At the tender age of 18, Ron Clarke carried the Olympic torch through the Melbourne Cricket Ground up the steps to light the Olympic cauldron. Clarke would go on to break 17 world records in middle distance running, as well as take the bronze medal in the 10,000 meter race in Tokyo in 1964.
The self-described “accountant who also runs”, had a reputation for being a sportsman, and would go on to become the mayor of Queensland’s Gold Coast.
Here is a film clip of Ron Clarke showing his training routine as he prepared for competition in Europe before flying over to Tokyo for the 1964 Games, where he would captain the Australian athletics team.
Born in Jakarta, Indonesia to a Chinese-Dutch-French-Indonesian mother and Australian father, and living in Singapore before settling in Canada as 3 year old, Christilot Hanson-Boylen was already a seasoned traveler.
At 16, when she entered the Tokyo Summer Games as the youngest Olympic equestrian in Dressage, she and her horse, Bonheur, had already competed in Germany and the US. But Japan was a completely different destination. During a time when equestrian athletes got little to no organizational or national support, Hanson-Boylen traveled alone from Canada to Japan. She related her experience to me, described below.
In those days, there were no trainers, no managers, no back up. I was sent by myself. It started strangely as I was sent to Paris first. I had to stay overnight in Paris at the Hotel Claridge. They said the rooms were all booked. I had this coupon, but all they said they could do was put a cot in the bathroom. I still thought the bathroom was marvelous. They put a cot in there and I was just too stupid to complain. People kept rattling on the door all night.
I get to the airport and I saw one of the famous jump riders Nelson Pessoa of Brazil. I followed him, thinking “he’s going to Japan. He knows the way.” I was feeling a little scared, so I Introduced myself. He said, “Stick by me.” Sure enough he picks the wrong plane. We land in Calcutta.”
Hanson-Boylen eventually made it to Japan, commencing a life of Dressage competition in 6 Olympic Games from 1964 to 1992.
I am American, but of Japanese ancestry, so when I’m in Japan, I don’t get the “gai-jin” treatment – gawked at, overly praised for rudimentary Japanese, etc.
When Syd Hoare moved from England to Japan to train in judo in the early 1960s, he found the “constant attention” irritating. As he related in his book, A Slow Boat to Yokohama, “Wherever I went I was stared at, which was not that surprising since gaijin were bigger on average, with different color of hair, eyes, and skin.”
Hoare went on to tell this strange-but-true phenomenon where certain Japanese are so un-used to dealing with foreigners that they can’t quite rationalize one who speaks Japanese. Even though Hoare describes an incident from the early 1960s, as you can see in the above video, this brain cramping still occurs with certain Japanese. Both the story below and the video above are hysterical.
One time, when I was in Kyoto, an old shortsighted couple came up to me. The man asked me in Japanese where the Kiyomizu Temple was. Just as he neared the end of his question, his wife noticed that I was a foreigner and began badgering him. ‘Gaikoku no kata desu yo’. (‘He is a foreigner.’) By that time I had told him in Japanese exactly where the temple was. He was trapped between the information I had given him and the warning from his wife. The problem was that one part of his brain was telling him that he did not speak English, while the other half was telling him that gaijin cannot speak Japanese. I repeated the directions and walked on.
Nikita Sergeyevich Khrushchev, the First Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union was at the height of his influence and powers in 1960. At the kickoff of the Olympic Summer Games in Rome, he released a letter to all Olympians that grew feelings of good will towards the Soviet Union.
As David Maraniss wrote in his brilliant book, Rome 1960: The Olympics That Changed the World, “Khrushchev’s message was meant not just for the Soviets but for all athletes gathered in Rome, even if it was boilerplate Soviet rhetoric… ‘The Olympic Games were worthy because they improved brotherly contact among sportsmen of different countries,’ he noted, concluding: ‘I wish all sportsmen taking part the best success in sports as well as in work, studies, and their private lives.’”
Maraniss emphasized that “American diplomats had been frustrated for days by the seeming propaganda coup the Soviets gained when newspapers around the world reported on the message of peace and friendship that Premier Khrushchev sent to the Olympians in Rome.”
Khruschev, in the summer of 1960, was heading to New York City to address the United Nations, and he was at the top of his game.
But four years later, at the end of the first week of the Tokyo Summer Games, the world learned that one of the most powerful men in the world was deposed. As Ron Barak, US gymnast at the 1964 Games related to me, it was all a bit of a mystery.
“The day in the Village began like any other day during that two-week period. Then people began noticing the Soviets were gone. No one had witnessed their departure and until they returned late in the day, no one knew what was behind it. But there