American David Sime, who lost to Germany Armin Hary in a photo finish in the 100 meters race at the 1960 Olympics, passed away on January 12. He was 79.
This obit in the New York Times is a good summary of his life, the championship runner who played baseball at Duke, and then opted to go to Duke University School of Medicine instead of playing for the Detroit Lions in the NFL.
I can’t get this image out of my mind. It seems so foreign to the spirit of athletic competition on the one hand, and yet it is as entwined in world-class competition as excellent coaches and dedicated training.
Moore related a story told by Doug Clement, a former Olympic middle-distance runner who was a coach and a doctor for the Canadian Olympic Association, and was at those World Athletics Championships in Rome.
Next to the Olympic Stadium was one of Mussolini’s smaller excesses, the Stadio dei Marmi, the Stadium of the Marbles, filled with statues depicting athletes in classical poses, which during the championships was being used as a warm-up area. ‘Inside it was a catacomb-like area, lots of little rooms,’ recalls Clement. ‘They were dark and dingy, there were multiple caves. There were syringes everywhere. All over the floor. It was like a drug den.’
It was a drug den – and a metaphor for the sport. In the sunshine of the Stadio Olympico the triumphant championships were played out in front of 75,000 people; near by, in the shadows of the statues that adorned the Stadio dei Marmi, lay the dingy reality.”
A year later, Ben Johnson won the gold medal at the Seoul Olympic Games in 1988, only to have it stripped from him after testing positive for drugs in his system.
Olympic champion, Dick Roth, referred to pain as his advantage. The 1964 gold medalist in the 400-meter individual swimming medley believed he could tolerate more pain than almost any of his competitors. And when you’re an Olympic-level swimmer, a combination of holding your breath and stretching your body to its physical limits creates oxygen debt.
Oxygen is vital to breaking down glucose to provide your body with energy. But when the body can’t get enough oxygen to create energy, it releases lactic acid, a substance that can create energy without oxygen. When there is more lactic acid in your blood than can be burned off, you get pain. And the more intense your physical activity, the more intense the pain can be.
And Roth’s pain was intense. As described briefly in an earlier post, Roth was one of the young American swimmers favored to do well in his swimming event. But literally hours after the Opening Ceremonies of the Tokyo Summer Games, Roth was tossing and turning in discomfort and then tremendous pain.
Roth got himself out of bed at 6 am, got to the Olympic Village infirmary. The nurse poked and probed. The swim team doctor did blood tests and then left him alone in his bed. He was 24 hours from competing in the Olympic Games. “This was not the way to calm me down,” thought Roth. Then finally, they told him. He was going to be transported to a US Army Hospital in Western Tokyo and have his appendix removed.
“I was so blown away they had to bring in a counselor to calm me down,” wrote Roth. “The ambulance ride to Tachikawa is a blur. The only thing I remember is pulling up to the hospital entrance and thinking I was going to die.”
The doctors told Roth that they would have to take out his appendix ASAP. He said no. They somehow prepped Roth for the operation and asked a member of the US Olympic Committee to sign off on the operation since Roth was still a minor at 17, but the USOC didn’t want to take responsibility. They eventually tracked down Roth’s parents who of course wanted to OK the operation. But their son was adamant. “My parents came in to see me before they signed, thank god. I begged them not to let the doctors take it out. I really wanted to swim. What if they were wrong? So began hours of debate back and forth with phone calls to the States for third and fourth opinions. In the end, my parents made a deal to take all responsibility, an unbelievably tough decision.”
The Roths and the doctors agreed that Roth would not exercise except to swim in the heats and that he would have blood tests every four hours. Roth was back in the Olympic Village that evening and went to sleep. The next day, he swam relatively poorly in the heats, 15 seconds slower than his personal best, but still made it into the finals.
“Everyone is on the same level physically,” Roth told me. “So it is all mental. On any given day anyone can win. We all knew about pain. You had to swim through the pain. I would get myself into oxygen debt and when I couldn’t add 2 and 3, when I thought I couldn’t go any further, I knew I was in the right place.”
And as he was resting in bed waiting for the finals to begin, he wrote that pain was a part of his mental preparation. “All that day I swam the race in my mind and felt the pain over and over and over. I was obsessive. But I got to watch my confidence build back up. I remember it very clearly.”
What Roth didn’t remember clearly was the 400 meter finals race, which is 100 meter sprints in four different styles: butterfly, backstroke, breaststroke and freestyle. “I really don’t remember the race very well,”
Japan is an incredibly safe city. With over 13 million strangers jampacked together, you might think that the crime and violence that plague other cities in the West might be evidenced in Tokyo. But that isn’t the case.
I won’t go into factors here. But I was surprised to see that in the world of Sazae-san in the early 1960s, crime was not an unknown quantity. In the cartoon at the top of the page from the book The Best of Sazae-san – The Olympic Years“, Sazae-san jokes about the incompetence of a con-man. In the cartoons below, the illustrator Machiko Hasegawa is able to make light of kidnapping and theft.
The reality is, crime may very well have been on the minds of many Japanese in Tokyo at the time. As this line graph of violent crime rates from 1950 to 1996, Japan actually had higher rates of violent crime than Sweden, the United States and the UK in the late 1950s early 1960s. That was likely a product of the post-war years as Japan was crawling its way out of a decimated landscape, both economically and physically.
Another popular signal of this anxiety was the powerful 1963 film, “High and Low”, by director Akira Kurosawa, starring actor Toshiro Mifune as a rich industrialist who must come to grips with the kidnapping of a child. Here is a wonderful summary and analysis of the film by New York Times film critic, A. O. Scott.
They were tied 1-1 with the Yugoslavians at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. Along with Hungarians and the Soviet Union, Yugoslavia was part of a European domination of a sport – water polo. The United States were not on the same par as Yugoslavia at that time. They had never played any teams outside the United States until those Games. And yet, there they were, tied 1 apiece with the Yugoslavians.
“Our first game was against Yugoslavia,” said Daniel Drown, who was on that USA squad. They were supposed to be huge. When we came out of the tunnel at the pool, we didn’t think they looked that big. Then we went to shake their hands and their shortest guy was 6ft 3, and their biggest were 6ft 7. They were huge!”
The US team played even throughout the first half with the Yugoslavians. And in the second half, they caught a break – one of the Yugoslavians was ejected with four minutes remaining, which meant they would be down one man until the US scored. Despite the advantage, the US played tentatively. “We have an extra guy,” said Drown. “If we score, it will be the biggest upset. But everybody was afraid. No one would take the shot. Finally, one of their guys scored and they won 2-1.”
Drown remembers thinking, “we didn’t deserve to win. We were playing way over our heads.” But he knows the US team played brilliant defense. And he believes the fledgling US water polo program benefited from the coaching of Urho Saari.
“Saari believed in conditioning, absolute conditioning,” said Drown. “His philosophy was to work us so hard, so that you were sick to your stomach, and you couldn’t eat after a workout. But when it came time to play in a game, we may not have been as good as the other team, but we would be in better shape. We would think, ‘why couldn’t we win?'”
According to this article, Saari was an innovator in water polo. “Saari insisted that more emphasis should be placed on swimming, rapid ball-handling and changes in offensive and defensive tactics. He frowned on rough play and thought that teams should be less dependent on scoring done by the center-forward.”
“We would play 3 on 3 keep away for long periods of time, which disciplined you,” explained Drown. “One person had the ball and one would receive and he had better be open, and the third guy better be getting open. Everybody is constantly moving to get away from whomever is guarding them.”
“Saari would also run every night a scrimmage for 90 minutes four on four. He would referee it. When you did something wrong, you could see clearly when something was wrong. They threw to an open space and you
Sazae-san is one of the most well-known comic characters in Japan. Created, written and illustrated by Machiko Hasegawa from the 1940s to the 1970s, Hasegawa’s characters are as much a part of the average Japanese psyche as the Yomiuri Giants, a platter of soba, or Natsume Soseki.
Hasegawa wrote about the everyday lives of an average Japanese family, the Isonos. Her genius was to illustrate normal activities as vignettes, and controversial topics in sweet and innocent frames. I found many examples of this in a recently published book of her cartoons translated into English, called “The Best of Sazae-san – The Olympic Years“. It was a delight to read about the issues the average citizen in Tokyo were dealing with in the 1960s.
Here is one comic strip that deals with an issue linked to the Olympics.
Cities all over the world were building highways and expanding roads into avenues to accommodate the explosion of automobiles on the road. Tokyo was no exception. And when Tokyo was selected as the host of the 1964 Summer Olympics in 1959, urban planners saw this as an opportunity to transform Tokyo.
One of the roads that passed through a somewhat wealthy, somewhat sleepy part of Tokyo, was called Aoyama Doori (Aoyama Road). Aoyama Doori connected Shibuya and Ginza, and was one of the noisiest and busiest thoroughfares in the city. In addition to the expectation that traffic would get worse was the general expectation that infrastructure changes related to the Olympic Games would accelerate the pace of change and pain. City planners insisted that Aoyama Doori be widened dramatically, from 22 meters to 40 meters.
Watch this video from the 2:15 minute mark to 7 minute 45 second mark to see what Aoyama Doori was like in the early 1960s.
Dealing with the tremendous change was a challenge to the citizens of Tokyo, the most populous city in the world. The change created tremendous stress for its citizens. Hasegawa recognized this stress. But in her sweet particular way, she laced her negativity with sentimentality. Why is Sazae-san’s younger brother, Katsuo against the widening or building of a road in the cartoon? Not because of the impact to people and commerce, but because of the impact on a bird’s nest.
It’s not one of the biggest races in Japan, but it Is probably the oldest.
The Lucky Men Race has been held at Nishinomiya Shrine on January 10 since the Edo Period (1603~1868). As the clock strikes 6 AM, the gates of the shrine burst open as thousands of men pour through, hoping to be first to make it to the main hall and be crowned “fuku-otoko” (福男) the “Luckiest Man”.
As you can see in the video, it’s a mad dash, about 230 meters, as thousands of men run full throttle through the shinto shrine located in Hyogo, which is a prefecture in the Western part of Japan. The first three people to make it into the arms of shrine personnel at the end of the race are the winners, although the first place winner is the “lucky man”. This year, a 16-year-old high school student named Michinari Mizuta was crowned champion. This was the third attempt for Mizuta, and as they say, threes the charm.
And of course, I’m sure this story reminds you of my favorite Emerson, Lake and Palmer song – Lucky Man.