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…..

Buster Douglas knocks out Tyson

He gave up 5 inches in height, over 11 pounds in weight and 12 inches in reach to the contender, but there was no doubt in anyone’s mind that the 23-year heavyweight champion, Mike Tyson, was going to win, and win easily. Journeyman, Buster Douglas had fought well in previous years to deserve a shot, but little else.

In fact, very few betting houses accepted bets on the fight. One that did had Tyson, the undefeated champion from New York, a 42-1 favorite. But on this day yesterday, February 11, 26 years ago, the son of a boxer from Columbus, Ohio, delighted 40,000 fans at the Tokyo Dome, and shocked the boxing world. As ringside commentator, Jim Lampley said at the end of the fight, “Let’s go ahead and call it the biggest upset in the history of championship fights. Say it now gentlemen, ‘James Buster Douglas – undisputed heavyweight champion of the world’.”

Boxing history was made. But why was it made in Tokyo? According to Japan hand, Robert Whiting, holding the fight in Japan was an attempt to bring excitement to a fight that was expected to be a Tyson massacre, at a time when Japan was the hottest economy in the world.

Buster Douglas knocks out Tyson 2

They held the fight in Tokyo for economic reasons. Most fight fans in the U.S. thought the match with Douglas would be inconsequential — just a warm-up for an anticipated match with Evander Holyfield. Holding it in Japan would generate more interest. Moreover, at that time, Japan was at the peak of its economic power, buying up expensive properties like Rockefeller Plaza and Columbia Studios.

Staging a heavyweight title match would be yet another important status symbol. The Nikkei had just hit its all-time high two months earlier and the yen was the world’s most powerful currency. So it made economic sense for Don King and the rest of the Tyson team to hold the fight there.

Here it is, the end of that incredulous fight. Were you there?

Mongolia marching in tokyo 1964

For the first time, Mongolia joined the Olympic community as it paraded through the National Stadium during the Opening Ceremonies of the 1964 Tokyo Games. Joining 19 other nations like Niger, Madagascar, Dominican Republic, Malaysia, Nepal, Mali and Cambodia, Mongolia sent 21 athletes to the Summer Games.

Among them walked a legend to be, a freestyle wrestler named Jigjidiin Mönkhbat. While Mönkhbat was knocked one round short of the medal round in 1964, he would go on to be Mongolia’s first Olympic silver medalist in Mexico City in 1968, placing second in middleweight freestyle wrestling.

Jigjidiin Mönkhbat in Tokyo
Hakuho’s father, Jigjidiin Monkhbat (right), in Tokyo 1964.

At the age of 43, Mönkhbat had a son, one who grew up in Ulan Bator, and rode horses and herded sheep in the Mongolian steppes in the summers. At the age of 15, the son, Mönkhbatyn Davaajargal, would move to Japan to begin a life in Japan and a career in sumo. In Japan he is known as Hakuho and no sumo wrestler, Japanese or otherwise, has won more sumo championships (33) than Hakuho.

Hakuho is called Yokozuna, which is the highest rank a sumo wrestler can hold. In May, 2006, Hakuho was one rank lower, Ozeki, but was wrestling so well there was significant anticipation that he would win his first sumo tournament. According to this February 6, 2014 article in the Nikkei Asian Review, Hakuho needed the inspiration of his father to help him become champion for the first time.

In May 2006, Hakuho found himself on the cusp of his first tournament victory. All he needed to do was win his bout on the final day of the 15-day event. The night before, he was so nervous he could not eat or sleep. His father, however, led by example — though perhaps not consciously.

Jigjid had come to see his son secure title No. 1. He was staying at a hotel near the sumo hall in Tokyo. Hakuho joined him, but tossed and turned all night.

As dawn began to break, a thought occurred to Hakuho: His father had been loudly snoring away. This realization “relaxed me enough to finally get some sleep,” Hakuho said. He won his bout. A year later, he reached the pinnacle of sumo — the rank of yokozuna.

Hakuho and father

Sendagaya platform
The phantom platform on the southern side of Sendagaya Station.

 

Did you know that of the 50 busiest train stations in the world, only 6 are outside Japan? Here’s a list from 2013 if you’re curious.

Tokyo’s train network in particular is amazing, or bewildering if you look at a train map. The train will get you almost anywhere you need to go, and if the schedule says it’s arriving at a specific time, it’s a pretty safe bet it will.

Not on that list is Sendagaya Station. But I know for a fact that it was one of the busiest stations in 1964, and will be again in 2020. Sendagaya Station is about 300 meters away from the once and future National Stadiums. Sendagaya Station itself is a relatively small station. It’s a one-platform station that accommodates trains going East and West on the Sobu Line, which cuts through the heart of Tokyo.

Sendagaya platform exit stairwell

 

But if you have ever been there, you may have noticed another platform on the southern side of the station. This was a platform used in 1964, when the area was flooded with folks going to and from the various Olympic venues in that area. And a single platform was simply too narrow to handle the volume. Train authorities shuddered at the thought of waiting passengers getting shoved onto the tracks because of the crowds, so the extra platform was built two months prior to the opening of the Tokyo Games.

Since 1964, that platform has very infrequently been put back into use – the time of Emperor Hirohito’s death and funeral rites in 1989 being one of those few exceptions. But come 2020 and the crowds, the phantom platform will find employment again.

Individual Men's Road Race_Merckx
Eddie Merckx in the blue shirt and Belgium tri-colors (at least I believe it is). From the book, Tokyo Olympiad 1964_Kyodo News Service

Eddy Merckx is called the greatest cyclist of all time. As listed by Sports-Reference.com, he had won or had tied for the most championships in “the Tour de France (5), Giro d’Italia (5), World Championship road race (3), Milano-Sanremo (7), Gent-Wevelgem (3), La Flèche Wallonne (3), and Liège-Bastogne-Liège (5), and in that list, only Merckx’s five Tour de France wins has been surpassed, intially by Lance Armstrong, with seven, prior to his doping disqualifications.”

In 1964, this cyclist from Belgium in 1964 headed into the Tokyo Olympics as a favorite to win the gold as he had won the Amateur World Championships in Sallanches, France. Merckx was called the “Cannibal”, for his ferocious competiveness, and his attacking, devouring style towards the end of a race. And at Sallanches, he showed early evidence of this aggressiveness according to author, William Fortheringham in his book, “Merckx: Half Man Half Bike“.

He fell on the quarter after a few kilometers of chasing. He had barely given himself time to breathe before he attacked again…one by one his erstwhile companions fell back. Accelerating again to the final climb of the road that climbed to Val d’Assy, Merckx forged a lead of a hundred meters in spite of the courage Luciano Armani showed in hanging on to his back wheel. It was enough of a lead to earn him the world title by a clear margin. He was the youngest world amateur champion to that date: nineteen years old.

From there, it was on to Tokyo with dreams of gold.

Individual Men's Road Race
From the book, Tokyo Olympiad 1964_Kyodo News Service

The Men’s Individual Road Race in Tokyo took place in a twisting winding 194 kilometer-race, that was essentially 8 laps of a 25 kilometer course. This course took the 132 cyclists on a tour of Hachioji, a suburban town on the outskirts of Western Tokyo. According to an AP report, “the route took the competitors past the Tama Mausoleum of Emperor Taisho and Empress Teimei eastward on the Koshu Highway and through Hachioji City. The riders then pedaled toward the town of Hino and across the Tama River. They then sprinted on a three-kilometer flat stretch between the towns of Tachikawa and Akishima. From this point on, the road starts climbing on the Tama Mountain range, and winding then through a scenic rural area and returning to the starting point past the town of Tobuki.”

 

Roger Swerts and Eddy Merckx Olympic Village.gif
A quiet evening dinner in the Olympic village in Tokyo with two members of the Belgian AMATEUR cycling team: ROGER SWERTS and EDDY MERCKX.

Despite being a heavy favorite to win gold due to his recent Amateur World’s title, Tokyo was an early blip on Merckx’s legendary career. He finished twelfth in the men’s individual road race. As explained by Fortheringham, his cannabilistic tendency was not so apparent. And the author claims that Merckx was not yet so entitled that the three other members of the Belgian cycling team would naturally support him, and that perhaps a failed attempt to monetarily persuade led to his mediocre results:

Merckz achieved his dream of racing at the Tokyo Olympics later that year, but while the ambition to ride the event had driven him since his early teens, the race itself was anything but a defining occasion. As the amateur world champion, he was no longer just another rider. He was heavily marked by the entire field as he attempted to split the race apart – not the last time he was to find this happening. He suffered from cramp. He rode a less restrained race than in Sallanches, and was chased down by Gimondi when he made his move three kilometers from the finish. Fate had stepped in. the night before, his wallet had been stolen from his room in the Olympic village; in it were the 12,000 Belgian Francs he had brought to pay his teammates. That was the best way to be absolutely certain that they would help him to win. Instead the Belgian team rode for themselves: the gold medal went to an Italian, Mario Zanin, with Godefroot winning the bronze medal and Merckz tweflth. His meteoric amateur career was all but over. Merckx turned professional on 24 April 1965 for the Solo-Superia team led by Rik Van Looy.