When I was younger so much younger than today

I never needed anybody’s help in any way

But now these days are gone, I’m not so self assured

Now I find I’ve changed my mind and opened up the doors.

Help! By John Lennon and Paul McCartney

In 1964, Japan was younger, so much younger than today. They were bursting with energy, building a new, modern country, one the world would soon see during the Olympics to be friendly, proud, caring, technologically advanced and joyful.

In 1964, the Beatles invaded America, their dream destination, their exuberance boundless – needing absolutely nobody’s help in any way. From their press conferences, to their hotel escapades, to their appearance on the Ed Sullivan show, to their trips to Washington DC and Florida, the four lads from Liverpool were the four mates Americans wanted to hang out with. And as Ron Howard’s film – The Beatles Eight Days a Week – shows, John, George, Paul and Ringo sincerely enjoyed hanging out with each other.

the-beatles-landing-at-haneda
The Beatles Landing at Haneda Airport

I watched this film last week. I can’t say if it was a great film or not. But Howard rightfully kept all the attention on the Beatles and their music. As a lifelong fan, I could not help but smile incessantly throughout. The film, particularly the first half that focused on 1964, was a portrait of The Beatles as the personification of joyfulness.

The Beatles did not relegate their time to the US only. As it turned out, the record deals they agreed to actually paid them little, so they needed to tour to earn themselves the riches they deserved. In 1964, they premiered in the US in February, and then in the middle of the year, went on a 27-day tour of Denmark, Holland, Hong Kong, Australia and New Zealand, where they performed in a total of 37 shows. Then in August, they returned to the US and powered through a 30-concert tour in 23 cities. Everywhere they went, they were mobbed.

the-beatles-ascending-the-stage-at-the-budokanAs brilliant author, Malcolm Gladwell, explained in Ron Howard’s film, The Beatles were a phenomenon that rode the wave of a new global teen culture, driven by the popularity of the Fab Four. When Olympians the world over gathered in Tokyo in October, 1964, the majority of the Olympians, many teenagers or only years removed from that age group knew The Beatles, and sang their songs.

Diana Yorgova, a Bulgarian long jumper who participated in the 1964 Tokyo Games, wrote to me that she would take a break from the intensity of her training by going to the music hall, a place inside the women’s dormitory. She would listen to the music she liked, and one of her favorite albums was “With the Beatles“, which had come out in November, 1963. While watching ikebana lessons nearby, and taking in the sweet fragrances of the flowers, she would listen to her favorite songs: All My Loving, Please Mister Postman, Hold Me Tight, I Wanna Be Your Man.

Ada Kok, a Dutch swimmer who won two silver medals at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics in the 100m butterfly and 4x100m medley, was also a Beatles’ fan. In the confines of the women’s dormitory, she told me that the Dutch and the Australians had a particularly raucous party after the swimmers celebrated their medal hauls. Kok said they celebrated by singing Beatles songs the entire time.

But alas, all good things….

The 1964 Tokyo Olympics is considered the last pure Games, the last innocent Olympics. Security was not an issue, doping was not so prevalent, the under-the-table sponsorship payments were not so obvious – a good time was had by all.

But the roiling geo-political and social undercurrents were just getting noticed. And as we saw at the Mexico City Olympics in 1968, with the massacre of hundreds just prior to the opening ceremonies, and the murders of 11 Israelis by Palestinian terrorists inside the Olympic Village at the Munich Olympics in 1972, the world had made its transition from joyfulness and purity to cynicism and insecurity.

But now those days are gone, and I’m not so self assured.

In 1966, The Beatles came to Tokyo, playing four shows on June 30 and July 1. After the amazing reception that foreigners got during the Olympics in October 1964, one would think the most popular people in the world would get the very best of welcomes from the Japanese. But as the Howard’s film showed, The Beatles walked into an ambush.

Scheduled to play the Budokan, opened in time for the Olympics, the Beatles would be the first musicians to perform there. The increasingly vocal right wingers in Japan did not take kindly to a group of foreigners coming to Japan to perform music that would, perhaps, despoil The Budokan, a venue they believed should be reserved for only Japanese martial arts. The shows went on, mixed in with the normal Beatlemania response, but tainted by a high level of security and caution for the Beatles in Japan.

security-at-the-budokan-for-the-beatles
Security at the Budokan

The second half of the 1960s was challenging for The Olympics, for the Beatles, for everybody. An Age of Innocence had ended.

Help me if you can, I’m feeling down

And I do appreciate you being round

Help me, get my feet back on the ground

Won’t you please, please help me, help me, help me, ooh

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1956 Dutch Olympic Team Rehabilitation lunch at Kurhaus Hotel in Scheveningen
The Rehabilitation Lunch for the 1956 Dutch Olympic Team, organized by the Dutch Olympic Committee at the Kurhaus Hotel in Scheveningen, Holland.

“Melbourne is THE black page in the Olympic History of the Netherlands,” wrote Ada Kok in an email to me. Kok was not only a two-time Olympian in 1964 and 1968, she was the President of the Dutch Olympians Association for 11 years.

And when she was president, you could join the association only if you were an Olympian. Thus, the unfortunate members of the 1956 Dutch National Team were forbidden from competing once the Dutch government decided to boycott the Melbourne Games. As related in a previous post, some of the Dutch national team, including world-record swimmer, Cocky Gastelaars, were already in Melbourne preparing when the decision was made.

Ada and Cocky
Ada Kok and Cocky Gastelaars

“Some athletes were already present in Melbourne to train and they were whistled back home by the Dutch Olympic Committee and the Dutch Government,” wrote Kok. “For Cocky this was a traumatic decision as this was her chance to win a gold medal being a world-record holder. But not only was Cocky disappointed. Then, we had a lot of potential gold medal winners who were part of this Dutch Olympic Melbourne Team in 1956. The sad thing was they all just received a telegram to announce the Olympic Team was not travelling to Melbourne, and for those who were already in Melbourne, they were ordered to leave the Olympic Village, not to wear their Olympic outfits anymore and travel home immediately.”

Kok provided me with a copy of that telegram dated November 7, 1956, seen below.

telegram Dutch boycott

DUTCH OLYMPIC TEAM                                                                                                              HEIDELBERG-VICTORIA-ASUSTRLIA

AT EXTRAORDINARY MEETING THE DUTCH OLYMPIC PARTICIPATION TO WITHDRAW DUE TO HUNGARY STOP LEAVE OLYMPIC VILLAGE – FIND OTHER PLACE TO STAY STOP WEAR CIVILIAN CLOTHES – IF IMPOSSIBLE REMOVE BADGE STOP WAIT FOR PAULEN LEAVING 11 NOVEMBER FLIGHT 845 FOR FURTHER INSTRUCTIONS STOP CANCEL ALL HOTEL RESERVATIONS BUT RESERVE HOTEL WINDSOR PAULEN AND CHARLES LEAVING 15 NOVEMBER SORRY ALL THE BEST

NOC  (National Olympic Committee )

To a world-class athlete preparing years for this moment, the telegram above must have been a dagger in their backs. “No further explanation,” wrote Kok. “This was so sad! And this caused over the years a lot of bad feelings among the Dutch Olympians from 1956.”

It took a while, but in 2014, a step was taken to recognize these athletes whose lives were so abruptly and rudely changed that day in November 1956. Erica Terpstra, who was the President of the Dutch Olympic Committee, worked with Ada Kok to arrange a day of

Ada Kok Sharon Strouder butterfly 1964
From left to right: Ada Kok of the Netherlands, Sharon Stouder and Kathy Ellis of the United States.

 

She used to train with the boys – big boys, who were boxers during the day and bouncers in bars at night. Ada Kok was a teenage swimming phenom, asked to join the Dutch national swimming team at the age of 13, but in the early 1960s in Amsterdam, athletes were on their own.

“In those days, you just had a swimming coach but nothing for any condition training. The coach of the boxing team helped me. I ran in the park with the other boxers. I skipped rope. And my friends made sure that boys didn’t give me trouble when going out in Amsterdam because they’d tell them, ‘I’ll punch you in the nose if you don’t do right by her’.”

Inspired by her sister, who competed on the Dutch swim team at the 1960 Rome Olympics, Kok became the premier butterfly swimmer in the world, setting the world record in that discipline in September, 1963, and again in May, 1964. At the age of 17, Kok was the favorite going into the 1964 Summer Games in Tokyo.

Nearly matching her world record time, Kok swam an excellent race in the 100-meter butterfly finals. But she lost to Sharon Stouder of the USA, who broke Kok’s world record. Going into the finals, Kok expected to win, but in retrospect, she now knows she was unwittingly swimming upstream against a US team that was more prepared and more experienced than any other team.

“I was very disappointed,” Kok told me. “I was the world’s record holder for years, and I was training hard for this event. I didn’t know Sharon Stouder. I didn’t think about my competitors. I was confident, not arrogant. But I was also naïve.”

In the end, no other country had the resources to support a swim team like the USA at the time. Not only was the Netherlands 0.4% the size, 6.3% the population, and 43% of the per capita GDP of the United States in 1964, the US had the swim clubs, the coaches and the access to international competition that very few other athletes in the world had.

Ada Kok on bicycle in Tokyo Olympic Village
Ada Kok (left) on a bicycle in the Olympic Village in 1964.

“They were more professional,” said Kok of the Americans. “They had paid coaches. Mine was a volunteer, who had a regular job. Our swim federation didn’t have the money to send us abroad so we competed in nearby countries traveling at minimum cost.”

And yet, the Dutch women’s team still proved to be a powerful force, winning silver in a team race in the women’s 4X100 meter medley relay, a competition where four swimmers swim two lengths of the pool each in four different styles in this order: the backstroke, the breaststroke, the butterfly stroke, and freestyle (which means any style other than the previous three).

As a demonstration of American dominance, the US swim coach did not even use their top swimmers in the heats. And the four swimmers who swam in the finals set an Olympic record, finishing over three seconds faster than the silver medalists, the Dutch. Making it close was Ada Kok, who got some measure of revenge against Stouder by swimming the third leg butterfly stroke over 1 second faster than the American in the finals. “The silver medal for the team was a positive surprise,” said Kok. “We couldn’t get anywhere near the Americans, but to be second as a team was fantastic.”

Kok would regain her world record in the butterfly in August, 1965, as well as win the gold medal in the 200-meter butterfly in Mexico City in 1968. But she was happy with her results in 1964. “You’re always pleased to get a medal. When you’re on the podium, and you see it and touch it, it’s wonderful.”

Roy_summer vacation_1967 maybe
Roy, sometime between the Tokyo and Mexico City Olympic Games.

On this, the last day of 2015, I’d like to thank everyone for their support of my blog – The Olympians. I have posted at least once every day since I started the blog on May 1. Out of about 300 posts, I’ve selected 25 that I personally like, in good part because I’ve had the great fortune to talk with the people mentioned in these stories.

  1. A Helicopter View of US-USSR Relations, Olympic Style
  2. American Gymnast Makoto Sakamoto and Memories of Home: Post-War Shinjuku
  3. Arnold Gordon (Part 1): Befriending Judy Garland at Manos in Shinjuku
  4. The Banning of Headgear in Boxing: The Convoluted World of Protecting Our Athletes
  5. Clumsy Handoff, Beautiful Result: A World Record Finish for the American 4X400 Relay Team in Tokyo
  6. Coach Hank Iba: The Iron Duke of Defense Who Led the Men’s Basketball Team to Gold in 1964
  7. Creativity by Committee: The 2020 Olympic Emblem and the Rio Olympic Mascots?
  8. Crowded, Noisy, Dirty, Impersonal: Tokyo in the 1960s
  9. The Dale McClements’ Diary: From Athlete to Activist
  10. Doug Rogers, Star of the Short Film “Judoka”: A Fascinating Look at Japan, and the Foreigner Studying Judo in the 1960s
  11. Escape from East Berlin in October 1964: A Love Story
  12. Escape from Manchuria: How the Father of an Olympian Left a Legacy Beyond Olympic Proportions
  13. Fame: Cover Girl and Canadian Figure Skater Sandra Bezic
  14. Frank Gorman: Harvard Star, Tokyo Olympian, and Now Inductee to the International Swimming Hall of Fame
  15. The Geesink Eclipse – The Day International Judo Grew Up
  16. India Beats Pakistan in Field Hockey: After the Partition, the Sporting Equivalent of War
  17. The Narrow Road to the Deep North
  18. On Being Grateful: Bob Schul
  19. Protesting Via Political Cartoons: Indonesia Boycotts the Tokyo Olympics
  20. The Sexist Sixties: A Sports Writers Version of “Mad Men” Would Make the Ad Men Blush
  21. “Swing” – The Danish Coxless Fours Found It, and Gold, in Tokyo
  22. Toby Gibson: Boxer, Lawyer, Convict
  23. Vesper Victorious Under Rockets Red Glare – A Dramatic Finish to One of America’s Greatest Rowing Accomplishments
  24. What it Means to Be an Olympian: Bill Cleary Remembers
  25. Who is that Bald-Headed Beauty: The Mystery of the Soviet Javelin Champion
The Women's Quarters in the Olympic Village, Tokyo, from the book,
The Women’s Quarters in the Olympic Village, Tokyo, from the book, “The Games of the XVIII Olympiad Tokyo 1964”

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

national gymnasium and annex2 Old residences for US military families were knocked down as another physical remnant of the American occupation disappeared. And up rose a structure, often cited as one of the most beautifully designed for an Olympic Games – the National Gymnasium. In 1964, 11,000 spectators would watch swimming and diving events in the National Gymnasium, that, from the outside appears to uncoil and breathe, and from the inside inspires the awe of the great cathedrals of Europe. Danish diver, Soren Svejstrup wrote me about the first time he entered Kenzo Tange’s dream building. “When we arrived the first day at the pool, into this wonderful building, our coach said, ‘This is the place every swimmer and diver want to be buried when the time comes’.”

From the Book
From the Book “The Games of the XVIII Olympiad Tokyo 1964”
The first reaction of Dutch swimmer, Ada Kok, who won two swimming silver medals in this building was, “Wow! We looked up, completely flabbergasted. It had an Olympic size pool, and yet, once inside, it felt really cozy, and so typical Japanese with its breathtaking roof.”

Two-time gold medalist, American Donna de Varona said she would kid the Princeton basketball star, Bill Bradley, about the size of the annex, which was the smaller Tange version of the National Gymnasium and where the basketball games were played for a maximum of 4,000 spectators. “That basketball arena was so small and our swimming stadium was big and beautiful, state of the art and breathtaking.” 

This site gives a detailed explanation and illustration of Tange’s genius use

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