Officials in Japan are aiming for 16 gold medals at the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games.
“Medals will encourage athletes,” Olympics minister Toshiaki Endo was quoted as saying in this November 27 Japan Times article. “It will be better to have a goal, so that the state can support (those who would be able to) offer hopes and dreams to children.”
Fifty-six years ago, on the eve of the start of the 1964 Summer Games in Tokyo, Kenkichi Oshima, head of the Japanese Olympic delegation, said basically the same thing, stating that Japan must win at least 15 gold medals as “an encouragement to this country’s upcoming generation.”
The Japanese team pulled in 16 gold medals in 1964, with the third highest medal haul in those games. It is common for the host country to do well in the medals race, but the Japanese team continued its success vis-a-vis other countries through the early 1980s, as you can see in this table.
But as the number of countries rose, as did the level of competitiveness, Japan began to slip in the medal rankings between 1988 and 2000. With a renewed effort, Japan matched its 16 gold medals in Athens, and more recently in London grabbed 38 overall medals, more than it had ever done before.
Over the years, judo, gymnastics and wrestling have been Japan’s strongest competitive advantages, with assists from weightlifting and archery, but in recent years, Japan has become a power in swimming.
Is a target of 16 gold medals in 2020 reasonable for the third largest economy in the world? Rio in 2016 will give us a clue.
No soccer player has scored more goals as a representative of the Japanese national team. No Olympian in the 1968 Mexico City Games scored more goals. Currently a member of the Japanese government’s House of Councilors, Kunishige Kamamoto (釜本邦茂) is considered the greatest Japanese soccer player of all time.
As a student at Waseda University, Kamamoto was one of the youngest players on the Japan national team that competed in the Tokyo Summer Games in 1964. Despite winning their first match against Argentina unexpectedly, in which Kamamoto assisted on the winning goal, the Japan team lost their next two matches against Ghana and Czechoslovakia to fall out of the running for a medal. And Japan lost in the consolation rounds to Yugoslavia, to end up eighth in the standings. But in the match against Yugoslavia, the striker from Kyoto scored the only goal in a 6-1 loss. It was his first goal in Olympic competition. But it wasn’t his last.
The coach of the Japan national team, Dettmarr Cramer, believed Kamamoto to be world class. In fact Cramer was influential in getting Kamamoto experience in Germany with a German football club as well as with the German national team in the beginning of 1968.
Kamamoto then joined the national team in the Mexico City Games in 1968, scoring a total of 7 goals, the only Asian ever to be the top scorer of an Olympic Games. He led the team to victories over Nigeria (where he had a hat trick), and ties with Spain and Brazil. In the medal rounds, Japan defeated France 3-1, in which Kamamoto netted two goals. While they were shut out by eventual gold medalists, Hungary, to finish out of the championship match, Japan fought off host Mexico in front of 105,000 people to win 2-0. Who scored those two goals in the first half to quiet the crowd? Kunishige Kamamoto.
Unfortunately, Kamamoto was sidelined due to hepatitis for a considerable amount of time after the Mexico City Games, and the Japan team wasn’t able to advance to the World Cup. Additionally, Japan did not have a professional league to take advantage the momentum Japan’s national team generated in Mexico City. But eventually the Japan Soccer League was formed and Kamamoto became the highest scoring player in that league’s history, with Yanmar Diesel.
Kamamoto was said to have a powerful right foot, who never missed when taking a shot from 45 degrees, and a beautiful header taking advantage of a strong leaping ability. In short, Kamamoto was precise. Here is how this website, Japan Soccer Archive, explains it:
I looked back on negatives of similar photographs taken by two cameramen to record all of his matches throughout an entire year. It was astonishing to see just how this player’s approach to the ball, steps, impact, and follow-through when shooting were always exactly the same. His technique and posture when heading was similar – always stable and beautiful – from his vision to ready himself for the moment the crosser played the ball, to his determination of the ball’s point of fall, his steps, his jump, and finally his contact with the ball in the air.
The Velodrome was in Hachioji, a suburban town in Tokyo where the cycling events were held in the 1964 Summer Games. About 43 kilometers from the Olympic Village, or about 70 minutes of travelling time in 1964 traffic, the Hachioji Velodrome was made of cement mortar, which was considered suitable for all kinds of weather….since the velodrome was outside…and it rained a lot. As it turns out, on October 19, the cycling events at the Velodrome were postponed because of rain.
As described in this blog post, the Hachioji Velodrome is long gone, a deserted baseball park in its place. Hachioji did make a bid to bring cycling back to its neck of the woods, but it was not to be. Earlier this month, the IOC finally settled on Izu as being the location of the 2020 Olympic cycling events.
The IOC and the Tokyo Olympic Organizing Committee have been trying to figure out a low-cost way to keep cycling events in the downtown Tokyo vicinity. The hope was to have cyclists race by the Tokyo Bay waterfront. But the cost of customizing temporary infrastructure in prime property was thought to be prohibitive, particularly in a time when the IOC is working closely with National Olympic committees to make the Olympics less of an economic burden on city governments and taxpayers.
Thus the decision to move the cycling events, which include track cycling, mountain biking and BMX, two hours away to Izu. Famous more for its hot spring resorts, Izu is also the location of an existing modern cycling velodrome. There will need to be additions made to seating capacity, but that cost will be covered by local cycling associations.
It isn’t so unusual to have events away from the Olympic Stadium. In 2020. the sailing events will take place in Enoshima, basketball in Saitama, fencing, taekwando and wrestling in Chiba. Which is fine. Let’s spread the Games around. It is just as much Japan’s Games as it is Tokyo’s.
The coxless fours from Denmark were champions. While they won their heat quite handily, finishing more than five seconds ahead of their closest competition, the championship race was decided by slightly more than a second.
And yet when Bjørn Borgen Hasløv recalls that time in Tokyo in 1964, he doesn’t remember the pain or the tension. The stroke on the Danish team that pipped the Great Britain team for gold remembers that they were a young group of men who came together as a team.
“We were young,” recalled Hasløv to me. “I was 23, still not having completed my studies because I spent my free time rowing and had no time for other things. The youngest was 20, Kurt Helmudt, who was in shipbuilding. Erik Petersen, 25, was a plumber, and John Ørsted Hansen, 26, was a fitter, charged with steering the boat. It was important that we could tell if we were rowing together, not as separate people. You have to feel your team around you. If you don’t work together, 100%, you will never be fast.”
Hasløv said that his coach, Poul Danning, taught him (among many other things) that the sport of rowing requires individuals to find their role and rhythm within a boat so that all are in synch – for example if the strongest person in the boat pulls as hard and as fast as he can, the differences in power and speed with the others will actually slow the boat down as water resistance increases due to the differential. Legendary boat maker George Yeoman Pocock expressed this insight in this way – “It is hard to make that boat go as fast as you want to. The enemy, of course, is resistance of the water, as you have to displace the amount of water equal to the weight of men and equipment, but that very water is what supports you and that very enemy is your friend.”
Hasløv believes that his team worked so well together that the water was indeed their friend that day. “Everything was going to plan. We were concentrating hard on rowing together, supporting each other, finding rhythm in the boat. I didn’t feel the pain. I could feel the water under the boat, and it sounded like music as our boat was going perfectly. It’s a strong feeling. It’s a feeling that you control your body and you are a part of a team.”
My guess is that Hasløv was feeling what Pocock and other rowers call “swing”. Daniel Brown, in his wonderful book, The Boys in the Boat, about the American Eights Rowing Team that competed in the 1936 Olympics, described “swing” for an eight-man crew this way:
There is a thing that sometimes happens in rowing that is hard to achieve and hard to define. Many crews, even winning crews, never really find it. Others find it but can’t sustain it. it’s called “swing.” it only happens when all eight oarsmen are rowing in such perfect unison that no single action by any one is out of synch with those of all the others. It’s not just that the oars enter and leave the water at precisely the same instant. Sixteen arms must begin to pull, sixteen knees must begin to fold and unfold, eight bodies must begin to slide forward and backward, eight backs must bend and straighten at once. Each minute action – each subtle
She was 19, and at 5 feet (1.5 meters) and only 98 pounds (44 kgs), said to be the smallest Olympian at the 1964 Olympics. Gymnast, Dale McClements, competed in a tough competition with much stronger teams from the USSR, Czechoslovakia, ending up the highest ranked American at the Tokyo Games.
And she kept a journal of her time.
She told me that she was very excited to go to Japan, and experience a different way of life. Below are excerpts from her diary, and how her teenage eyes saw the world, one particularly different from her life in Seattle.
Oct. 4th: Food here is very good although for some reason I haven’t been eating that much for lack of hunger and quest for drinks. They have all kinds of food which could suit all nations. Oh-yoyo and Sayonara! Good morning and goodbye.
Oct. 5th: We had a flag raising ceremony today. When all the members of a country are all in the village, we have to march as a team to the Olympic circle of flags with other countries doing the same thing. So we marched, if you want to call it that. After seeing how well and in step all the other teams are, it is kind of embarrassing to march with our team. We have bikes we can ride all over the village. We spend most of our time training or in the village. You just pick one bike up and leave it when you get off of it. Sometimes we end up racing for bikes though. We also get free ice cream here. It’s fun.
Oct. 8th: We went into town yesterday. This is where I noticed that there are so many people here. The streets are loaded with people. I love the Japanese people and thought – they are so quiet, yet so friendly and humble. I think they are great and this has been the best country I’ve been to so far. Traffic drives me crazy here so I just don’t look at where we’re going anymore. It’s a miracle that we haven’t had a wreck yet.
Today was opening ceremonies. It was a great one too. The standing around for 3 hours was worth the one hour ceremony. First we marched halfway around the stadium and onto the field. Some speeches were made, then the Olympic flag was raised. Next, balloons were let loose, the torch bearer ran the track, climbed the carpeted steps to light the torch at the top of the stadium, the pigeons were let loose, then – most impressive of all – 5 planes described a circle in the air which formed the linking Olympic circles in their correct colors. Then we marched off.
But as time approached the beginning of the Tokyo Olympics, there was considerable uncertainty around the make-up of the US women’s gymnastics team. Surprisingly, the team had not been finalized. Who would round out the six members of the team? Who would end up being the alternate? McClements expressed the frustration she and likely other members of her team had during the Games.
Things are a very big mess right now. Everything has been leading up to this, but today everything blew sky high and we haven’t even reached the worst part of it yet. It’s nice to be on the team, etc, but they sure shouldn’t put us through the mental strain they are when it is so close to the meet. Actually, I have nothing to be upset about because I’m in a good position. The number 1 problem is who is going to be the alternate? That’s a good question – no one of us can even take a wild guess. The past few days our routines have been judged by our own staff. I have ignored this and concentrated completely on my training. It is bothering a lot of the team however. What bothers me is that we are not getting enough training in because of so much formal preparations to be judged. 3 people on the team do not have a secure position.
When McClements returned home to Seattle after competing in the Summer Games, and then exhibitions in other parts of Japan, she met with the press. She said that US Women’s Gymnastics will never improve until the politics are removed from the selection process. For a long time, there had been complaints by gymnasts regarding the head of the AAU gymnastics body who, apparently, made all decisions regarding selection at that time.
“The problem could be called one of personalities,” McClements was quoted as saying in The Seattle Times. “A few persons control the sport nationally. These few insist upon using the same small number of judges and refuse to allow new blood in. there are several other qualified to judge, one of them a former Olympics competitor, but these are ignored. One result of this ‘control’ has been poor planning, to the detriment of those competing and to the standing of United States teams internationally.”
For example, she cited that the team was together only for two weeks to train and that the
The newspapers called him “The Flying Sikh”. On top of that, the sprinter from India was sporting unusually a beard and a topknot on his head.
Most significantly, Milkha Singh was fast!
It was the finals of the 400-meter race at the 1960 Rome Olympics, and the international press gave Singh a chance at being a rare track and field champion from Asia, certainly the first from the newly independent nation, India. As David Maraniss describes in his book Rome 1960, Singh burst out of the blocks in lane 5 in the finals of the 400 meter race in the 1960 Olympics, keeping pace with South African Malcolm Spence in lane 3. Halfway through the race, Singh very much had a chance at gold.
But as they entered the second half of the race, American Otis Davis and German Carl Kaufmann began to emerge from the middle, and surge to the front. They pulled away from Milkha and Spence. At the end, Davis barely edged out Kaufmann. And despite a desperate push, Singh could not wrestle the bronze from Spence.
It was fourth place for Singh, finishing out of the medal, but entering into the consciousness of Indians, a symbol not of failure or misfortune, but of how hard work can take an Indian to world-class levels.
And in the scheme of things, Singh’s life experiences as a child pale in the face of the challenges he faced in Rome. When the British Indian Empire fell, and the state of Pakistan was split off from India, primarily to create separation between Hindu and Muslim populations. The so-called partition, a mass migration of Muslims into Pakistan and Hindus and Sikhs into India, was a time of tragedy, when neighbor set upon neighbor, when families were split, and people were murdered depending on what religious beliefs they were believed to hold.
Milkha Singh witnessed this first hand in his home, which was located in the nation that became Pakistan. Driven from his town, his family joined the migration. Inevitably, the family encountered the hatred head on, and Milkha witnessed the deaths of his parents and his siblings. An orphan, separated by surviving family members, Milkha made his way across the border into India.
Soon after the Rome Olympics, when Singh returned to India a star, he was asked by the Indian government to participate in a track competition in Pakistan. And Singh refused. It is the kind of script that could only appear in a movie. And of course, this was the dramatic finish to the 2013 movie, Bhaag Milkha Bhaag (“Run Milkha Run”), starring Farhan Akhtar, who does actually look like Milkha Singh in his youth (although far more muscular).
In the end, the prime minister of India appeals to Milka Singh’s responsibility as a soldier of India to defend his country’s honor at this track meet in Pakistan. In reality, very little time has passed since the Partition. Milka Singh did indeed run, as the film would have you believe, from the ghosts of his past, from his Pakistani rival, Abdul Khaliq, and find, perhaps, a peace within himself.
Singh would go on to compete. He appeared in Tokyo at the 1964 Summer Games, running in the 4×400 Relay, but unable to help his team beyond the heats. He was apparently an inspiration to the British champion, Ann Packer, whom he greeted with warm confidence before the 1,500 meter finals, telling her she would win, and she did. More importantly, Singh continues to inspire and make an impact. While he reportedly sold the film rights to his story for one rupee, he stipulated that a share of the profits would be given to the Milkha Singh Charitable Trust, which assists poor and needy sportspeople.
The men stayed in military barracks inside the Olympic Village. But the women were housed in a four-story building that was fenced off from the men, and according to one report, its borders demarcated with barbed wire.
The women actually had full rein of the grounds, so to one Olympian, it seemed like overkill. It’s a “bit pointless,” the coach of the women’s British gymnastics team, June Groom, told The Japan Times. “After all the girls can go anywhere they please and have access to the men’s quarters, but there you are.”
Ada Kok, a teenage swimmer on the Dutch national team, remembers being able to see people on the road, and thus was warned to watch out for peeping toms. “Our chaperones from our teams warned us to close the curtains when we were about to sleep.”
Apparently, the barriers weren’t so great that husbands and wives couldn’t connect. Discus thrower, Olga Connolly, was reported to assist her husband, hammer thrower, Hal Connolly, with his laundry. As the AP reported, Olga would wash and iron Hal’s wear, and then pass the clean clothes over the wire fence.
On the Friday before the Opening Ceremonies, the organizers offered the women in the
He lost to two Russians in 1960. And then he fell to a Russian again in 1964.
John Thomas from Boston was a favorite to win the high jump in Tokyo, but could not meet the heightened expectations of a country. Thomas and the gold medalist, Valery Brumel, both cleared a height of 2.18 meters, but neither could clear 2.20 meters. Due to the way high jumping is scored, Brumel had fewer attempts than Thomas on an earlier jump, so won the gold on a tie-breaker.
As he told Stars and Stripes, “I think I did a good job. I wasn’t outjumped. I don’t know how close I came to clearing the bar on that last try. Everyone said I was close, but I don’t know. I felt something hit…it just wasn’t good enough this time.”
Thomas also revealed that he would return home and have an operation on a hernia, a condition that had been identified earlier in the year. But nothing hurt him more than what he perceived as a bitter public and press. In a press conference the day prior to the finals,
“I don’t care what the people think,” the AP quoted him as saying “I am on my own. I can’t trust fans and supposed well-wishers any more. They are fickle and vacillating. If I win, they’re with me. If I lose, they’re the first to desert me and call me a bum. They have no use for losers. They don’t give credit to a man for trying. They have appreciation only for the champion the man who finishes first. I felt proud at getting a bronze medal. But everybody else thought I was a goat. People who had been slapping me on the back ignored me as if I had the plague. I was called a quitter, a man with no heart. It left me sick.”
His rival, Brumel, felt that Thomas was treated unfairly, telling Sports Illustrated that the jumper from Boston faced a “torrent of abuse”.
They say confidence is key to victory. Competitors smell fear like sharks sense blood. When the Soviet high jumper, Valery Brumel, arrived in Tokyo for the Summer Games, his minders made sure no one would see him.
Since winning silver in Rome in 1960, Brumel drove himself with a ferociousness in numerous competitions leading up to Tokyo, and according to the book, “The Olympic Century Volume 16 – The XVIII Olympiad” by Carl A. Posey, Brumel was feeling “that deepening fatigue that comes from driving the machine too hard, too long.” Additionally, he had just lost the Soviet championship to Robert Shavlakadze, who also beat Brumel for gold in Rome. So he trained in a secluded area in Meiji Park, or stayed hidden in a room with his masseur playing chess.
At this stage, Brumel was beaten and haggard, and his 2.01 meter jumps in practice were far from championship level, They were, however, the best he could do.
When Brumel was at his best, people marveled at his form, what the Russians called “pouring the body over the bar like a cascade of clear water.” This was 1964, four years before Dick Fosbury revolutionized high jumping with his “Fosbury Flop”. In the first half of the Sixties, jumpers were still doing the spin roll, and Brumel’s technique was considered one of the best.
“At the heart of Brumel’s special brand of high jumping was a sequence of carefully orchestrated moves that Nijinsky might have envied. A big, powerfully assembled man, Brumel made his run-up with an awkward-looking sprint as he shifted his elbows forward to compensate for his upper body’s gradual backward lean as he approached the bar. He had trained with weights, so that his takeoff was like the explosive uncoiling of a spring. Then, for a moment, he was flying. To clear the bar, every extremity had to be under the fine, split-second control of a bird’s primary feathers. First the folded right leg went over, then the head, the big, friendly mouth extended in a white grimace of maximum effort. The right arm flipped back, adding thrust to bring the rest of his large body over the bar. Once the left arm cleared, the left leg kicked upward, adding dynamic balance. ”
And yet, as the competition in Tokyo began on October 20, Brumel could barely find his form, or generate the energy and enthusiasm necessary to compete for gold. Needing all three attempts, Brumel barely qualified by clearing a height almost every other competitor cleared (2.03 meters). “I appealed to God,” Brumel said later. “Jesus, why are you doing this to me? I’ve never done anyone any harm.”
So on a damp and chilly day on October 21, Brumel started the long slog of the finals, a journey of despair and exhaustion, in which the last man standing would be doing so, barely. As did most of the 20 competitors in the finals, initial jumps of 1.9, 1.95, 2.00, 2.03 and 2.06 meters were easily exceeded. But at 2.09 the competition went from 17 to 10, and then at 2.12, only 5 were left, including Brumel, American’s John Thomas and John Rambo, Swede Stig Pettersson, and Brumel’s Russian rival, Shavlakadze.
Rambo cleared 2.14 meters in one try, but it took Brumel, Thomas and Shavlakadze three attempts, Brumel missing badly in his first two. But something happened when the bar was raised to 2.16. It all came together and the tired Brumel flew over the bar in his first attempt. Thomas made it over in two, while his teammate made it in three, but Pettersen and Shavladkadze crashed out of the competition. And at 2.18 meters, as day ceded to night, Rambo fell by the wayside. At this point, the competition was essentially over.
Hayes Jones was about to run the race of his life. His wife, Odeene Jones, was seated next to Jesse Owens in the National Olympic Stadium, saying to the 4-time gold medalist that Hayes hadn’t been executing on this strategy going into the finals. Owens told her not to be concerned.
And yet, there was Jones, anxiously prepping for the start of the 110-meter hurdles final, placing his starting blocks into the red cinder track. “I was setting up my blocks, and this Japanese official tapped me on my shoulder. I was annoyed. He tapped me again and pointed down. I look at the starting blocks and I see I had placed them backwards. That would have been a disaster. I was nervous.”
And then off went the gun. “I don’t know what happened. I don’t remember one thing about the race. I had run it so many times, I ran this one as rote. I do remember lunging for the tape, but that’s all I remember. I was that focused.”
But when Jones hit the tape, his US teammate, Blaine Lindgren, was there as well, on his left. And Anatoly Mikhailov from the USSR was running through at the same time on his right. “My goodness! Who won?” wondered Jones. “You can look at someone’s eyes and usually know, but we all had that stare – ‘Who won?’ They corralled us underneath the stadium. The Russian coach ran over to his guy. I thought he won. I didn’t see my coach close by – he was against the wall smoking a cigarette. I’ll be damned. I must not have won.”
As was true with almost every single other athlete in Tokyo, Jones trained hard to get to this moment. He and his wife sacrificed financially to be able to train for the Olympics, to make sure he was in top condition and form so that he could be the best in the world. And at that moment of truth, he had to wait and wait. And then the scoreboard lit up. “‘Ladies and gentlemen, the results of the men’s 110-meter hurdles…’ And I watched as the name in the number one slot was being typed J-O-N-E-S U-S-A 13.6 seconds.”
“That’s when I knew I won and my dreams had come true.”
The president of the International Olympic Committee, Avery Brundage, was the one to place the gold medal around Jones’ neck, which Jones found ironic. In 1961, after his return from the Rome Olympics, Jones thought he would use his secondary education degree to become a track coach. According to Jones, Brundage directed Dan Ferris of the USOC to advise Jones that if he accepted a stipend for coaching track in a high school, he would not be eligible for the Olympics. “So I left teaching and began to sell real estate and insurance. The guy who put the medal around my neck was the guy who denied me from pursuing my career dream. But the only thing I could think of was back as a young boy in Pontiac, Michigan, wanting to participate in track and field, and people around me encouraging me to keep trying.”
Jones and his wife went out to town to celebrate the day after his golden victory.
“We were eating steak, probably Kobe steak. All of the sacrifices we made. I couldn’t pursue my educational career in teaching. I had to go out and sell real estate and insurance, not certain how much money I was going to make. My wife was a teacher. I had a little boy on the way. It was challenging trying to make a life for yourself and still have this personal goal. So we were sitting there and we looked at each other, and we burst out laughing.”