year of the boar japan 2019

2019 is the Year of the Boar (in Japan) and Year of the Pig (in China). More specifically in the Chinese Zodiac, it is the Year of the Earth Pig, which waddles into the spotlight once every 60 years.

And it was 60 years ago on May 26, 1959 in the last Year of the Earth Pig, that members of the IOC met in Munich, Germany for the 55th General Session of the International Olympic Committee to decide which city – Brussels, Detroit, Tokyo or Vienna – would host the 1964 Tokyo Olympics.

In a decisive vote that required only one round, the IOC selected Tokyo, which took a majority 34 votes of the possible 58. Detroit came in a distant second with only 10 votes.

What were the reasons given for Tokyo’s winning bid in 1959?

Successful Asian Games: in 1958, Tokyo hosted the Asian Games, where over 1,800 athletes from 20 nations participated in 13 different events. As the Detroit Times wrote the day after its selection, “Tokyo, a strong favorite in recent months, after the world-wide fanfare it received after its holding of the recent Asian Games, was given the 1964 award.”

Fred Wada: Wada, a Wakayama native, was a Japanese American who hosted the Japan swimming team when they competed at the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics, and was instrumental in lobbying IOC members in Latin America in support of the Tokyo bid for the 1964 Olympics.

Cancellation of the 1940 Tokyo Olympics: Tokyo was awarded the right to host the 1940 Summer Olympics, but the threat of global conflict made the organization of those Games untenable, so they Olympics were cancelled in both 1940 and 1944. Avery Brundage, the president of the International Olympic Committee, would mention that they lost their chance to stage those Games because of “unfortunate circumstances,” implying that 1964 would be a second chance.

Avery Brundage: Brundage was a dominant president of the International Olympic Committee from 1952 to 1972. And he was someone deeply familiar with Asia, particularly its art. After visiting an exhibition of Chinese art in London in 1935, he began to amass a collection of Asian art, much of which would be donated to the new wing of the Memorial Museum in San Francisco. In his speech at the opening of the new wing, Brundage professed his admiration for Asia.

We think in terms of years, Orientals think in terms of generations, or of centuries, and some Indian philosophers even think in terms of five thousand year cycles. The great religions all originated in Asia. The Chinese invented silk, paper, gunpowder, porcelain, printing, and a hundred other things, and had a well developed civilization when Europe was in the throes of the dark ages and most of America a wilderness, inhabited only by savages. (From The Four Dimensions of Avery Brundage, by Heinz Schobel.)

Avery Brundage Visiting an art exhibition in Tokyo, 1958
Avery Brundage Visiting an art exhibition in Tokyo, 1958, from The Four Dimensions of Avery Brundage

Supporters of the Detroit bid didn’t take kindly to what they perceived as Brundage’s outsized influence and bias for bringing the Olympics to Asia. One of the leaders of the Detroit bid, Fred Matthaei, was quoted as saying, “We got the impression the committee wanted to hold the Games on another continent.”

The editorial in the May 27, 1959 editorial page of the Detroit Times was blunter in its criticism of Brundage.

Brundage is a native Detroiter. The local delegation hoped that fact might help their campaign. It didn’t. It merely proved how little they know the egotistic Mr. Brundage. He insists piously and repeatedly that his position as president of the IOC prevents his taking sides. But he made no secret of his leaning toward Tokyo. His explanation for the about-face in principle is that Tokyo lost the 1940 games because of the war. He indicated he deemed it an accident of fate. He ignored the argument that in 1940 the Japanese were engaged in an aggressive war and, accordingly, deserve no special consideration.

Whatever the reason, the Olympics came to Tokyo in 1964, thanks to that crucial vote in 1959, the Year of the Earth Pig.

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Flying Dutchmen medal podium 1964
The medalists in the Flying Dutchman class yachting event on the podium at the Olympic Games, Enoshima, Japan, 21st October 1964. The gold medalists are Earle Wells (front) and Helmer Pedersen (1930 – 1987), of New Zealand. The silver medalists are Keith Musto (front) and Tony Morgan of Great Britain. The silver medallists are Buddy Melges (far right) and William Bentsen (obscured), of the USA.

Buddy Melges and Bill Bentsen had completed their first two of the seven races in Enoshima. It was the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, and the pair from Wisconsin were doing so-so in the Flying Dutchman-class sailing competition: they finished tenth in the first race, but second in the second race. The third race, however, was a disaster.

“We were leading the (third) race,” Melges told me over the phone. “So we put up the spinnaker (the sail), which we should not have done. Our rudder broke, and our mast jumped out of the socket.” Dead in the water, they waited to be rescued. A large ship, part of the Japan Self Defense Forces, which were playing various roles in the Tokyo Olympics, approached Melges and Bentsen’s boat, named Widgeon. But the Japanese barge was coming on hard.

“This big profile was blowing down on us pretty fast! The captain saw our huge eyeballs and us waving our hands. He threw his vehicle in reverse, but he just missed crushing us. He almost sunk us!”

Self Defense Force at Enoshima
From the book, The Games of the XVIII Olympiad Tokyo 1964

Having just averted disaster, the barge brought the men and the boat back to shore. The Flying Dutchmen competition was held over seven days during the Tokyo Games. There was a four-day break between the fourth and fifth races, but unfortunately for Melges and Bentsen, there was no break between the third and fourth races.

“When we got back to shore, we got the Japanese boat repairers on it,” Melges said. “They were busier than hell all night long. We had to jump in and lend a hand because we thought there was no way they were going to get our boat out on time.” Additionally, the Americans needed a little help from the Canadians. The Widgeon’s rudder was made of plywood, so it simply wasn’t strong enough. In the spirit of sportsmanship, Paul Henderson of the Canadian Flying Dutchman team, shared a solid mahogany rudder with his competitor south of the border.

Melges and Bentsen went to bed at 6am on the morning of October 15, and woke up a few hours later to one of the few fine days during the Tokyo Olympics. With the wind blowing North Northeast at a wind speed of 10 m/s, Melges and Bentsen took to the water and shot out to a second place finish.

While the Widgeon finished tenth of the 21 boats in the first race, and was DQ’ed in the third race, they finished second in the second, fourth and fifth races, before dropping to third in the sixth race. In these sailing competitions, points are heavily weighted to top three finishes, so Melges and Bentsen were in strong contention for gold before starting the seventh and final race.

“We were in nice shape going into the last race,” Melges said. “We had expectations of a gold medal. We were a minute away from an imaginary line, the finish line, and we were in a perfect position as the wind was favoring us on the left side of the course. But there was this Star boat, tuning up before its race. He shouldn’t have been there, and he was right in our wind. He was blanketing our wind.”

The Widgeon lost its wind and Melges said that his boat almost sank, so close to golden glory. They ended up in tenth in the final race, giving them enough points to take third place.

“Even to this day, I tell people I didn’t do well,” said Melges. “But my rudder won bronze.”

Canadian Flying Dutchman Team 1964
Canadian athletes compete in the Team’s Flying Dutchman during the Tokyo Olympic on October 15, 1964 in Fujisawa, Kanagawa, Japan.
Pauli Nevala throwing in Tokyo_Tokyo Olympiad Kyodo News Agency
Pauli Nevala throwing at the 1964 Olympics, from the book Tokyo Olympiad_Kyodo News Agency

Terje Pedersen was the golden boy of javelin throwing from Oslo, Norway. He was 193 cm tall, weighing 93 kilograms, blond and handsome, and was the first person ever to throw a spear over 90 meters, setting a world record at 91.72 meters only five weeks prior to the start of the Tokyo Olympics in 1964.

For the citizens of Norway, Nevala may have been expected to take home gold, joining three other Finnish throwers who had won gold in the javelin throw in prior Olympics. And yet, on that cold and wet day on October 14, 1964, Pedersen threw poorly, his best throw of 72.1 meters, nearly 20 meters off of his world record, fell .21 cm short of qualifying for the finals.

The golden boy was out. For desperate Finns, in walked an unlikely hero, or as Neil Allen, who chronicled the 1964 Games in his book, Olympic Diary Tokyo 1964, called Pauli Nevala, the “lucky” Olympic champion. There’s not much written in English about the javelin competition, but Allen mentioned that Nevala was not as popular as Pedersen, and that in fact, “his selection for the Finnish national team prompted several hundred letters to the athletics association saying he was not good enough to go to Tokyo.”

Terje Pedersen
Terje Pedersen

Was Nevala unliked for some personal reason? As Pedersen had just set the world record so convincingly, was there room for only one national hero in the emotional mindshare of Norwegians? I don’t know. But Nevala assumed the mantle regardless. Nevala was certainly a deserving javelin thrower, his personal best of 86.33 being very close to the world record at the time in July 1963, but in the qualifying round at the Tokyo Games, he was in the middle of the pack with throws in the low 70s.

 

In the final round, Nevala improved, throwing 76.42 meters and then 78.39 meters. In the fourth throw, he uncorked a throw of 82.66 meters to take the lead. Gergely Kulcsar of Hungary and Janis Lusis of the Soviet union tried desperately to hit that mark, but fell short as the long wet day dragged on. Nevala was the unexpected Finnish and Olympic champion. Below is footage of his winning throw.

In an AP report at the time, the javelin coach for Finland, Hans Oeverland, painted a bleak picture for his countrymen, saying the competition was “quite disappointing for us and disastrous for Pedersen. But we will make no excuses. The weather was bad but it was the same for all competitors. I guess it all was a question about nerves.”

Hmmm…but what of Finnish champion Nevala?

Gergely_Kulcsár,_Pauli_Nevala,_Jānis_Lūsis_1964 on medal stand (color)
Gergely Kulcsar, Pauli Nevala, Janis Lusis

 

Dawn Fraser in TokyoDawn Fraser was on top of the world, after winning gold and silver medals, adding to her haul of 8 medals over three Olympiads. She was honored with the task of carrying the Australian flag in the closing ceremony on Saturday, October 24.

But it was Friday, and the night was still young. And when you’re Dawn Fraser, you can’t help but let a bit of the larrikin out.

The competitions were over and the party was on at The Imperial Hotel. The Australian swim team had gone home already, but Fraser had the entire Australian hockey team to party with. As she described in her book, Below the Surface – Confessions of an Olympic Champion, “at one stage one of the Olympic officials was wearing a kimono while the owner of the kimono was dancing about in a large Australian dressing gown.”

Around 2:30 am, a little less than 12 hours prior to when Fraser was scheduled to march into the National Olympic Stadium carrying her country’s flag, a plan was being hatched. Fraser and her friends were going to embark on a shady tradition of sorts in the Olympics – pinching flags.

A friend of hers, whom she refers to as an official, tells her that he’s found an ideal place to “pick up some good flags.” Fraser, the official and a hockey player slip away from the party, and walk through the darkened Tokyo streets until they arrive at the Emperor’s Palace. Again, here’s how Fraser explains it in her autobiography, Below the Surface:

We followed the moat for a while, and suddenly we were in the middle of a large flutter of flags. The flagpoles were sprouting like exclamation marks all round us. We chose a fine big Olympic banner with the five circles on it, and one of my companions bunked himself up on the shoulders of the other. They swayed around a little, and they swore once or twice; but finally they pulled the flag loose. ‘Quick,’ said one of them. ‘Cop this.’ I took the flag. ‘Go for your life,’ said the other. ‘The demons are coming.’

The “demons” were the police. Fraser tried to hide in a large shrub, but the police found her and started beating on her feet with a baton, so she threw the flag away and ran again. She saw a bicycle and hopped on it to get her further from the police “yelping and whistling” behind her. After all, she was making her escape on a policeman’s bike. That’s when she saw the Palace moat, and thought she could disappear into its darkness. “I figured that no policeman would ever catch me once I hit the moat,” she wrote.

Dawn Fraser on a bicycle_The Olympic CEntury XVIII Olympiad
Australian swimmer Dawn Fraser on a bicycle, from the book The Olympic Century XVIII Olympiad

In the panic, she ran into a brick wall, jumped 8 feet down into the moat onto more concrete and badly twisted her ankle. That’s when the police caught her.

At the Marunouchi Police Station, to where she was taken, no one would believe that she was not only an Olympic athlete, but that she was the world-famous Dawn Fraser. She had no identification on her, so the best she could do in the middle of the night was to contact a friend to bring her identification, and vouch for her. This friend was Lee Robinson, who was filming a documentary about Dawn Fraser. He brought the ID and the

Stouder Fraser Ellis in Tokyo
Medallists in the 100 metres freestyle swimming event at the Tokyo Olympics, 15th October 1964. Left to right: silver medallist Sharon Stouder of the U.S.A., third time gold medallist Dawn Fraser of Australia and bronze medallist Kathleen Ellis, also of the U.S.A. Fraser is holding up her lucky kangaroo mascot. (Photo by Central Press/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

No woman had ever won gold in three successive Olympics in the same event, but Dawn Fraser of Balmain, Australia was gunning for it.

Fraser’s breakthrough was at the Melbourne Olympics in 1956 as she beat her fellow Australians in the 100-meter freestyle, becoming an overnight sensation. Then in Rome, the American swimming team was a rising power, but Fraser stared them down to win the 100 meters. In Tokyo, the Americans were expected to win everything. And they came close. But Fraser, at the age of 27, beat 15-year old Sharon Stouder, and 17-year old Kathy Ellis to assure her status as one of the Olympiad’s greatest heroes.

But heroes often must pass painful trials to complete their journey. 1964 proved to be an emotional roller coaster for Fraser, beginning with a disaster for Fraser only 8 months before the Tokyo Olympics.

In February, Fraser was peaking, setting the world record in the 100 yards, and winning the 220 yard title at the National Championships in Sydney. One evening shortly after those championships, she and her family were enjoying an evening out. She had a car and offered to drive her sister home, accompanied with her mother and her friend, Wendy Walters. Here is how she describes the fatal crash in her autobiography, “Below the Surface“, that ended her mother’s life:

I was driving about 40 miles an hour. I’d been driving for 10 years, and I knew that this was about my limit with my mother on board; she was nervous about speed. We were sweeping around a curve on a highway called General Holmes Drive when I saw what looked like the cabin of a truck dead ahead. At the same moment, Wendy, who was next to me in the front seat, called out, ‘Look out, Dawn.’ I remember pulling the wheel hard to the right, and I think I must have hit the brakes hard. I learned a long time later that the driver of the truck we hit had parked his vehicle while he went fishing nearby in the Cook’s River. But my recollections of the crash are vague: a gigantic close-up of the cabin in our headlights, a high screech of tires on bitumen, and a terrible crash.

Walters had injuries to her face, while Fraser and her brother Ken recovered from injuries after arriving at the hospital unconscious. Fraser’s mother, however, was killed in the accident.

Over my last few days in the hospital, I was trying to sort my life out again, trying to adjust to the idea that my mother wasn’t there anymore. I couldn’t believe that it had all happened. And I kept blaming myself, because I had been driving the car. My mother was 68, and I was completely devoted to her; I don’t think I really knew how close we were until the accident, and then it was too late. My family kept trying to talk me out of my depression, telling me that it was foolish to accept the blame.

Fraser had pretty much given up on going to Tokyo. She was depressed, feeling guilty. She was at the wheel. She was responsible. On top of that, she had to wear an uncomfortable steel brace for nine weeks that kept her neck and back immobile, forcing her to turn her whole body just to talk to someone to her side. But recover she did, returning to the water

Jeanne & Ken Tokyo 1
Ken and Jeanne in Tokyo, from the collection of Jeanne Collier

He was a 19-year-old university student from Illinois. She was an 18-year-old high school student from Arizona. They would go on to be diving’s power couple in Tokyo as Ken Sitzberger won gold in the men’s 3-meter springboard diving competition, and Jeanne Collier took silver in the women’s 3-meter springboard competition.

Collier told me that there was some resistance by the coaches to their dating during final preparations for the XVIII Olympiad in Tokyo, but she said there was never really anything to worry about regarding their readiness.

We met in 1962 at a Nationals. He was from Chicago and I was from Phoenix. We had a letter writing campaign. He went to Indiana. I was still in high school. We got to know each other. So as we prepared for Tokyo, he and I hung out together. The coaches didn’t like that. But it was harmless. At that time, we would have time off, talk at meals, but the focus had to be on training.

Ken & Jeanne Wedding
Ken and Jeanne on their wedding day, from the collection of Jeanne Collier

And the results spoke for themselves. Not only did Sitzberger and Collier win medals at the Tokyo Summer Games, they did so in dramatic, come-from-behind fashion.

In Sitzberger’s case, he was trailing USA teammate Frank Gorman going into the penultimate 9th dive of the competition. While Gorman had his worst dive of the competition, Sitzberger had his best, leapfrogging Gorman into the lead. Despite a strong final dive from Gorman, Sitzberger was able to hold on to win. As his coach, Jerry Darda, was quoted as saying, Sitzberger was a confident person, who a year before, despite winning bronze at the Pan American Games, told Darda that he would win gold in Tokyo.

“Kenny said right-out: ‘I’m going to win the gold medal.’  I didn’t want to ruin his confidence, but I asked him how he could be sure.  He had barely made the team and missed fourth by only five points.  But Kenny had analyzed the whole thing, the strengths and weaknesses of the other divers who were ranked one, two, three in the world – they were his competition – and he knew they’d all be going to training camp for a few weeks before the Olympics.  He told me ‘Those guys are going to see me in training camp and that’s going to help me.  They’re going to feel a lot of extra pressure after they see me dive every day.  They’re going to realize I just don’t miss.'”

In Collier’s case, she was trailing her teammate Patsy Willard as they entered the final optional dives, the three dives where the level of difficulty can send you crashing out of the race, or propel you to victory. The reigning Olympic champion, Ingrid Engel-Kramer of East Germany, led the competition from start to finish, and took gold for the second consecutive Olympics. Willard had a 3-point lead on Collier entering the optional dives, as well as the experience of battling the Olympic pressures in Rome four years before. On top of that, Collier did poorly on her first optional dive – “a forward 2 ½ somersault, which was horrible.” But she pulled herself together for a come-back.

“I had a talk with myself. I had the highest degree of difficulty. I had my two highest difficulty dives left and they were to be my best dives.” Collier snatched silver from her

 

rikidozan unleashed

Rikidozan was one of the most well-known people in Japan in the 1950s. Starting out as a sumo wrestler, Rikidozan made his mark taking on American wrestlers, and defeating them. This time is only a few years removed from the end of the American occupation, a psychologically disorienting time as Japanese swung from superior overlords in Asia to beaten and despairing at the end of the Pacific War. Taking on the Americans in the ring and knocking them into submission (even if they were to script), built up the morale of the Japanese, and made Rikidozan a national hero of unparalleled stature.

The picture below is a testament to Rikidozan’s pulling power. In the 1950s in Japan, black and white televisions were available, but were still too expensive for the common person. Movie theaters were booming, but they could not show live broadcasts. So when there was a major event broadcast live, the major Japanese networks like NHK and NTV would set up televisions at train stations, temples, shrines and parks and invite people to watch free of charge. And no one pulled in the crowds like Rikidozan.

street corner tv 3
AP Photo/Max Desfor

One December evening in 1963, Rikidozan was at a night club called The New Latin Quarter in downtown Tokyo when he apparently bumped into another person as he was leaving the rest room. Rikidozan apparently demanded that the other person, a gangster named Katsushi Murata, to apologize. Murata did not, Rikidozan wrestled Murata to the ground, and Murata sent a knife blade into the wrestler’s abdomen. Rikidozan died a week later.

Ten months later, on October 23, on the second-to-last day of the Tokyo Olympics, Japan was again reminded of Rikidozan when they read the news that Murata had been sentenced to 8 years in prison.

The Tokyo Olympics lifted the spirits of Japanese throughout the country in those magical two weeks in October, 1964. Rikidozan, the Father of Japanese Pro Wrestling, had already been doing that for years.

Snell in 800 meters in Tokyo
Peter Snell ahead of George Kerr of Jamaica, Wilson Kiprugut of Kenya (bronze) and Bill Crothers of Canada (silver)

Peter Snell was confident. He had ran a time trial run of 800 meters in 1 minute and 47 seconds, a very fast time in 1964, despite the poor conditions of the track. This is when he knew he was peaking at the right time, and thought, not only could he win the 800, but also the 1500 meter competition at the Tokyo Olympics.

In the finals of the 800 meters, Snell drew the first lane, which he thought was unlucky because he would have to either “go like a madman and hit the front so you can maneuver with the field behind you and allow only as many pass as you want, or you can start slowly and try to work your race from the back of the field,” he wrote in his autobiography, No Bugles No Drums. “Either way can be troublesome and an in-between start can cause all sorts of jostling and tangling.”

With that understanding, Snell chose the first option with the intent of just trialing the lead runner, Wilson Kiprigut of Kenya, who was expected to jump out to a fast start. By sticking to the shoulder of the pacesetter, he would be able to avoid being boxed in and slowed. As it turned out, Kiprigut did not race out to the lead, and Snell ended up boxed in amidst a group at the front.

With 250 meters, Snell’s plan was to go all out. But he was trapped.

My pre-race plan had called for a sustained sprint from about 250-to-go. Now the whole position was confused. I was running easily within myself and, unlike Rome, where the circumstances were similar, I felt I was capable of dropping back out of the box, going around the field and still being able to challenge. That’s what I had to do. This involved two separate moves: a surge from the rear of the field to about fourth position with a clear run three or four wide which took me to the end of the back straight; then a second and final effort as I fought past Kiprugut and Kerr, who were locked together, and sprinted desperately into the curve. It was desperate because my plan had gone wrong and my run was coming late against fast finishers.

Snell on the victory stand_800 meters
Crothers, Snell and Kiprugut

But soon, desperation gave way to elation. Snell hit the tape, setting an Olympic record. Despite having to drop back and swing wide to take the lead, Snell still relaxed at the end, as he wrote, “subconsciously” holding back for the 1500 meter competition to come.

Watch this video highlighting Snell’s exciting victory in the 800 meter race in Tokyo.

Peter Snell
Peter Snell of New Zealand, from the book “The Olympic Century – XVIII Olympiad”

 

Peter Snell was the 800-meter Olympic champion, coming out of relative obscurity to set an Olympic record at the 1960 Olympic Games in Rome and win the gold medal. But in Tokyo in 1964, Snell was not only the favorite in the 800 meters, he and many others were expecting him to compete and win in the more glamorous 1500-meter race.

While our stereotypical view of Olympic champions are they are super confident and expect to win, the reality is that many oscillate between expectations of victory and the inevitability of disaster. Peter Snell of New Zealand may have exemplified the latter.

As British Olympic reporter, Neil Allen, noted in his book, Olympic Diary Tokyo 1964, Snell was shy and filled with doubt prior to the start of competition.

Two years ago the shy New Zealander and I had sat on the grass in Geraldon, Western Australia, and I had listened to him ponder, with worried brow, his problems in training for the forthcoming Commonwealth Games. Now he was behaving as though he was the last man in the world to hold the records for 800 meters, 880 yards and the mile, the last man you could imagine had won the Olympic 800 meter title four years ago.

“Running both events here might take it out of me, you know,” he said, staring at the ground. “My training was going so badly back at the beginning of last month that I got to the pitch where I couldn’t care less about the Olympics. There are times when you wonder how on earth you could run a 4:30 mile. You no longer have the ability to punish yourself.”

After a successful trial run in the 800 meters, Snell decided he would go for both the 800 and 1500 meter championships. He understood the ramifications of having to run heats in both races, with the possibility that the effort and strain of competing in both could mean doing poorly in both. And those doubts would not go away, as Snell wrote in his autobiography, No Bugles, No Drums.

My most nerve-racking period of the Games was the night before my first race. I’d made the decision to try for the double and promptly that night all sorts of doubts crowded into my mind in a sleep-wrecking procession. Quite seriously I wondered whether the decision was the right one. I felt I could produce a really good performance over 1500 meters. But if I ran in the 800 meters first, there was a strong possibility that not only could I run out of a place in that event – or even fail to qualify at all – I could find myself too tired for the 1500. I could, through tackling both, miss out on both. Was I being too greedy?

No Bugles No Drums

National Olympic Stadium and underground tunnell
Blueprint for the National Olympic Stadium for the 1964 Olympics, including underground tunnel. Source: Japan Sport Council

In his book, No Bugles No Drums, Olympic track legend, Peter Snell of New Zealand, wrote about an underground tunnel at the National Olympic Stadium, where he competed at the 1964 Olympic Games.

“Ten minutes before the gun, we were led through an underground tunnel which took us right underneath the track diagonally to a point at the beginning of the back straight. Then a walk around to the start.”

Ollan Cassell, lead runner on the US 4X400 men’s team that won gold in Tokyo, also noticed the underground tunnel. “The Japanese thought of everything,” he wrote in his book Inside the Five Ring Circus. “They even built a tunnel under the stadium track so athletes and official going to their events on the infield did not cross the track.”

 

National Olympic Stadium and underground tunnell 2
A picture of the 1964 tunnel at that time. Considerable work had been done afterwards to hide the pipes and cables. Source: Japan Sport Council

Cassell asked me to confirm that his memories were correct, so I did some digging. After a few emails exchanged between me and The Japan Sport Council, the government body that manages and operates some of the largest sports facilities in Japan, including the National Olympic Stadium, I was pleasantly surprised to get confirmation on the tunnel.

Not only that, the Japan Sport Council was kind enough to provide a schematic and photos.

An underground tunnel that allows officials and athletes to get to the infield or across the stadium without crossing a track seems like a great idea. You would think that all stadiums would be designed that way. But Cassell wrote to me that in fact Tokyo’s National Olympic Stadium was unique. “I have attended every Games since then, thru 1996 and never found anything like what they did. I missed 2000 and 2004 but attended all other games and did not hear anything about a tunnel from those who attended the 2000 and 2004 games.”

The National Olympic Stadium has been torn down, a new one set to rise (once a plan is finalized). But the old one apparently had a trick under its sleeve. It will be missed. To see what the stadium looked like just before it was torn down, check out these 360 views of the stadium.

National Olympic Stadium 360