not to be. Earlier this month, the IOC finally settled on Izu as being the location of the 2020 Olympic cycling events.

The IOC and the Tokyo Olympic Organizing Committee have been trying to figure out a low-cost way to keep cycling events in the downtown Tokyo vicinity. The hope was to have cyclists race by the Tokyo Bay waterfront. But the cost of customizing temporary infrastructure in prime property was thought to be prohibitive, particularly in a time when the IOC is working closely with National Olympic committees to make the Olympics less of an economic burden on city governments and taxpayers.

The Izu Velodrome
The Izu Velodrome

Thus the decision to move the cycling events, which include track cycling, mountain biking and BMX, two hours away to Izu. Famous more for its hot spring resorts, Izu is also the location of an existing modern cycling velodrome. There will need to be additions made to seating capacity, but that cost will be covered by local cycling associations.

It isn’t so unusual to have events away from the Olympic Stadium. In 2020. the sailing events will take place in Enoshima, basketball in Saitama, fencing, taekwando and wrestling in Chiba. Which is fine. Let’s spread the Games around. It is just as much Japan’s Games as it is Tokyo’s.

mal whitfield obit-1-master675
Mal Whitfield after winning the 800-meter event at the 1948 London Games. Credit Central Press/Hilton Archive, via Getty Images.

   

One of the powerful images of the Mexico City Olympics in 1968 were the bowed heads and raised fists of sprinters gold and bronze medalists, Tommie Smith and John Carlos. They were protesting the state of race relations in the United States.

But in 1964, a less well known protest was made by a three-time gold medalist who actually called for a boycott of the Tokyo Games. In the 1950s and 1960s, one of the most respected of American track and field athletes was Mal Whitfield, a winner of five medals in the 1948 Olympics in London, and the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki, including two golds in the 800 meters in both Games, and one in the 4×400 meter relay in London.

And as related in this New York Times article, a member of the US Air Force’s famed Tuskegee Airmen, Whitfield flew 27 bombing missions during the Korean War, and became the first US military serviceman on active duty to win gold medals in the Olympic Games. He was also the first black man to receive the prestigious Sullivan Award, given to the nation’s most outstanding amateur athlete, in 1954.

Whitfield, who passed away on November 18, 2015 at the age of 91, was one of the most respected American athletes and sports ambassadors of his time. And so in retrospect, it seems surprising that in Ebony Magazine’s March 1964 edition, Whitfield penned this story titled “Let’s Boycott the Olympics”.

“I advocate that every Negro athlete eligible to participate in the Olympic Games in Japan next October boycott the games if Negro Americans by that time have not been guaranteed full and equal rights as first-class citizens. I make this proposal for two reasons: First, it is time for American Negro athletes to join in the civil rights fight – a fight that is far from won, despite certain progress made during the past year. For the most part, Negro athletes have been conspicuous by their absence from the numerous civil rights battles around the country. Second, it is time for America to live up to its promises of Liberty, Equality and Justice for all, or be shown up to the worlds as a nation where the color of one’s skin takes precedence over the quality of one’s mind and character.”

 

Ebony Magazine_Mal Whitfield
From the March 1964 Ebony Magazine

 

“What prestige would the United States have if every single Negro athlete, after qualifying for the U. S. team, simply decided to stay at home and not compete because adequate civil rights legislations had not been passed by Congress? For one thing, such action would seriously dampen American

Emil Zatopek wins gold at the 1952 Helsinki marathon.
Emil Zatopek wins gold at the 1952 Helsinki marathon.

I recently ran in a 5,000 meter race, the first time I had competed in any official competition. It was for charity, so all I wanted to do was finish. I ran about 5k on my weekend runs, so I was confident I could complete the race. There were others who ran the 5k after just running the 10k race, which blew my mind.

Today, world-class athletes will rarely compete in multiple long-distance runs as the strategy and mindset differ from distance to distance, in addition to the general punishment on the body. However, not only did legendary runner, Emil Zátopek win the 5,000-meter race and the 10,000-meter race in Helsinki in 1952, he triumphed in the 42-kilometer marathon. The legend from Czechoslovakia won the three longest of the long-distance Olympic races and Emil Zátopekset the world record in each competition, all within one week. And his time record-setting time in the marathon of 2 hours, 23 minutes and 2 seconds was accomplished in the very first marathon he had ever run.

As discus thrower, Olga Connolly (nee Fitkotova), related in her autobiography, “The Rings of Destiny”, Emil Zátopek was the most sought-after star in the 1956 Games in Melbourne, where Connolly won gold. “Not only every athlete wanted to shake his hand, but every coach wanted to learn from Zátopek, every reporter wanted to interview him and every photographer wanted an ‘unusual’ or ‘intimate’ picture. At first the crowds of invaders searched for him in the dining room, later they sought his living quarters. Soon he found people walking freely in and out; eventually he developed the reflex of leaping into a broom closet each time he heard unfamiliar steps in the corridor. Zátopek complained that perhaps no other machinery was more effective in destroying the chances of a champion than excessive publicity.”

The Connolly's and the Zatopek's
The Connolly’s and the Zatopek’s

As it turns out, Zátopek did not medal at the Melbourne Games.

While the media wanted to know the secrets to Zátopek’s success, he revealed them to his friend, Connolly. “Before we settled to dinner, Emil ceremoniously unwrapped two bottles of Pilsner Urquell, the best Czechoslovakian beer, and divided the contents among my glass, his and Dana’s (his wife).”

“‘Emil, this is quite a celebration,’ I said. ‘You can’t have much beer left.’ I knew how jealously he protected the small case of beer he carried all the way from Prague. He sighed, ‘Well, it goes fast. Everybody is after me for a glassful, so I’ll soon have to manage without the ‘elixir.’ Zátopek was accustomed to drinking a glass of beer a day and claimed it helped to replenish body fluids lost in his daily twenty miles of running.”

“‘Medicinal beer drinking’ was one of the few topics on which Emil enjoyed anyone agreeing with him. In most other instances he preferred being opposed – always ready to engage in polemics, he was a master of aggravating arguments. Behind Zátopek’s receding forehead lay extraordinary mental faculties. He could recall minute facts from conversations he had held years before, and in several weeks abroad he could master the basics of any language. Years later, if he met his foreign friends again, he astonished them with his handling of Finnish or Urdu.”

It’s worth watching the above video to get to the last line of the narrator: “Here’s one Czech that will always be honored.”

 Seiko Hashimoto, one of only two athletes to have competed in two different Olympic Games in the same year (Albertville and Barcelona in 1992)

Seiko Hashimoto, one of only two athletes to have competed in two different Olympic Games in the same year (Albertville and Barcelona in 1992)

The War for Talent is fierce in the industrialized world, and it is fiercest in Japan, where the demand in particular for global, bilingual talent is sky high. The bad news is that Japanese organizations and government have not figured out how to best utilize half that talent pool, women.

In August of this year, the Japanese government signed off on legislation that requires companies with 301 or more employees to share statistical data on what percentage of female hires and managers, as well as to set targets. There is a broader goal set by the government to have 30% of all managerial roles in Japan filled by women by 2020. According to a Goldman Sachs report mentioned in this Wall Street Journal article, figuring out how to fill the gender gap could result in an increase in GDP by about 13%. That’s what is meant by Womenomics.

But for women to achieve, they have to want to achieve. And very often it is the very lack of role models that keep the number of female managers and leaders down.

Enter Seiko Hashimoto. No one in Team Japan has participated in more Olympic Games than the woman from Hokkaido. Hashimoto, now Ishizaki, has appeared in the Winter Games of Sarajevo (1984), Calgary (1988), Albertville (1992), as well as Lillehammer in 1994, competing as a speed skater. She also used her powerful legs to compete as a cycling sprinter in the Summer Games of Seoul (1988), Barcelona (1992), and Atlanta (1996). That’s seven Olympic Games from 1984 to 1996!

Hashimoto, who is also a member of the House of Councillors in the Japanese government, has been named as the chef de mission of the Japan Olympic team for the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro. The chef de mission, according to the IOC, is the main liaison between the National Olympic Committee and the International Olympic Committee, and has the responsibility for all the competitors, officials and staff members of that particular national team. Hashimoto, as well as Kitty Chiller in Australia who was also named chef for Rio, are the first female chef de missions in the history of the Olympic Games.

Kitty Chiller, Australian pentathlete in the 2000 Sydney Games
Kitty Chiller, Australian pentathlete in the 2000 Sydney Games

The chef de mission of an Olympic team is the sole spokesperson, in a way, like the CEO, who represents the team not only to the IOC, but to the public. Most commonly, it is the chef de mission who has to put on the brave face when athletes or officials misbehave, but they also have the potential to rally the troops and inspire.

Why has it taken so long for women to lead an Olympic team? There are multiple reasons. Hopefully, the examples of Hashimoto and Chiller will be another step in breaking barriers and allowing talented women to show the world that leadership is far more abundant than previously believed…if only gender is ignored.

Left to right - Bjørn Borgen Hasløv, Kurt Helmudt, Erik Petersen and John Ørsted Hansen_gold medal coxless fours 1964
Left to right – Bjørn Borgen Hasløv, Kurt Helmudt, Erik Petersen and John Ørsted Hansen_gold medal coxless fours 1964

The coxless fours from Denmark were champions. While they won their heat quite handily, finishing more than five seconds ahead of their closest competition, the championship race was decided by slightly more than a second.

And yet when Bjørn Borgen Hasløv recalls that time in Tokyo in 1964, he doesn’t remember the pain or the tension. The stroke on the Danish team that pipped the Great Britain team for gold remembers that they were a young group of men who came together as a team.

“We were young,” recalled Hasløv to me. “I was 23, still not having completed my studies because I spent my free time rowing and had no time for other things. The youngest was 20, Kurt Helmudt, who was in shipbuilding. Erik Petersen, 25, was a plumber, and John Ørsted Hansen, 26, was a fitter, charged with steering the boat. It was important that we could tell if we were rowing together, not as separate people. You have to feel your team around you. If you don’t work together, 100%, you will never be fast.”

Hasløv said that his coach, Poul Danning, taught him (among many other things) that the sport of rowing requires individuals to find their role and rhythm within a boat so that all are in synch – for example if the strongest person in the boat pulls as hard and as fast as he can, the differences in power and speed with the others will actually slow the boat down as water resistance increases due to the differential. Legendary boat maker George Yeoman Pocock expressed this insight in this way – “It is hard to make that boat go as fast as you want to. The enemy, of course, is resistance of the water, as you have to displace the amount of water equal to the weight of men and equipment, but that very water is what supports you and that very enemy is your friend.”

Hasløv believes that his team worked so well together that the water was indeed their friend that day. “Everything was going to plan. We were concentrating hard on rowing together, supporting each other, finding rhythm in the boat. I didn’t feel the pain. I could feel the water under the boat, and it sounded like music as our boat was going perfectly. It’s a strong feeling. It’s a feeling that you control your body and you are a part of a team.”

My guess is that Hasløv was feeling what Pocock and other rowers call “swing”. Daniel Brown, in his wonderful book, The Boys in the Boat, about the American Eights Rowing Team that competed in the 1936 Olympics, described “swing” for an eight-man crew this way:

There is a thing that sometimes happens in rowing that is hard to achieve and hard to define. Many crews, even winning crews, never really find it. Others find it but can’t sustain it. it’s called “swing.” it only happens when all eight oarsmen are rowing in such perfect unison that no single action by any one is out of synch with those of all the others. It’s not just that the oars enter and leave the water at precisely the same instant. Sixteen arms must begin to pull, sixteen knees must begin to fold and unfold, eight bodies must begin to slide forward and backward, eight backs must bend and straighten at once. Each minute action – each subtle