Dorothy Tyler Odam in Berlin
Dorothy Odam-Tyler competing in Berlin in 1936.

Dorothy Odam-Tyler of London competed in four Olympics, which is an amazing fact. But she did so over a 20 year-period in a land devastated by war. A world record high jumper, Tyler-Odam won the silver medal in the 1936 and 1948 Olympics, the only athlete to have won medals before and after the Second World War.

World War II took place from 1939 to 1945, resulting in the deaths of over 60 million people. Quite ironically, the host cities selected for the XI Olympiad in 1936, the XII Olympiad in 1940, and the XIII Olympiad in 1944 were respectively Berlin, Tokyo and London – the capitols of the three of the most prominent players in the Second World War.

As it turned out, Olympics of 1940 and 1944 were cancelled due to war. In other words, the Olympic spirit, or rather the Olympic legend of suspending war in order to conduct an Olympiad was not able to overcome the nationalism and militarism of the mid-20th century.

In 1936, war was not imminent. Adolf Hitler had come to power in Germany, but had not yet made explicit his need for “elbow room”. Thus the 1936 Games in Berlin were his opportunity to show the world that the German way was the way of the future.

Dorothy Odam, as she was known in 1936, was still only 16 years old when she appeared in Berlin. According to Mike Fleet in his wonderful biography of the English high jumper entitled Thanks and No Thanks Mr Hitler, Odam-Tyler had an eye-opening experience. “The politically uniformed teenager had a further rude awakening, as hundreds of Hitler Youth members marched about proudly swinging their swastika armbands, many with shovels and brooms at the slope of their shoulders.”

thanks and no thanks mr hitler

Despite the militaristic atmosphere and the grandeur of the opening ceremonies, the teenager was able to keep her emotions intact, and battle to, essentially, a tie in the high jump. Utilizing a scissor-jump approach, Odam-Tyler was one of three of the remaining athletes to jump 1.6 meters on her first attempt. Only two others were able to clear that height, but not without failed attempts.

Unfortunately, the rules were not in Odam-Tyler’s favor, according to Fleet. In today’s world, Odam-Tyler would have been considered the winner for making the top height with the least number of missed attempts. But in 1936, they re-set the bar higher. In the next round, Ibolya Csak of Hungary was the only one to clear 1.62 meters. Odam-Tyler cleared 1.6 meters again, taking silver, and becoming the first British woman to win an Olympic medal.

During the war years, Odam-Tyler worked for the Royal Air Force in the war effort, still finding time to train. She was now married to Dick Tyler, but they were soon separated as he joined a tank regiment that served first in North Africa, and then in Burma. And fortunately, they both survived the war.

Dorothy Odam-Tyler was now 28, and the Olympic Games were scheduled for the summer of 1948 in London. Her motivation was to win gold and wipe out the memory of her loss in Berlin 12 years before. And despite the time that had been sacrificed to war instead of training and competition, the bar continued to be raised, literally, in what was a thrilling competition.

As the field thinned, only three remained at 1.62 meters, including American Alice Coachman and French women Micheline Ostermeyer. At 1.64, Ostermeyer failed to make the cut. Odam-Tyler and Coachman continued their duel. First they both cleared 1.66 meters, setting an Olympic record. Then they both cleared 1.68. But at 1.70 meters, both failed in their three attempts. Due to the tie-breaking rules, Coachman was declared the winner, and became the first black woman to win an Olympic gold medal.

As for Odam-Tyler, she won her two silver medals in two Olympiads 12 years apart, bookending one of the most violent and largest wars in the history of mankind. One could

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People living in Japan are used to Hollywood films coming out months after their US release date. But it’s unusual for a movie to come out a year after its release.

Finally, on Saturday afternoon, I got to watch the film Unbroken.

Zamperini in front of photo of Berlin GamesDirected by the actress, Angelina Jolie, Unbroken is the incredible story about Louis Zamperini, whose life defies belief. He was an Olympian in the 1936 Olympics, who finished eighth in the 5,000 meters final, but did so in such dramatic fashion that Adolph Hitler sought him out to shake his hand.

He was a bombardier on a B-24 fighting in the Pacific War, was a survivor not only of a crash on a rescue mission in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, but also 47 days on a life raft without food or water.

His life up to that point is a miracle, but when he was finally found and captured by Japanese troops on the Marshall Islands, he embarked on a more brutal path as a prisoner of war in various camps in Japan. The brutality he and other POWs endured is portrayed in the movie fairly graphically.

Japan Film Unbroken
Moviegoers wait before Angelina Jolie’s “Unbroken” opens in front of a movie theater in Tokyo, Saturday, Feb. 6, 2016. “Unbroken” has opened more than a year after the rest of the world in Japan, the country where the main character endures as a prisoner of war and where some have called for a boycott of the movie. (AP Photo/Koji Sasahara)

It was this depiction of the Japanese overlords, among other things, that was feared to provoke right-wing groups if the film were to be shown in Japan. But one year later, after countless appeals by Jolie to bring the film to Japan, Toho-Towa finally decided to distribute the film after a delay, and a small art-house theater in Shibuya called Theater Image Forum which seats only 64 people, decided to show the film.

According to the AP report, the “distributor said in a statement that it decided to go ahead with the showing because various views on war should be expressed, and because it was unnatural for a movie about Japan not to be shown in the country.”

Bravo.

Too bad that only 2 theaters in all of Tokyo are showing the film.

The film itself is a Hollywood biopic – in other words, a traditional telling of a great person’s life – a chronologically told tale of the person’s significant moments, with flash backs here and there. But because Zamperini’s life story is epic, it’s impossible not to be impressed.

Perhaps the most striking was not the performance of Jack O’Connell, who portrayed Zamperini in the film. It was of the Japanese singer turned actor, Miyavi, who was at times electrifying as a POW camp authority whose sadistic nature made life, as it were, intolerable for the prisoners.

miyavi as watanabe in unbroken
Miyavi in Unbroken

Zamperini’s life after the war was a personal challenge – how does one digest the horrors he faced and emerge a fully functioning member of a peace-time society? And yet, he did, and came to realize that forgiveness was the only way out of his personal pit of lifelong trauma. As the movie, as well as this documentary by CBS on Zamperini depict, the man, unbroken, did return to Japan in 1998. He carried the Olympic torch for a kilometer at a ceremony leading up to the Nagano Winter Games. And the Torrance Torch, as he was once called as a high school track phenom, shone bright once again.

(Go to the 33 minute mark for that wonderful moment.)

 

Sohn Kee-Chung on the podium after winning the marathon at the 1936 Olympic Games.
Sohn Kee-Chung on the podium after winning the marathon at the 1936 Olympic Games.

He was 73 years old at the time, carrying the heavy burden of the Olympic torch as well as the shame of 1936, and yet he bounded into the Olympic Stadium, hopping and waving his arms to the crowd, overjoyed to be a part of the Opening Ceremonies of the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul.

Sohn Kee-chung deserved the honor. After all, he had won the gold medal in the premier athletics event, the marathon, in the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin. But he did not race as a Korean. Instead, he ran as a member of the Japanese Olympic team. In May of 1910, Japan had overpowered the rulers of Korea and made that country its protectorate. When Sohn was born in 1914, hundreds of thousands of Japanese had already moved to the Korean colony, ostensibly to increase Japanese claim to the territory, as well as ease population and food stress in Japan.

Sohn eventually grew into a fine runner, setting the world record in the marathon in Tokyo in November, 1935, a record that lasted for 12 years. The Japanese were eager to do well in the medal count in Berlin, so they sent Sohn and a fellow Korean named Nam Sung-yong to Berlin. And Sohn delivered, winning gold, with his teammate Nam taking bronze. Sohn’s victory, so dramatic, was featured in Leni Reifenstahl’s famed documentary on the Berlin Games. The Japanese national team was of course overjoyed. But nothing burned Sohn more than to look up, tired and victorious at the end of a grueling race, and not see his name on the scoreboard.

Sohn Kee-chung running under the Japanese flag as Kitei Son, from the book "A Picture History of the Olympics"
Sohn Kee-chung running under the Japanese flag as Kitei Son, from the book “A Picture History of the Olympics”

Up came the name Son Kitei, the Japanized version of the characters in his name. And next to that name was the name of the country Japan. The photo at the top of this post shows the shame of the two Koreans who stood on the podium listening to the Japanese national anthem. As you can see in the picture, the heads of the two Koreans are bowed, ashamed of the

Jesse Owens at the Tokyo Olympics in 1964, from the book
Jesse Owens at the Tokyo Olympics in 1964, from the book “Tokyo Olympics Special Issue_Kokusai Johosha”

It’s hard to believe, but there has never been a major film on Jesse Owens. Eighty years after Owens’ monumental achievements at the Berlin Summer Games in 1936, the film, Race, will be coming to a theater near you.

During the Tokyo Summer Games fifty one years ago, Owens was asked to write a daily column for the Newark Star Ledger offering his memories from the Berlin Games, as well as his thoughts on the athletes and events of the 1964 Games. In his October 11, 1964 column, he wrote about a moment when he felt the weight of the world on his shoulders.

“Forget the competition. Run your own race. Don’t look at the people who’re watching you. Just do your best and be satisfied, win or lose. I always followed that creed too, and I think it helped me to become a better athlete and a better man. I always followed it – except once. That one I didn’t compete just as Jesse Owens, or just me as an American. That one day I ran as a Negro.”

Jesse Owens went on to write how he was feeling the pressure of representing his race, and fouled in his first two attempts at the long jump trials. Then a reporter asked Owens if he thought the German refs were purposely calling foul and how Hitler was reported to have bad mouthed Owens.

“Since that day, I’ve told thousands of boys that I just turned the other cheek – and that that’s what they should do when those things come up. But that day, that minute, I really couldn’t forget it. Not just as a Negro, but as a human being, it hurt me in that place you can’t put medicine.”

That’s when the athlete from Oakville, Alabama decided to draw a line in the sand…literally. In order to ensure that he didn’t foul, Owens marked a line a foot before the launching point, and easily won the trial, which helped Owens to continue his journey to gold and Olympic glory.

Below is the trailer for Race. This highly anticipated film is scheduled for release on February 19, 2016. When it does, don’t walk…race to your local theater.

Chief Priestess, Aleca Katselli igniting the Sacred Olympic Flame at the Temple of Zeus, from the book,
Chief Priestess, Aleca Katselli igniting the Sacred Olympic Flame at the Temple of Zeus, from the book, “Tokyo Olympiad 1964, Kyodo News Agency”

On August 21, 1964. the Priestesses of the ancient Temple of Zeus in Athens lit the Sacred Olympic Flame in a bowl using the rays of the sun. The torch was then transported to the site of the Ancient Olympics, where King Constantine II of Greece waited for it with IOC President Avery Brundage and Daigoro Yasukawa, President of the Tokyo Olympic Organizing Committee. Chief Priestess, Aleca Katselli lit the Olympic Torch from the sacred flame, handing it to the King, who handed it to the first runner, George Marcellos, who was the Greek 110-yard hurdle champion. And off he went, initiating the torch on a multi-country, multi-continent relay ending in the National Stadium in Tokyo.

Greek hurdler, George Marcello, takes the first leg of the Torch Relay, from the book Tokyo Olympiad 1964, Kyodo News Agency.
Greek hurdler, George Marcello, takes the first leg of the Torch Relay, from the book Tokyo Olympiad 1964, Kyodo News Agency.

There is no other way to describe this ceremony – except that it feels Olympian.

This ceremony, wrapped in myth and ceremony, actually emerged out of Nazi Germany. Joseph Goebbels, who was Adolph Hitler’s Minister of Propaganda from 1933, saw the 1936 Berlin Olympics as an opportunity to legitimize the German way in the eyes of the world, that life with Germany, under Germany, was good and glorious. And so Goebbels formed an organizing committee inside his propaganda ministry with the mission to extract, as Daniel Brown wrote in his brilliant book, Boys in the Boat, “the maximum propaganda from the games. No opportunity was to be overlooked, nothing taken for granted.”

Brown went on to write, “at one of those meetings, one of Goebbels’ ministers proposed an entirely new idea – a potent bit of imagery designed to underscore what the Third Reich saw as its ancestral roots in ancient Greece – a torch relay to carry a flame from Olympia in Greece all the way to Berlin.”

And so since 1936, the Olympic Torch Relay has been a permanent fixture in the ritual of the Olympic Games.

See this short clip of

The Boys in the Boat, by Daniel James Brown
The Boys in the Boat, by Daniel James Brown

The German rowing teams had already won five of the previous six rowing events in the Olympic Games hosted in Nazi Berlin. At the beginning of the main event – the eight oars – the American crew didn’t hear the man say “start”, so lost precious seconds from the beginning. They were in the last lane, which had the hardest crosswinds to overcome. Their stroke, the pace-keeper of the eight-oared crew was so ill, he looked as if he would pass out any moment. And for the first half of the race, the men’s team from Seattle, Washington was in last place with another 1,000 meters to go.

I was on my step machine at the gym yesterday, my towel and water in their place, and my Kindle resting on the step machine display. I was reading the final chapter of Daniel Brown’s brilliant book about the legendary American crew from The University of Washington – The Boys in the Boat – Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics.

boys in the boat_seattle PI

The description of the race, as were descriptions of all the key races, were thrilling. And as I tapped from page to page, I noticed my pace picking up on the machine. The stroke, Don Hume, was a ghost, and the coxswain Bobby Moch, was hesitant, but shouted that he wanted the 7, Joe Rantz, to take over the stroke role. That woke up Hume, who resumed his role and picked up the pace.

And again, up went my pace.

Brown writes