I’ve had the pleasure of meeting many Olympians from the 1964 Summer Olympics, over the phone, but yesterday I met in person with my very first oversees interviewee, Mr Makoto Sakamoto. Mako-san was visiting Tokyo, and it was a tremendous honor to meet the highest scoring performer on the US Men’s Gymnastics team in 1964.
Born in bombed-out Tokyo Japan, Mako-san left for the United States with his family when he was 7. At the age of 16, he got his US citizenship. At the age of 17, he was recognized as the country’s best gymnast, and represented America in the country of his birth, competing with the very best in the world, finishing 20th overall in the individual competition.
The world of men’s gymnastics at that time was dominated by countries like Japan, USSR,
Yugoslavia and Italy. The US was competitive, but not considered a threat.
But in 1984, a team whose head coach was Melbourne and Rome Olympian, Abie Grossfeld,
Keum Dan Shin, the North Korean star of the women’s 400 and 800 meter events had only precious minutes before the North Korean team got on a train to Niigata, to a boat to North Korea. Her father, Mun Jun Shin, who was separated from her daughter during the Korean War, was hoping to take advantage of the Olympics to see her daughter compete over the two weeks of competitions. Unfortunately, after 14 years of separation, they were only allowed to share several minutes together. “My daughter gave me ginseng as a gift, but the best gift for me was the warm, warm tears she shed when she recognized me,” according to a report in the October 15 1964 Japan Times.
Keum Dan Shin, the unofficial world record holder in the women’s 800 meters, and her father were caught in the middle of a geo-political conflict. On October 4, 1964, the North Korean team arrived in Tokyo to participate in the XVIII Olympiad. On October 8, they made an about face and returned to North Korea, only two days prior to the start of the Summer Games. The International Olympic Committee had already disqualified
So thought French track star, Michel Jazy. In 1964, when all one might hear and read about is whether the US or USSR would dominate in the medals race, Jazy dreamed of a new power, one formed of the united states of Europe, a vision hatched from the ruins of World War II, when leaders looked for ways to avoid all together the devastation of extreme nationalism.
Belgium, France, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and West Germany signed The Treaty
of Rome which established the European Economic Community in 1957. Jazy extended that thinking, and imagined a time when Europe would be the dominant player in the grandest of the global sporting competitions.
Sports Illustrated described this point in their October 5, 1964 issue.
Michel Jazy, the French distance runner, could see medals practically pouring from heaven as he explained his enthusiastic endorsement of a proposal that a European juggernaut be formed from countries in the Common Market, ostensibly to challenge Russia and the U.S. for team points—points that are unofficial and contrary to the best Olympic intentions. “A European team,” said Jazy, “would be world-beaters!”
Luke Jackson was a center and instrumental member of the US Men’s basketball team in Tokyo. In this picture from Beaumont Enterprise, Jackson shows what the best in the world play for.
“I had one thing in mind – to win the gold medal representing my country,” Jackson told me in an interview. ” When they call your name and the anthem is playing, you are just so touched when you receive the medal for your country. I cried like a baby. I love my medal. It’s beautiful.”
Luke Jackson went on to a career in the NBA right after the Tokyo Olympics,
Tyson Gay, a member of the 4X100 US men’s relay team, had returned his silver medal from the 2012 London Summer Games a year ago. And yet, two years later, the cloud from his drug-enhanced achievement continued to hang over the rest of his teammates. Yesterday, the hammer came down from the International Olympic Committee and the entire US 4×100 relay team were stripped of their silver medals.
As this NY Times article reported, there is a silver lining, at least for Trinidad and Tobago men’s 4X100 team, which could eventually be recognized as second place winners, while France’s team could end up with bronze.
Ben Johnson: The Canadian sprinter set the world record in the 100 meter race in Seoul in 1988, but only 3 days later failed a drug test for the steroid, Stanozolol, and was forced to surrender his gold medal.
Andreea Raducan: The Romanian gymnast won two gold medals as well as silver in various individual and team events in the Sydney Games in 2000, but gave them up after testing positive for pseudoephedrine.
Hans-Gunnar Liljenwall: The Swedish pentathlete was found to have consumed alcohol – two beers to be exact – which was classified as a drug at the time in 1968. Though Sweden won a medal for the Men’s Pentathlete Team competition in Mexico City, they had to return their medals.
Marion Jones: The American sprinter was found to have taken steroids, resulting of being stripped of 6 Olympic medals won at the 2000 Summer Games in Sydney.
Jim Thorpe: The star of the Stockholm Games in 1912, Thorpe was disqualified and relieved of his gold medals in the pentathlon and decathlon. His crime? He had played professional baseball, earning a pittance to play.
Nicola Zappeti, recently released from prison, found himself in Tokyo in the late 1950s with nothing but a notion that Japan needed a pizzaria. And so he cajoled enough friends and acquaintances to provide him with funds to start an Italian restaurant, despite the fact that the only thing he knew about the restaurant business was that he liked Italian food. From nothing, Zappetti created a culinary icon, explains author and old Japan hand, Robert Whiting describes in his book, “Tokyo Underworld – The Fast Times and Hard Life of an American Gangster in Japan“.
“Nicola’s was still the attraction. It now occupied an entire newly constructed three-story concrete building with forty large tables, two blocks from its original location and a stone’s throw from the opulent new Hotel Okura, modeled after an ancient Kyoto palace and adjudged to be the finest hotel in the world. The restaurant had made Roppongi synonymous with pizza.
“Although Crown Prince Akihito and Princess Michiko had subsequently curtailed their pizza-eating excursions to concentrate on the task of producing an heir to the throne, Nicola’s remained a Who’s Who of Tokyo and international society. On any given night,
How many Americans had a 1980 Moscow Olympics T-shirt? Not many I assure you. My father, who worked for NBC, gave this t-shirt to me, which I treasured. This picture is me 9 years later in Tokyo, sporting the latest in boycott fashion. Note the NBC logo, the ugly one that replaced the beloved technicolor peacock.
“Bowling is the hottest new sports fad in Japan, and Tokyo has the biggest bowling center in the world, with 120 lanes. This monster, the Shinagawa Bowling Center, is open until 3 in the morning. It attracts, in addition to serious bowlers, a good many beatniks and nightclub hostesses after the clubs have closed. Other bowling lanes where a little English is spoken include the Tokyo Bowling Center, right next to Meiji Olympic Park, Tokyo Bowl at Tokyo Tower and the Korakuen Bowling Arena in Korakuen Park. Reservations are necessary, especially at night. All of these places have restaurants and bars, but the food is not recommended. Bowling costs a steep 60¢ to $1 a line.” Sports Illustrated – July 6, 1964
I went to a birthday party at this bowling alley last April. I bowled one of my best games ever – 158.
Judo was first introduced to the Summer Games in Tokyo in 1964, with an obvious nod to the host country, Japan. But judo was already an established international phenomenon by that time, across America and Europe.
According to the Family Weekly article, “few sports are growing as swiftly in America today as judo. At the close of WWII, there were perhaps 10 judo clubs in the US and no more than 100 wearers of the black belt. Now there are at least 1,200 clubs, more than 2,000 black belts, and 300,000 people participating in the sport.”