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The competitor number for Andras Toro and his C-1 1000-meter competition at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics

When 1964 Tokyo Olympian, Andras Toro, rummaged through his decades of Olympian memorabilia with me last month, he uncovered his number. At his last Olympics representing his native Hungary as a canoeist, Toro wore the number 79, blue font on white material.

What caught my eye was that on the back of the material were the unmistakable pads of velcro. The reason it drew my attention is that I had always been bothered by the way athletes, particularly track and field athletes, have their numbers or names attached to their jerseys. They are sporting sleek, high performance jerseys, and yet their names or numbers are commonly printed on paper, and quite sloppily attached by safety pins. It’s not a big issue. It just doesn’t look cool.

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There has to be a better way.

At every Olympics, organizers are always looking for better ways to do things. Perhaps someone deep down in one of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics planning teams thought that velcro was a better way to help identify athletes.

Velcro was developed in 1941 by a Swiss electrical engineer named George de Mestral. The iconic story is that on a walk with his dog in the woods, he came home with burrs stuck to his pants, which made him wonder. When he looked at the burrs closely, he noticed that the burrs had tiny hook-like tendrils, which somehow caught themselves in the tiny openings of his pants material. Out of that insight, de Mestral patented the fasterner idea called velcro, which is a combination of the French words “velours” (velvet) and “crochet” (hook).

Velcro was seen as a light, flexible, non-metallic way to attach or seal things. In 1968, NASA used velcro in their space suits, sample collection bags and on their lunar vehicles, increasing its geeky cool cred.

So attaching name and number plates to uniforms with velcro makes sense, initially. Why are we not using that space-age technology today? My guess is that using velcro is a bit of an operational pain because it requires two to tango – you need to place the “vel” on one thing and the “cro” on another. Toro’s number plate had the “vel”. I can’t imagine the organizers at Lake Sagami requiring all canoeists to wear a special jersey that had the hook pads…but I suppose they did.

And so, the old-school pin fasteners…now they’re beginning to make sense.

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Japan Tobacco 2011 ad series, entitled “Smoking Manners for Adults”; they had been releasing similar ads since the early 1960s.

When I first moved to Japan, the first pleasant surprise was the everyday practice of taking my shoes off before entering a home. After doing that for a while, it nearly disgusted me when I came back to New York where everywhere was parading around the house in the shoes that stepped in all kinds of you-know-what outside.

I also noticed how many white cars there were on the road, and that they gleamed with newness. Then I noticed all cars on the roads looked new, nary a dent or smidge of mud to be seen. And of course, you have to look hard to find garbage on the ground, even in highly congested megalopolis of Tokyo.

So it came as no surprise to read this short article in the October 11, 1964 Japan Times.

No Litterbugs

Spectators at the opening ceremony were generally well-mannered, garbage men at the National Stadium said Saturday night. Trash collected at the stadium after the opening rites was more than 12 tons, but there were few “litterbugs”, they said.

People were given a polyethylene trash bag at the entrance. Printed on the bag was a direction in English: “Please use this etiquette bag for tidying around you.”

Three hundred waste baskets and 250 ashtrays were placed in the stadium and most people used them. In addition, a finger-sized aluminum cylinder with a cap was given to each to be used as a portable ash tray.

When I read that last line about 18 months ago, it was a bit hard for me to imagine what that cylinder looked like….until last week, when I visited four-time Olympian, Andras Toro, in California. Toro, who was an Olympian in Japan in 1964, happened to have a couple, and they looked like this.

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In the cylinder is a message from the benefactor, International Lions Club, District 302, based then in Nihonbashi Tokyo. It wasn’t a message against smoking, this despite a report the next day that four out of every ten youths started smoking before the age of 20, or the fears of cancer. No, it was a message of cleanliness, and fire prevention.

LET’S BANISH CIGARETTE BUTTS FROM ALL THE STREETS IN THE WORLD

This is a cigarette butt container. Please use it in the stand while watching games. Many of these were donated to Tokyo Olympic Games Organizing Committee by All Tokyo Lions Clubs of International Club 302 District and their members for you people coming to see the Olympic Games. We are advocating a campaign in an effort to

STOP THROWING BUTTS AWAY. SMOKE WHERE AN ASH-TRAY IS.

We are sure you may think it strange that we have to advocate such a thing now in the capital of Japan that is proud of being a civilized country. We don’t blame you at all if you do.

But, What a shame! There are not a few people as you see smoking while walking and throwing cigarette butts away in the streets in this biggest city in the world – Tokyo. Now we will present a very interesting fact to you. Take a look a t the following table indicating that FIRES CAUSED BY CIGARETTES are never, superseded by fires of other origins even in other notable cities in the world.

Well, what do you think. Surprising there are so many fires caused by cigarette, isn’t it? That is why we vote for and our sincerest and outspoken prayer…..LET’S BANISH FROM THE WORLD SMOKING AND THROWING BUTTS IN THE STREET.

Now that’s a message that still resonates today!

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Me between 1964 Tokyo Olympians, Billy Mills and Andras Toro

One of the biggest sports stories of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics was the come-from-behind sprint by Billy Mills to win the 10,000 meter finals.

For nearly two years, I’ve been hoping to meet the man. And last week, I met Billy Mills!

Thanks to fellow ’64 Olympian, Andras Toro, I enjoyed a couple of hours with Mills and his wife Pat. There’s so much to write about, but let me tell this story first.

On September 7, 2013, the International Olympic Committee gathered in Buenos Aires, Argentina to vote on the final three contenders to hose the 2020 Summer Olympics. The three cities up for selection were Istanbul, Turkey, Madrid, Spain and Tokyo, Japan.

A few months prior to the vote, Billy Mills and Pat Mills thought they could not remain silent, that Japan had a special place in their heart, and that if anyone could pull off a great Olympics, it was Japan. They very quickly produced a 1-minute video explaining why Japan should host the 2020 Games. They were not asked to do so, but based on phone calls he received from Japanese government and Tokyo2020 officials, Mills’ endorsement was a tremendous boost of confidence. It may have even played a role in the decision making.

Here’s the video – a rousing endorsement of Tokyo, Japan – from one of the brightest stars of the first Olympics held in Japan.

 

Of the three cities today that are bidding to host the 2020 Olympic Games, they’re all enchanting, they’re magical. They all could host a very successful Olympic Games. However when you consider the world today, there’s only one city that could truly capture the full potential and the spirit that the Olympic Games has to offer to the world. And that’s Tokyo. My vote? Tokyo, Japan 2020.

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Andras Toro and me.
Andras Toro, four-time Olympian, was one of the most dramatic stories of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. At the age of 24, as his dream of realizing a medal in the 1000-meter singles canoeing event evaporated on Lake Sagami in the semi-finals, the Hungarian made the fateful decision to defect from his homeland, Hungary, to a new land, the United States.

Toro is writing a book on his life and times, and I had the great honor of meeting him in Northern California a few days ago. I will write more detailed posts on his life in the future….but first, let me share some of the memorabilia of an Olympian.
 The first photo is of Toro’s bronze medal and jersey he won at the 1960 Rome Olympics in the 500-meter doubles canoeing competition.

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The next is a certificate of his fourth place finish in his canoeing event at the 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games. It has the signatures of the head of the Tokyo Olympics organizing committee, Daigoro Yasukawa, and the head of the International Olympic Committee, Avery Brundage. There must have been thousands of these documents. I wonder if they actually signed each one…

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Here is a gift sent to him and other Olympians, a traditional Japanese wooden doll, known as “kokeshi“, which was a gift of a student’s association. You can see this particular doll was sent to Toro from a junior high school in Miyagi Prefecture.

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The fairly large silk “furoshiki” below was likely handed to many visiting Olympians to the Tokyo Games. A furoshiki is a piece of square material which is a traditional way of wrapping items, like a bento box, with the corners coming together in a knot. This particular furoshiki was also a way for sporting goods manufacturer to market their company.

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How about this lovely bottle opener that states it’s a gift of Shinjuku, which is an area where the Olympic Games were being held. The back of the box explains that currency in the time of the Edo Period (some 400 to 500 years ago) were oval in shape and made of gold, and that this particular bottle opener was a talisman of luck. Strangely, the item is called a “can opener”, so luck will definitely be needed if that’s what you’re trying to open.

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And of course, there are pins galore. As I have written about previously, trading pins is a common activity at the Olympics. Toro appears to have hundreds if not thousands of pins accumulated over decades of Olympics.

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After Toro gained American citizenship, he went on to compete in canoeing as a member of Team USA, as well as fulfill other roles as a canoeing coach for a Team USA and as an executive within the US Olympic Committee.

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