From The Seattle Times, October 19, 1964
From The Seattle Times, October 19, 1964

The portrait is sketchy. The image reflects a lack of detail, as well as a dark side of a life that held so much promise.

It’s sometimes frustrating trying to piece together a person’s life on the internet. Toby Gibson was a boxer. He was a legitimate contender for a medal at the 1964 Tokyo Games. He was a husband and a father. He was a lawyer and a deputy prosecutor. He embezzled funds. He committed armed robbery. He served time in prison. And then, one day in March, 1973, he died.

I really don’t know much beyond those milestones in his life.

The picture above accompanied a column by Red Smith. The famed sports writer explained in his article from October 19, 1964, that Gibson was a “highly attractive young sociology student who wants to be a teacher and is always surprised when he knocks somebody out.” No one else was really surprised. Gibson was on a streak, having won 12 straight fights as a lead up to Tokyo, and was favored, along with Joe Frazier, to win gold for the US.

toby-gibson-at-olympic-trials-in-1964
Toby Gibson at the US Olympic Boxing Trials_Sports Illustrated_June 1, 1964

Sports Illustrated cited Gibson as “the most impressive winner” of the US Olympic Boxing Trials, held in May, 1964. The writer described him as “likeable and articulate…a fine boxer and superb puncher.” A professional fight manager was reported to have privately said that Gibson was “the best prospect since Joe Louis.”

In his first bout in the light middleweight class, he made quick work of his Thai opponent, Yot Santhien. Unfortunately, Gibson found himself on the losing end of a controversial judgment in his second fight against Eddie Davis, penalized significantly enough for “ducking” his Ghanian opponent too much. And that was that. No medal.

In the Sports Illustrated article, Gibson was quoted as saying that he didn’t intend to turn pro after the Olympics, that he wanted to be a teacher. As it turns out, he did go pro, but only for five professional fights before entering law school. His hard work not only got him a law degree, but also the distinction of being the first black to be appointed a deputy prosecutor of Spokane County in the state of Washington, according to his obituary in The Seattle Times.

Some time after moving to Seattle to open a law practice in 1977, Gibson got into trouble, and was disbarred. First he was caught misappropriating more than $25,000 of his clients’ trust funds. Then he was convicted of armed robbery and extortion of another law firm in Oakland, and imprisoned for 7 years.

I have searched and searched, but the subtler shades of color between the harsh outlines of his life are hard to fathom, and I am left with a story and a life unfulfilled.

 

NOTE: This article was updated on January 2, 2017

national gymnasium and annex2 Old residences for US military families were knocked down as another physical remnant of the American occupation disappeared. And up rose a structure, often cited as one of the most beautifully designed for an Olympic Games – the National Gymnasium. In 1964, 11,000 spectators would watch swimming and diving events in the National Gymnasium, that, from the outside appears to uncoil and breathe, and from the inside inspires the awe of the great cathedrals of Europe. Danish diver, Soren Svejstrup wrote me about the first time he entered Kenzo Tange’s dream building. “When we arrived the first day at the pool, into this wonderful building, our coach said, ‘This is the place every swimmer and diver want to be buried when the time comes’.”

From the Book
From the Book “The Games of the XVIII Olympiad Tokyo 1964”
The first reaction of Dutch swimmer, Ada Kok, who won two swimming silver medals in this building was, “Wow! We looked up, completely flabbergasted. It had an Olympic size pool, and yet, once inside, it felt really cozy, and so typical Japanese with its breathtaking roof.”

Two-time gold medalist, American Donna de Varona said she would kid the Princeton basketball star, Bill Bradley, about the size of the annex, which was the smaller Tange version of the National Gymnasium and where the basketball games were played for a maximum of 4,000 spectators. “That basketball arena was so small and our swimming stadium was big and beautiful, state of the art and breathtaking.” 

This site gives a detailed explanation and illustration of Tange’s genius use

From the book
From the book “Tokyo Olympics Special Issue_Kokusai Johosha 1”

The British influence on India has not been insignificant. From the mid-19th to mid-20th century, the British introduced the railway system, the legal system, the English language, and sports like cricket and field hockey. In fact, while India was under British rule, India was the dominant force in field hockey, winning gold at the 1928, 1932 and 1936 Olympics.

In 1947, India gained independence, although parts of the country were parsed off to create the dominion of Pakistan. This “partition” resulted in mass migrations of Muslims into Pakistan as well as Hindis and Sikhs into India. These migrations were traumatic for the tens of millions of people who were uprooted. And as you can imagine, the players on the Pakistan field hockey team had played on previous India championship teams, and knew their counterparts on the Indian team intimately.

And yet, after the partition, India continued to dominate, winning gold in 1948, 1952 and 1956. But Pakistan was getting closer, losing 1-0 to India in the finals in the 1956 Melbourne Games. In Rome, Pakistan did what Indians feared, finally winning gold in Rome.

So the stage was set in Tokyo for a re-match of the two field hockey powers. “The tension was there as many of the players had migrated during the partition, many of them joining the other side,” Gurbux Singh, a full-back on the 1964 India team told me. “We lost for the first time in 1960, and we lost to Pakistan again in the finals of the Asian Games in 1962. It was so emotional as the whole country wanted us to win.”

And win they did. 1-0.

Many of the 2,000 attendees of the finals match at Komazawa Hockey Stadium poured onto the pitch, embracing the players from India, and breaking into spontaneous dance. The weight of an entire nation off their shoulders, the team stood proud listening to their nation’s anthem at the medal ceremony. “Tears came to my eyes when the Indian flag rose,” he said.

“In India, the reaction was great,” said center-forward Harbinder Singh, another member of that gold-medal winning team. “When our airplane arrived in India, people came on the runway. They were beating drums. A lot of people entered the plane and lifted us on their shoulders. And then there were big crowds and processions, people throwing garlands and flowers, dancing in front of our cars.”

“I really felt we did something for our country and ourselves,” reflected Gurbux Singh. “This is the greatest thing an athlete can do.”

From the Hindu Photo Library
From the Hindu Photo Library
Soren Svejstrup, greeted in Tokyo upon arrival (from the collection of Soren Svejstrup)
Soren Svejstrup, greeted in Tokyo upon arrival (from the collection of Soren Svejstrup)

Diver, Søren Svejstrup of Denmark, was performing well after the first round of the ten-meter dive competition in 1964. In the second round, Svejstrup was in fourth place and closing in on a medal opportunity. But in the end, despite error-free dives, he could not make it to the finals.

Without the pressure of the competition, the next day, Svejstrup took a ride in a car around Tokyo with friends, enjoying life as a tourist for a change. The following day, however, the 19-year old woke up in a world of pain. First the Danish team doctor told him to rest, before being taken to a hospital, where the doctors could not figure out the issue. Finally, Svejstrup was taken to a university hospital where they told the diver that his appendix was rotten, and had to be removed right away.

“At the theatre they gave me an injection in my spine, and a mirror so I could watch the whole operation. The doctor was very nice, and said ‘we will give you the smallest mark on your stomach possible, so you can look nice when you dive from the 10 meter back in Denmark’.”

It was as if his body told him, “I was patient with you. Now you need to listen to me.” As Svejstrup explained to me, “my appendix knew what to do, and what not to do.”

DickRoth_display_imageOn the other hand, swimmer, Dick Roth, simply did not listen to his body.

Roth had had a long day after the opening ceremony at the National Stadium. He went to bed around 9pm but couldn’t fall asleep, feeling pain in his stomach. He threw up several times during the night, and finally at 6am he woke up and was taken to the infirmary.

They probed and tested the 17-year old, and then sent him to a hospital at a US military base a couple of hours away. They told him they had to cut out his appendix. The surgical team was ready to operate. All he had to do was sign a paper allowing the surgery.

Roth said “No”. Several hours later, Roth’s parents were located and brought in. They were ready to sign the form – they did not even want to imagine the possibility of their son’s appendix bursting in the middle of a competition, lifetime opportunity or not.

Roth insisted on delaying the surgery, somehow convinced his parents not to authorize the surgery.

And that was it. Roth went on to set world record in the 400-meter individual medley, and take gold for the US.

problemswithinfinity
From the blog “Problems With Infinity”

I’ve recently discovered this wonderful blog, “Problems with Infinity”, a blend of witty, self-deprecating prose and caustically cute illustrations.

The post, “Future Me Is an Idiot, and I’m an Asshole” is a wonderful representation of most people’s desired and current states – I aspire to greatness but am mired here in the mud. The author writes about her “future me”, her positive, problem-solving and goal-oriented self. In my view, that is the Olympian personality, and whom she refers to as her nemesis.

I believe Olympians set lofty desired states, and on the whole, achieve them. I also believe most of us are like the writer, Olympian wannabees, who aspire to greatness but sometimes feel our efforts are disastrous wastes of time. I suppose reality is somewhere in between.

For what it’s worth, for all her laments, we need our inner Olympian. It does, after all, drive her to produce this brilliant blog, deserving of a gold medal.