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.

national stadium design_Kyodo and Japan Times
Kyodo

The $2 billion price tag for the new National Stadium in Tokyo proved to be too high. The Prime Minister of Japan, Shinzo Abe, faced down the president of the Tokyo Organizing Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games, and former prime minister, Yoshiro Mori, and send the committee back to the drawing board. This decision effectively removed the possibility of the stadium debuting for the 2019Rugby World Cup, according to this Japan Times article.

From the back cover of a special magazine on the Olympics, called
From the back cover of a special magazine on the Olympics, called “Tokyo Olympiku Special Edition, Tokyo Shimbun”

“The rising sun, the flames of the Olympic torch and the green grass of the stadium – what you saw in black and white in Rome, you can now see in color!” According to this ad, for about JPY200,000 you can be the proud owners of a 1964 Toshiba Color Television! The ad goes on to claim how America is buying up this TV due to its “wonderful” color technology.

By 1964, Japan’s economy had grown so robustly that 90% all households in Japan owned all of the so-called “three sacred treasures” – a television, a refrigerator and a washing machine. But of course, it was time to get an upgrade on that black and white clunker that was so 1950s, and buy a 1964 Toshiba Color Television!

The phrase, “three sacred treasures” (三種の神器 Sanshu no Jingi / Mikusa no Kandakara), is a tongue-in-cheek reference to the three items (a sword, a mirror and a jewel) that were brought from the heavens and granted to the first Emperor of Japan (a very long time ago). It is said that these items actually exist and the presentation of these treasures to a new emperor is still a significant part of the ascension ceremony.

Bob Schul victorious_
Bob Schul upon winning the 5,000 meter race in Tokyo, from the book “The Olympic Century – XVIII Olympiad – Volume 16”

There comes a moment in your life, hopefully, when you realize that you are not apart from the world, that “no one is an island entire of itself”.

In the 1960s, the support from national Olympic committees and sports associations was not as great as it is today. Unless you were from a family of means, world-class athletes training for the Olympics had to sacrifice significantly to make ends meet. When long-distance runner, Bob Schul, was selected for the US track and field team, he did not have the means to bring his wife on the journey to Tokyo. His military paycheck yielded only $78 a month, which almost all went to food and the gas to pay for his car trips to the military base so he could train.

But as Schul related in his stirring autobiography, “In the Long Run”, schoolchildren in his hometown went door to door raising money in order to buy air ticket for Sharon Schul. Along with this financial contribution and a telegram with all the donor’s names – family and friends all – came this wonderful, heartfelt letter.

Dear Bob,

This is our way of expressing in you the pride we feel in our hearts at this time. The entire community has gained in civic pride from your achievements and representation. When you face the starting line and look up at the throng in that vast stadium, you’ll not be alone; for sitting there in spirit, and cheering you on, will be 3500 happy and emotion-packed citizens of West Milton. As the race is in progress, there will be 3500 heartbeats running in unison to yours. When you start your kick in that last lap, there’ll be 3500 people praying for you to have the strength to do your best. Win…lose…or draw, you’re a champion and first-class citizen in the minds and hearts of the people of this community. Good luck and God bless you.

A grateful Schul went on to win gold in the 5,000 meter race in 1964, the first and only American to do so in the Olympic Games.