National Gymnasium Annex exterior 1
The National Gymnasium Annex

I like flea markets so I found myself roaming one in Yoyogi, which happened to be right next to the beautiful National Gymnasium. The site is composed of two complementary structures, the main building where the swimming and diving events were held during the 1964 Tokyo Games, and the Annex, which is where basketball games were held.

After browsing the goods on the crisp winter day two Sundays ago, I thought I’d see up close what I had already written about. The larger structure of the Kenzo Tange-designed buildings was closed. But fortunately, the Annex was hosting an event, the 27th Annual Women’s Gymnastics Club, a free event, so I suddenly found myself in the stadium where Jerry Shipp, Mel Counts, Luke Jackson, Jeff MullinsBill Bradley and Larry Brown, to name a few, won their gold medal for the United States basketball team.

US Men's Basketball team vs Peru_Tokyo Olympics Special Issue_Kokusai Johosha
US Men’s Basketball team vs Peru_from the book “Tokyo Olympics Special Issue_Kokusai Johosha”

Inside, pre-teen and teenage girls were performing rhythm gymnastics for family and friends, who sat in the dark and intimate stadium, the floor standing in brilliant lighted relief. The Annex seats only 4,000, so I could understand how the basketball games were hot tickets. Of course, the fact that there are only 4,000 seats means there is not a bad seat in the house. You can see that in the pictures.

National Gymnasium Annex pano 1
Panoramic view of the inside of the National Gymnasium Annex

National Gymnasium Annex pano 2

Thankfully, the annex, which is a sixth the size of the national gymnasium, will be one of several sites from the 1964 Games used in the next Tokyo Games. In 2020, the annex will be the site of the handball competition. But since 1964, basketball has become an international phenomenon, and women’s basketball, also growing in popularity, has been added to the mix. With that in mind, basketball in 2020 will be played in the Saitama Super Arena, which has a maximum seating capacity of 22,500 when basketball is in the house.

National Gymnasium Annex 1
Inside the spire of the National Gymnasium Annex

Cabral (center-left, pointing) sights the Brazilian mainland for the first time on 22 April 1500.
In March of the year 1500, the Portuguese explorer, Pedro Álvares Cabral, left Lisbon and led a fleet of 13 ships and 1500 men to India. Instead of going straight South, and taking the turn around the Cape of Good Hope at the bottom of Africa before heading up the African coast to India, Cabral went southwest. 

India was the land of riches, where spices like pepper made men rich. But southwest Cabral headed, and about six months after leaving Portugal, they dropped anchor in a natural harbor they named “Porto Seguro”, or Safe Port. The Portuguese traded with the locals, whom they called “Indians”, hunted, fished and foraged for food stocks, and held Christian Mass. They built a 7-meter tall cross made of wood, thus establishing their claim as Christians and men of the Portuguese Kingdom. A few weeks later, Cabral led the fleet on to India and riches, thus becoming the first explorer to venture across four different continents: Europe, Americas, Africa and Asia.

Since the early 15th century, Portuguese explorers have spanned the globe seeking items of value and territories to possess. The Portuguese Empire dotted Africa and Asia: Timor and Malacca in Southeast Asia, Macau in China, Goa in India, and what are now called Angola and Mozambique in Africa, for example.

And while Portugal never established any permanent stronghold in Japan, Portugal has had an impact on Japan since the 16th Century, when Portuguese traders turned the sleepy port town of Nagasaki into a bustling center for international commerce. For the first time, Japanese were exposed to tobacco, bread and Christianity.

Nagasaki Castella
While Christianity never took root in Japan, other customs did, as evidenced by words now considered Japanese (see source here):

  • Buranko (ブランコ): From the Portuguese word balancé or baloiço, “buranko” is the word for “swing” in English.
  • Castella (カステラ): From the Portuguese “Pão de Castela”, which means “bread from Castile”, a region in Spain, is today the word for a popular Japanese sponge cake, often found in gift shops in Nagasaki.
  • Tempura (天麩羅): And most famously, this classic example of popular Japanese cuisine, tempura, came to Japan via the Portuguese missionaries in Nagasaki, who would cook up a Portuguese dish called “peixinhos da horta“, commonly green beans dipped in batter and then fried. One etymological explanation, according to Wikipedia, is that

The word “tempura”, or the technique of dipping fish and vegetables into a batter and frying them, comes from the word “tempora”, a Latin word meaning “times”, “time period” used by both Spanish and Portuguese missionaries to refer to the Lenten period or Ember Days (ad tempora quadragesimae), Fridays, and other Christian holy days. Ember Days or quattuor tempora refer to holy days when Catholics avoid red meat and instead eat fish or vegetables.

Peixinhos_da_horta_precursor to tempura
Peixinhos da horta, the Portuguese ancestor of Japanese tempura
And now you know the rest of the story.

Yukio Endo_Tokyo Olympiad_Kyodo News Service
Yukio Endo, from the book Tokyo Olympiad_Kyodo News Agency

By the time the 1964 Tokyo Olympics rolled around, gymnast Boris Shakhlin of the Soviet Union had won nine Olympic medals in Melbourne and Rome, including four gold medals in 1960. Until 1980, his total Olympic medal haul of 13 was the most by any male athlete until 1980.

Shakhlin certainly had an opportunity to continue his championship ways in Tokyo. Except that Yukio Endo, and perhaps all of Japan, stood in his way.

Boris Shakhlin_XVIII Olympiad Tokyo 1964_Asahi Shimbun
Boris Shakhlin, from the book XVIII Olympiad Tokyo 1964_Asahi Shimbun

Endo won the men’s individual all-around gymnastics competition, which includes compulsory and optional events in six events: the vault, floor exercise, pommel horse, rings, parallel bars and horizontal bar. After all was said and done, Endo had a total score of 115.95 out of a total 120 points, edging out three competitors who tied for second with scores of 115.40.

In other words, 0.55 separated gold from silver. The problem is, Endo had what could be described as an awful effort on the pommel horse optional. As American gymnast Dale McClements described in her diary at the time, “Endo sat on the horse 2 times and dismounted with bent legs.”

According to the Japan Times, Endo had a considerable lead over his teammate Shuji Tsurumi and Shakhlin before the pommel horse optionals. “Japanese spectators were biting their nails fearing that the last moment error would cost Endo the gold medal. The event was halted 10 minutes as Japanese team manager Takashi Kondo made a strong appeal to the judges that the faults should not be counted too much. While the Russians glowered, spectators burst into cheers when the judges finally raised their scoring flags. All four were unanimous giving Endo 9.1 scores which assured him of the gold medal.”


Yukio Endo
Yukio Endo, from the book, Tokyo Olympiad_Kyodo News Agency

Another American gymnast who witnessed Endo’s performance, Makoto Sakamoto, told me that the pommel horse is arguably the hardest of the six disciplines. “It’s the most difficult event to stay on. There are so many opportunities to fall and slip off. You can hit a slick spot, or you sit down. He missed! I remember saying, ‘Darn it, the best gymnast in the world is crumbling.’ Then he got a 9.15, and I thought, ‘what a gift!’ Anyone else would have gotten an 8.2 or 8.4. He got a 9.15.”

In other words, the 0.55 edge would have disappeared if Endo had not

People watch fireworks during New Years
People watch fireworks during New Years celebrations at Copacabana beach in Rio de Janeiro on January 1, 2016.AFP PHOTO/ YASUYOSHI CHIBAYASUYOSHI CHIBA/AFP/Getty Images

If you ask me – do you want to be freezing in Times Square or swaying in a tropical breeze on the Copacabana when the clock strikes 12 and the fireworks bring in the new year – I have to say, at least for 2016, it’s gotta be Rio.

And to signify the start to Brazil’s 2016 Olympian coming-out party, the fireworks launched to the theme music of the Olympics.

Ah, but which theme? As you can see below when you click on the image below, they play the music actually called “Olympic Fanfare and Theme”. 2016 New Year Fireworks Rio de Janeiro_ao vivo

The “Olympic Fanfare and Theme” was created by famed composer, John Williams, who was commissioned by the United States Olympic Committee to compose a theme for the Los Angeles Olympic Games. In 1984, John Williams had already created the iconic musical themes for Jaws, Star Wars, Superman and Indiana Jones, so it was not a stretch to select Williams.

To be fair, there are always new songs and anthems created for each Olympic Games. The Indie band Elbow created the theme for the London Games in 2012.

And when Europeans in general think of theme music for the Olympics, they likely think of Vangelis and his theme from the movie, Chariots of Fire.

But, as explained in this great summary article from the Smithsonian, American audiences were trained by the networks in the 1970s, primarily ABC, to associate the Olympics with Leo Arnaud’s “Bugler’s Dream”, which begins with those familiar bass drum beats leading into a trumpet fanfare.

So in the 1990s, there were two themes in America associated with the Olympic Games. At that time, NBC had the rights to the Games, and

1932 Olympics

President Herbert Hoover was inaugurated as the 31st President of the United States on March 4, 1929, during a period still known as the Roaring Twenties, when wealth and excess were touchstones of American culture. Nearly 8 months later, the façade came crumbling down as the stock market crashed, sparking the onset of the Great Depression.

While President Hoover, a staunch Republican, directed the government to invest in large public works programs – think Hoover Dam – he was unfortunately more well known for the shanty towns that sprung up all over America housing the dispossessed and despairing – think Hooverville.


Hoover was naturally invited to Los Angeles, to represent the federal government at the 1932 Olympic Games hosted in Los Angeles, California. But Hoover declined, becoming only the 2nd sitting president (after Teddy Roosevelt in 1904) not to participate in an Olympic Games on US soil.

As was stated in this Time Magazine article, Hoover knew his Presidency was in trouble and that in an election year, he needed to stay close to power in Washington DC. “’For him to be away from Washington for three weeks would be a national disaster,’ White House aide Lawrence Richey said, according to Bill Watterson’s The Games Presidents Play.”

Ironically, perhaps, it was during the Olympic Games in Tokyo when President Herbert Hoover drew his last breath. He was nearly 90 years old, and like the Los Angeles Games in 1932, the 1964 Games was nary a thought.

Hoover Dies 1964
Japan Times, October 21, 1964

girl from ipanema record cover

As Olympians were prepping for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, it’s quite possible they were training, cooling down or relaxing to the song, The Girl from Ipanema. The Brazilian Bossa Nova hit was released in the US on July 25, 1964, went to number one in the US peaking at number five for the year, and charted highly in markets all over the world.

The music from the song, often one of the first examples that come to mind when one thinks of elevator music, was composed by Antonio Carlos Jobim for a film. The lyrics were composed by Vinicius de Moraes, as he sat at a café on the beach of Ipanema, a swanky part of Rio de Janeiro. And indeed, there is a girl from Ipanama who caught the eye of Moraes as she walked by the cafe every day – Heloisa Eneida Menezes Paes Pinto.

Heloisa Pinto
Heloisa Eneida Menezes Paes Pinto, aka “The Girl from Ipanema”

Astrud Gilberto, who sang the bossa nova classic, was selected for the English-version of this song because she happened to be one of the few Brazilians who could speak English decently. And thus was born one of the shining symbols of Brazil – The Girl from Ipanema – said to be the second most recorded pop song in history, after Yesterday, by The Beatles.

And as we enter 2016, and await the start of the Olympic Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro, we hope that Rio walks in as fresh and lovely as the Girl from Ipanema:

Tall and tan and young and lovely
The girl from Ipanema goes walking
And when she passes, each one she passes goes, “Aaah…”
When she walks, she’s like a samba
That swings so cool and sways so gently
That when she passes, each one she passes goes, “Aaah…”

Roy_summer vacation_1967 maybe
Roy, sometime between the Tokyo and Mexico City Olympic Games.

On this, the last day of 2015, I’d like to thank everyone for their support of my blog – The Olympians. I have posted at least once every day since I started the blog on May 1. Out of about 300 posts, I’ve selected 25 that I personally like, in good part because I’ve had the great fortune to talk with the people mentioned in these stories.

  1. A Helicopter View of US-USSR Relations, Olympic Style
  2. American Gymnast Makoto Sakamoto and Memories of Home: Post-War Shinjuku
  3. Arnold Gordon (Part 1): Befriending Judy Garland at Manos in Shinjuku
  4. The Banning of Headgear in Boxing: The Convoluted World of Protecting Our Athletes
  5. Clumsy Handoff, Beautiful Result: A World Record Finish for the American 4X400 Relay Team in Tokyo
  6. Coach Hank Iba: The Iron Duke of Defense Who Led the Men’s Basketball Team to Gold in 1964
  7. Creativity by Committee: The 2020 Olympic Emblem and the Rio Olympic Mascots?
  8. Crowded, Noisy, Dirty, Impersonal: Tokyo in the 1960s
  9. The Dale McClements’ Diary: From Athlete to Activist
  10. Doug Rogers, Star of the Short Film “Judoka”: A Fascinating Look at Japan, and the Foreigner Studying Judo in the 1960s
  11. Escape from East Berlin in October 1964: A Love Story
  12. Escape from Manchuria: How the Father of an Olympian Left a Legacy Beyond Olympic Proportions
  13. Fame: Cover Girl and Canadian Figure Skater Sandra Bezic
  14. Frank Gorman: Harvard Star, Tokyo Olympian, and Now Inductee to the International Swimming Hall of Fame
  15. The Geesink Eclipse – The Day International Judo Grew Up
  16. India Beats Pakistan in Field Hockey: After the Partition, the Sporting Equivalent of War
  17. The Narrow Road to the Deep North
  18. On Being Grateful: Bob Schul
  19. Protesting Via Political Cartoons: Indonesia Boycotts the Tokyo Olympics
  20. The Sexist Sixties: A Sports Writers Version of “Mad Men” Would Make the Ad Men Blush
  21. “Swing” – The Danish Coxless Fours Found It, and Gold, in Tokyo
  22. Toby Gibson: Boxer, Lawyer, Convict
  23. Vesper Victorious Under Rockets Red Glare – A Dramatic Finish to One of America’s Greatest Rowing Accomplishments
  24. What it Means to Be an Olympian: Bill Cleary Remembers
  25. Who is that Bald-Headed Beauty: The Mystery of the Soviet Javelin Champion