Bob Hayes vs Spirit of AmericaIn October, 1964, Bob Hayes was crowned the fastest man in the world. But the “Bullet” is no match for a rocket.

Craig Breedlove

While all eyes were on Hayes and his quest for 100 meter gold in Tokyo, a different level of speed competition was taking place in the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah. On October 13, during the first week of the Tokyo Summer Games, Craig Breedlove raced to a land speed record of 468.72 mph in the Spirit of America, the first ever jet-propelled car.

Incredibly, only two days later, Breedlove raced the Spirit of America to another land record of 526.28 mph, becoming the first person to exceed 500 mph (800kmh).

About how fast did Bob Hayes

Fred Lorz at 1904 Olympics preparing for the marathon.
Fred Lorz, center in dark jersey, at 1904 Olympics preparing for the marathon.

The third Olympic Games were held in St Louis, Missouri in the United States in 1904, after the first two modern Olympic Games were held in Athens in 1896, and then in Paris in 1900.

The early years of the Olympics were a struggle as organizers fought for mindshare. As was true in the Paris Games, the St Louis Olympic Games were second billing to the World’s Fair, which were highly popular expositions in the early to mid-20th century.

According to the book, A Picture History of the Olympics, the organizers promised to arrange a ship to visit all major European ports to bring athletes to the first Games outside of Europe, but somehow the ship never crossed the Atlantic. Despite the Olympic rings representing the five continents, really only one had significant representation. Of the 650 athletes present, 580 were from America.

Swimmers had to swim in an assymetrical lake that made it hard for swimmers to stay in their lanes. The only item on the menu for the athletes was buffalo meat. And a new contraption called the car kicked up so much dust and spewed so much exhaust that marathoners had to cough their way through 42 kilometers.

The initial winner of the 1904 marathon was Fred Lorz, who stopped running after 16 kilometers, hopped on a vehicle for nine miles before it broke down, and then ran the rest of the way. He finished first easily, and was greeted by President Theodore Roosevelt.

Eventually, Lorz’s ruse was uncovered and he was banned for a year. Thomas Hicks, from Boston, was declared the winner. Lorz, a New Yorker, apologized for his “joke”, was allowed to compete before the year was up, and went on to win the 1905 Boston Marathon.

Rosie Ruiz
Rosie Ruiz

Which all reminds me of a New Yorker named Rosie Ruiz. She won the 1980 Boston Marathon in a record 2:31:56, about 25 minutes better than her previous race in the New York City Marathon six months earlier. How did she improve so greatly? She simply started the race about 800 meters from the finish, emerging from a crowd of spectators on Commonwealth Avenue.

Takuji Hayata in the 1964 Tokyo Olympics
Takuji Hayata in the 1964 Tokyo Olympics

He grew up in Tanabe, Wakayama Prefecture, dreaming of becoming a tuna fisherman like so many of the adults in his town.

But at the age of ten, he would walk around on his hands, and everybody began calling him “Handstand Boy”. His natural physical gifts eventually led to attendance at the best university for gymnastics in the strongest country for gymnastics – Nippon University in Japan. And he would go on to Olympic glory in Tokyo and Montreal.

In 1960 at Rome, Japan won its first of five straight Olympic team championships. So for Takuji Hayata (早田卓次), the youngest member of the 1964 team, it was initially intimidating to join the Japan gymnastics team. “Four of the six team members competed in Rome, including Yamashita Haruhiro who had a technique named after him. I was happy, but I was an unknown, so could I really make a contribution,” he wondered in an interview.

Paraguayan stamp of Takuji Hayata

As it turned out, Japan won gold in the men’s team gymnastics in 1964, with Hayata taking gold in the individual rings competition. But Hayata explains that becoming a champion was not easy. He said the gymnastics coach was a perfectionist and a taskmaster.

Upon waking every day, his coach insisted that he do one hour of electromyostimulation, then three hours on core gymnastics, followed by resistance training to build up muscle. Hayata had to keep his weight down, as he had to work hard to drop about 2.5 kgs a day, which he did by running or sweating off the weight in a sauna. On top of that, his coach filmed everything, pointing out every mistake.

As a result, Hayata was in top shape. But two-and-a-half months before the opening of the Tokyo Games, his father went to the hospital and passed away. “A year before the Olympics I was in excellent condition and I enjoyed working out daily,” he said in this speech at his induction into the International Gymnastics Hall of Fame in 2004. “I was selected and attended the training camp with great joy. I didn’t want to sleep. However, my healthy father suddenly became ill and passed away. People worried about me. All my friends came to comfort me. So at the age of 24 on my birthday (which happened to be the day of the Opening Ceremony of the 1964 Games), I wanted to do my best for my father.”

Hayata of course did do his best, not only for his father but for his home town. He said that during the Olympic Games, prior to his competition, he got a letter from his junior high school in Tanabe. A student had drawn a picture of him on

Rock and rollers in Harajuku in 1986
Rock and rollers in Harajuku in 1986

The Olympic Village in Tokyo in 1964 was very popular. The athletes appreciated the well-manicured greenery, the ample and delicious food, the abundance of bicycles that got them around, and the light-touch security. It felt truly like a village.

Before the Pacific War, the area of the Olympic Village was a Japanese military field, where soldiers would practice and conduct parades. The US military converted the area into housing for American military families during the post-war occupation, and they called the area Washington Heights.

Washington Heights
Washington Heights

The inside of these homes, furnished with American white goods and furniture for the convenience of the American families, were a revelation to the Japanese. Emerging out of a devastated industrial and urban wasteland, the typical Japanese would look at these homes with their huge refrigerators, spacious living rooms, and modern look as a vision of a future Japan.

And what happens when you have a concentration of thousands of Americans in the middle of a highly congested Japanese metropolitan area? You get Americanization. Not far from the Washington Heights area is Omotesando, the road currently famous for being the Champs d’Elysee of Tokyo, and the entry way to Harajuku, a global mecca today for fashion-conscious youth. In its hey day,

Tadahiro Nomura with His Three Gold Medals
Tadahiro Nomura (left), a three-time Olympic judo champion at 60 kg, attends a Monday news conference in Osaka. | KYODO

He won gold medals in the 1996 Atlanta Games, the 2000 Sydney Games and the 2004 Athens Games in the extra lightweight (-60kg) judo division. No other judo-ka has ever accomplished such consistency for so long.

On August 31, Tadahiro Nomura (野村忠宏) announced his retirement from competitive judo at the age of 40. As he was quoted in this Kyodo news report, “I began to feel my physical limit,” the 40-year-old Nomura said at a news conference. “I’ve done everything I can. I have no regrets.”

In addition to his three consecutive Olympic golds, he also won gold in the Judo World Championships in 1997, as well as bronze in the 2003 World Championships in Osaka. The man from Nara, Japan often won in spectacular fashion. He employed a seoi-nage technique, a throw where the thrower’s feet get in between the opponent’s legs in lightning fashion, and the thrower is able to toss the opponent over his back and shoulder with unexpected ease.

See the video below for a visual explanation, which is in Japanese, but fairly self-explanatory. A more detailed explanation of the seoi-nage in English can be found at this link.

Nomura comes from judo pedigree – his uncle Toyokazu Nomura was the gold medalist in the -70 kg division of the 1973 Games in Munich, while his father coached Shinji Hosokawa to gold at the 1984 Games in Los Angeles.