Predictions part 2_with checkmarks

I always avoid prophesying beforehand because it is much better to prophesy after the event has already taken place. – Winston Churchill

A good forecaster is not smarter than everyone else, he merely has his ignorance better organised. – Anonymous

In Sports Illustrated’s October 5, 1964 preview of the Tokyo Olympics, the editors stuck their necks out and picked the medalists.

As stated in Part 1, guessing US or USSR in track and field, particularly for the men, was probably not a bad bet. But here’s a few examples of why “you play the game,” as they say.

 

Al Oerter_Life_17July1964
Al Oerter, Life Magazine, July 1964

 

Discus thrower Al Oerter had already won gold at the 1956 Melbourne Olympics and 1969 Rome Olympics. There was no way he could keep that going, or so SI thought. Oerter, despite ripping his rib cage in Tokyo, he still sent his discus soaring the furthest for gold.

The sprinting heir-apparent to Wilma Rudolph in 1960, was Edith McGuire, a member of the famed Tennessee State University Tigerbelles. Clearly, SI hadn’t heard about Wyomia Tyus, who won the 100-meters championships and the crown of fastest woman in the world, but didn’t merit a listing in SI’s top three in that event.

Elvīra_Ozoliņa_1964
Elvīra_Ozoliņa 1964

SI didn’t have to stretch too much to pick Elvira Ozolina for gold in the women’s javelin. After all, the Lativan representing the USSR was the Rome Olympic champion as well as world record holder in 1964. But she did not win, and in fact finished an embarrassing (for her) fifth. However, she still got the press coverage for famously shaving her head bald after the competition.

And finally, SI can be forgiven for getting it wrong for the decathlon. After C. K. Yang’s heartbreaking loss to gold medalist, Rafer Johnson, at the 1960 Rome Olympics, the Ironman from Taiwan was expected to win gold in Tokyo and be crowned the greatest athlete in the world. But, as the great baseball manager, Casey Stengel, once said, “Never make predictions, especially about the future.”

Willi Holdorf and C. K. Yang in 1964
Willi Holdorf and C. K. Yang in 1964

 

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Bob Hayes_number five_Los Angeles Trials_Pathe
Bob Hayes (5) winning the US Track Trials in_Los Angeles_Pathe

It’s simple physics. The fastest you run, the harder it is to turn suddenly. And when you’re built like a freight train, as Bob Hayes was, and the track began curving just at the end of the 100-meter finish line, you either have to turn that curve at top speed, or head straight into a brick wall.

Hayes wasn’t at Rutgers to study physics. It was June 27, 1964, and he was competing in the national championships of the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) in New Jersey. Hayes was already anointed Olympic champion in the 100 meters by prognosticators, months before the start of the Games. But he still had to qualify for the US track team heading to Tokyo.

At that time, there were two trials to be held – one in Randall’s Island, NY in July, and the other a couple of months later in Los Angeles, California. But first, Hayes had to negotiate a curve in New Jersey. At the 60-meter mark, Hayes felt a twinge in his left thigh, so he eased up. He still won the race, but he was bearing hard on the brick wall, so he stumbled around the curve, slowing down to a limp.

Bob Hayes with Henry Carr at the US Olympic Trials in LA
Bob Hayes with Henry Carr at the US Olympic Trials in LA_AP_September 9, 1964

Hayes headed right to the training room, got prone face down on the table, and understood fairly quickly, as his trainer picked and probed his leg, that something was wrong. It was indeed a pulled hamstring.

Only 75 days from the Olympics, his hammie had let him down. But Hayes thought that he did not have 75 days to heal. He had only a little over a week to heal before the first Olympic track trials were held during the July 4th weekend. And heal, he did not. At the end of the two-day track trials at Randall’s Island, Hayes could only watch and grimace in pain, both physical and psychological. The flash from Florida had to wait, wondering whether the powers that be would grant him an exception so that he can participate in the second trial in Los Angeles.

The US men’s track coach, Bob Giegengack, strolled alongside Hayes, making small talk, before saying, “We voted to advance you to Los Angeles, Bob.”

So Bullet Bob, dodged a bullet, as it were.

Hayes’ hamstring improved, but he only dared to train with light jogging. And when mid-September and his date with destiny at the final track and field trials rolled around, Hayes was so nervous he could not sleep. He had gained ten pounds and he had yet to go full speed in the recuperation period since the AAU national championships.

And when he was on his way to the Coliseum, the stadium where the Olympic trials were being held, Hayes had a scare. He got in an elevator joined by discus throwers Al Oerter and Jay Silvester, as well as shot put thrower, Dallas Long. As Hayes explained in his autobiography, Run, Bullet, Run, the three of them alone weighed nearly half a ton. The elevator refused to work, and so Hayes, in a hurry to get to his sprinting trials, was waiting nervously for nearly 10 minutes. The doors were eventually clawed open, so that Hayes could pull himself up three feet to get out, and then jogged to the stadium, negotiating highway traffic to the stadium and the trials in time.

Hayes made it in time. When he lined up to race, he saw sprinters whom he had beaten multiple times, but he did not know if his hamstring could take full speed. No time like the present.

When the gun went off, Hayes started somewhat tentatively. But nearly halfway through the race, the locomotive gathered steam. Once Hayes had the lead, it continued to grow. The Bullet blazed to victory in 10.1 seconds.

Thanks to the coaches, Hayes was saved in Randall’s Island to live another day. And Hayes paid back his coaches’ faith in him by drubbing the field. Hayes was headed for Tokyo.

 

Watch Hayes victory in Los Angeles at the 11 second mark of this video.

Yoshida and Icho
2012 Vogue Japan Woman of the Year: Saori Yoshida and Kaori Icho

There are only two people, both male, who have won individual gold medals in a single event four Olympic Games in a row: Al Oerter in the discus throw from 1956~1968, and Carl Lewis in the long jump from 1984~1996.

At the Rio Olympics in August, we may bear witness to a historical achievement by a Japanese wrestler, not once, but twice.

Both Saori Yoshida (吉田 沙保里,) and Kaori Icho(伊調馨) have won consecutive gold medals in wrestling at the Olympic Summer Games in Athens (2004), Beijing (2008) and London (2012). And they won their respective weight classes at the Japan national championships in June last year to get their tickets punched to Rio. In fact, they both won their 13th straight national championship.

Yoshida of Mie Prefecture and Icho of Aomori are quite simply the two most dominant wrestlers on the planet. They are both referred to as the “legends of the unbeaten streak” (不敗神話). Ito has won 172 straight times since May, 2003, and Yoshida has lost only twice in her career, most recently in May, 2012. But they are both perfect at Olympiads.

 

There was a brief time when both Yoshida and Icho competed in the same weight class, but fortunately, Icho moved up to the next heavier weight class, setting up this year, a historic opportunity.

For some reason, Yoshida has become more the face of Japanese wrestling, as the front person for the Japanese security company, Alsok. But they are both supported by Alsok, as you can see in the commercial below.

But come August, we will be hearing a lot about both of these two wrestling legends.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From Melbourne in 1956 to Mexico City in 1968, Al Oerter was one of the most dominant performers in any sport, winning gold and breaking Olympic records in four successive Summer Games. In 1964, he had to overcome tremendous pain to win. As he was once quoted as saying, “I slipped one day in the wet weather, and I tore a fairly good portion of my rib cage. Given any other environment, I would have stopped. I don’t what it was. But I can remember saying ‘These are the Olympic Games and you’d die for them.’ I really felt that at that moment. I was there and I was going to do my best.”

Australian, Warwick Selvey also competed in the discus throw and shot put in Rome in 1960, as well as in the discus in Tokyo in 1964. Selvey told me that by studying a slow motion series of 20 or so frames of a single throw by Oerter, Selvey was able to reproduce his technique, with the help of his coach Alan Barlow in Melbourne.Warwick Selvey

“Al crouched close to the ground, lower than most men, so the drive through his legs was greater than others, creating a longer arm pull on the discus,” explained Selvey, who won 18 Australian Championships in athletic events. “When he did his turns in the discus ring, he transferred his weight from his left leg at the rear of the ring to the right leg in