America and Japan haven’t had such a rivalry since the trade wars of the 1980s and 1990s.

When the Women’s World Cup Finals start on Monday morning from 8am JST, more than a few Japanese will be calling in sick, joining colleagues at a sports bar, or making furtive glances at their phones as they begin their work day.

Japan and the US are facing off in a women’s soccer championship for the third time in a row. Four years ago, Japan won in the World Cup. Three years ago, the US won in the London Olympics. Who will win tomorrow?

Here’s the breakdown of this burgeoning rivalry from the New York Times.

The sun had already set as the eight-oared shells pulled out of the gloom and into a storybook finish. Life Magazine - October 30, 1964
The sun had already set as the eight-oared shells pulled out of the gloom and into a storybook finish. Life Magazine – October 30, 1964

When the rowers hit the 1,500 meter mark in the 2,000 race, the sky exploded with rocket’s red glare, bombs bursting in air. It was twilight’s last gleaming when the eight-oar team from America pulled across the finish line to win the gold medal in the premier rowing event at the 1964 Summer Games.

The eight men from the Vesper Boat Club of Philadelphia had pulled off an upset, beating Germany, the reigning champions since Rome in 1960.

The start of the race had been delayed by two-and-a-half hours due to winds that appeared to give unfair advantage to rowers in certain lanes. The organizers knew the final race of the day at the Toda Rowing Course would likely be in darkness, so they consulted with anyone and everyone to figure out how to create enough light to film the race, let alone see who won.

First they organized all the cars they could, and lined them up along one side of the rowing course. But the headlights of all those cars could not blanket the entire rowing course. What happened next is explained by Olympic official, Yushi Nakamura, in William Stowe’s excellent account of the championship team in the book, “All Together – The Formidable Journey to the Gold With the 1964 Olympic Crew”.

“Two or three races prior to the final of the eight it became dark and I saw many people gathered at the finish line attempting to shine automobile headlights across the course to assist the judges. Trouble was in those days photo film was not as fast as today and car headlights were not enough to shine across the 100 meters of the course at the finish. It would be fatal that the Japanese organizing committee could not record the result of the Olympic finals on film.

“Suddenly I got an idea. The Japanese Self Defense Forces had been deeply involved in the Olympic Games with their mobile electric power and equipment. At Toda they were present with the telecommunications equipment between the start and finish line and along the course. My idea was that perhaps they had a special tool to give enough light for our needs. Fortunately I was at 2050 meter mark next to their headquarters van. I approached the senior officer and asked, ‘DO you have any tool or equipment to help us?’

“He replied, ‘We have star shells. They can illuminate the course like in day time.’ “

As Nishimura continued to explain,

Al Oerter Getting His Gold Medal; from the book
Al Oerter Getting His Gold Medal; from the book “The Olympic Century – XVIII Olympiad Vol 16”

I’m not sure if a lot of people liked Avery Brundage.

He served as president of the International Olympic Committee from 1952 to 1972. An American construction and hotel magnate, as well as a pentathlete and decathlete in the 1912 Stockholm Summer Games, Brundage was considered overly enthusiastic in assuring Olympic athletes received no financial reward in any way connected to their athletic pursuits.

While ignoring under-the-table payments of shoe companies to athletes for wearing their shoes, as well as the support and rewards provided by the Soviet bloc governments to their “amateur” athletes, Brundage was particularly strict with Americans getting any form of compensation.

Then there was his admiration for the Nazi regime in Germany, his refusal to shake the hands of Black American medalists, and his generally prudish exhortations in contrast to his extra-marital affairs and children.

Finally, in a move to condemn what he felt was an unnecessary swelling of nationalism in the Olympic Games, he suggested in a October 24, 1964 AP article that he wanted to eliminate the podium medal ceremonies from the Olympics. “In the first place, the national anthems are badly played,” he said in a press conference. “They are also monotonous and I think it would be better to play some sort of Olympic song.”

Thankfully, nobody took Brundage up on cutting the podium event, one of the most potent memories of most Olympic champions.

But maybe Brundage was right about the national anthem. Apparently the Tokyo Olympic organizers, in order to save time, established the practice of playing only the first

From “Tokyo Olympics Special Issue_Kokusai Johosha”
  • Byron Nelson won 11 PGA golf tournaments in a row.
  • Rocky Marciano went 49-0 in his boxing career.
  • Guillermo Vilas won 46 tennis matches in a row.
  • Edwin Moses won 122 straight in 400-meter hurdles
  • Cael Sanderson won 159 straight college wrestling matches

But Osamu Watanabe won 189 consecutive wrestling matches, as well as gold in the 1964 Tokyo Olympics

Watanabe competed in wrestling tournaments in Europe, America, Asia and won every match. He was known as the “Animal” for his strength, and as the “Swiss Watch” for his technique. He dominated in his career, and in the Tokyo Olympics, coming in as the favorite having won the 1962-1963 World Champion in the men’s featherweight freestyle division .

In the end, when Osamu Watanabe (渡辺長武) took down Soviet wrestler, Nodar Khokhashvili, he had won his 186th and final match without a blemish in the loss column. In fact, during the Tokyo Games, Watanabe was not even scored upon.

From the book
From the book “Tokyo Olympiad 1964”

After the Olympics, Watanabe joined a large Japanese advertising firm named Dentsu. Clearly, he had the itch. In 1970, while at Dentsu, he took part in an All-Japan wrestling tournament in which he wrestled once, and won. Make that 187 in a row.

Even more amazing, 17 years later, at the age of 47, 23 years after his triumph in Tokyo, Osamu “Animal” Watanabe came out of retirement to compete at the All Japan Wrestling Championship, with a hope to represent Japan again at the Seoul Summer Games in 1988. And yes, he won two more…before succumbing to time, losing, and ending a streak that is still unfathomable.

A career record of 189 – 1. Perfect

To watch Watanabe take down Khokhashvili, start watching this video from the 35 second mark.

The red cinder track with white vinyl lines in the National Stadium stood out in beautiful contrast to the green infield and the blue sky.

But compared to the synthetic tracks of today, not many runners miss the cinder tracks. Ollan Cassel, winner in the 4X400 relay team, said they referred to cinder tracks as “British garbage”.

Cinder tracks were often made by a British company called “En–Tout-Cas“, which was also the name of the surface they first created for tennis courts in the early 20th century. As noted in the link to this company, this British bricklaying and construction firm turned another man’s garbage into gold. They procured vast amounts of rubble that was the result of German bombing raids over London during World War II and created tennis courts and running tracks all over the world.

By 1968, cinder tracks were replaced by synthetic tracks. Cassell said that there was a big difference, between the two. “The cinders were always uneven and needed long spikes, which dug into the track and attracted the material into the shoes. This made it more difficult to glide and run like on a cloud.”

The shift from cinder tracks to artificial tracks had another effect, according to Cassell. “The all-weather track made it necessary for shoe companies to make special shoes with much shorter spikes, often called brush spikes, to keep the damage to the track to a minimum. You could also get a better stride rhythm with less resistance, as well as receive more bounce form each stride.”


My cats have flown from Tokyo to Seattle to Singapore to Tokyo over a five-year period. To be fair, the whole experience of Vet exams, shots, cat containers, transportation to airports, planes with other animals and loud sounds….probably not the best thing for our cats. But we needed them where we were going, so on the plane they went.

Equestrians need their horses where they are going. And in 1964, horses did not fly well. In fact, in an AP report on October 1, it was reported that an 11-year-old gelding named Markham on the US team went berserk in her stall in the airplane only an hour after it took off from Newark Airport. Markham was causing such a commotion that officials felt that the horse had to be put down so as not to jeopardize the safety of the plane.

From the book, “Tokyo Olympics Special Issue_Kokusai Johosha”

He was 6 foot 6 inches or nearly 2 meters tall. When Anton Geesink entered a judo tournament, in a time when there were no weight classes and a 120-kilogram giant like Geesink could compete against a 70-kilo judo-ka, he intimidated. Geesink was a European storm, and the Japanese could hear it coming in the early 1960s. In 1961, Geesink defeated the Japanese champion Koji Sone, ending Japanese domination in the sport.

In 1964, it seemed pre-ordained that Geesink would make it to the finals. But the Japanese held out hope that Akio Kaminaga, would rise to the occasion and uphold national pride. And there they were, in the Budokan, facing off. Ada Kok, winner of two silver medals in swimming at the Tokyo Olympics, was there to witness. Kok is Dutch, and as a reward to medalists, the Dutch Olympic Committee invited Kok to watch her compatriot, Geesink, in the judo open weight finals.

Geesink vs Kaminaga_Tokyo Olympiad 1964_The Kyodo News Service
Geesink asking the crowd to quiet down. From the book “Tokyo Olympics Special Issue_Kokusai Johosha”

“I had just turned 16, so I accepted this invitation as something normal. It was just a fight to me at the time. But on reflection, I realized I was watching a culture shock of sorts, going throughout Japan. The Budokan was silent. Quiet. I could hear people crying. It was like a solar eclipse had suddenly blackened out all of Japan. It was a feeling of doom.

“But of course, it was tremendous for us, the Dutch. And I remember the Dutch officials were elated, and wanted to jump on