To spouses and sweethearts alike, a very happy Valentine’s Day from The Olympians!

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Nikolai Prodanov and Diana Yorgova, from the book, Tokyo Olympiad 1964 Kyodo News Service

Gymnast Nikolai Prodanov and javelin thrower Diana Yorgova of Bulgaria are the first Olympians to marry during the Olympics, tying the knot in the Olympic Village of the 1964 Tokyo Games.

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Hal and Olga Connolly, from the November 3, 1964 edition of magazine, Mainichi Graf

Americans Hal (hammer) and Olga (discus) Connolly sneak a kiss through a fence that prevented men from gaining access to the women’s rooms in Tokyo. They famously met at the 1956 Melbourne Olympics when she was Olga Fikotova of Czechoslovakia, and they both took home gold.

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Ken Matthews and his wife Sheila moments before their famous hug, from the book, Tokyo Olympics Special Issue_Kokusai Johosha

Brit Ken Matthews, gold medalist of the 20K walk at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, gets a celebrated hug from his wife Sheila after his victory.

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Mike Larrabee kisses his wife Margaret, from November 3, 1964 edition of Mainich Graf

Double gold medalist (400m, 4x400m relay), Mike Larrabee, gets a lengthy kiss from his wife, Margaret. Larrabee of Team USA as you can see in the picture also placed the gold medal he had just won from his 400-meter finals around her neck.

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Robbie Brigthwell and Ann Packer from the book, Tokyo Olympiad 1964 Kyodo News Service

 

Arguably the biggest power couple of the 1964 Olympiad were Team GB track stars Robbie Brightwell (silver medalist in 4×400 relay) and Ann Packer, seen here hugging after Packer’s gold medal win in the 800 meter finals at the 1964 Tokyo Olympiad.

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Ann Packer (55) extends a congratulatory hand to Betty Cuthbert (12), after the finals of the 400-meter sprint. Judy Amoore (11) is to Cuthbert’s left.

At 18, Melbourne was a brilliant blur. At 22, in her prime, Rome was a frustrating flameout. But at the experienced age of 26, Tokyo was a blessing.

When Australian Betty Cuthbert won the finals in the 400-meter finals at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, and her fourth career gold medal, she was grateful.

I snapped the tape and realised I’d won. I felt so full of gratitude and humility that I clasped my hands in front of me, closed my eyes and said a silent prayer of thanks to God. Never before had I shown my appreciation so openly at the end of a race. I’d been able to control my emotions before. But not this time. I’d just won the final of the 400 metres at the 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games. I couldn’t cry. I was just too happy.

Cuthbert, as she wrote in her autobiography, Golden Girl, had climbed a mountain. She achieved great success effortlessly in Melbourne and then failed to compete in Rome, sending her off into quiet retirement. But her inner passion to run and compete would not die. So she trained for the Tokyo Olympics, demonstrated little performance throughout 1963 and the first half of 1964, and essentially gave the press and the public little reason to believe that their Golden Girl, from Merrylands, New South Wales, was going to have any impact at the first Olympics in Asia.

But she believed. And she wanted to win. Cuthbert wrote of her nervousness the night before the finals of the women’s 400 meter sprint, and how she failed to fall asleep. She was going up against Britain’s Ann Packer, who was considered a strong favorite, and played over and over in her mind how she was running in the dreaded 8th lane.

When she finally got out of bed, and headed to the Australian team HQ, she learned to her delight that she had drawn lane 2, with her teammate and friend Judy Amoore in lane 3. The morning was starting off well

Thirty minutes prior to the start of the finals, Cuthbert hammered in her starting blocks, and took a quick jog to stay warm in the cool, damp October weather. And then she was reminded, by a shout from the stands – “Make use of the wind.” The wind that crossed through the stadium in a way that provided both tailwind and headwind, depending on what side of the track you were running. Most runners had to deal with it, particularly those in the inner lanes. The key was to be mentally prepared for it.

I got a wonderful start and went flat out as soon as I straight­ened up. For the first 100 metres I gave it everything I had and was gaining on Judy with every stride. She was the only one I was worried about at that stage. Ann would come later. As we raced down the back straight I felt the wind whip in behind me. Judy must have sensed me right at her heels because she spurted off a yard or so. I let her go. I told myself not to get flurried and to stick to my plan. I was having that little mental breather before really turning it on. Before I knew it we were coming to the curve. I caught Judy going into the bend, about 180 metres from home.

Halfway through the 400-meter final, which takes the runners around one full lap of the stadium track, Cuthbert saw her rival, Packer, when the wind came into play again.

Out of the corner of my eye I could see Ann just a fraction behind me. Then the wind hit us. It was like running into a brick wall, but I was determined not to let it straighten me up and kept telling myself to lean forward into it. I could still see Ann. The wind was terrible and was like an invisible hand pushing against me. I was awfully tired then but forced myself to keep driving ahead. I didn’t think it would ever come to an end. My legs were getting heavier as the line edged closer. I wondered how Ann was going and if she had the strength to catch me. I felt her right on my heels and knew she must have been just as tired as I was. But I wasn’t going to be the first to give in. Keep going I said to myself…hold her off…it’s not far now. Ten metres, nine metres, eight metres…. An Australian television commentator shouted to his audience: ‘My God, she’s going to win it!’ Then I was just a stride from the tape. I knew I’d done it. I’d won!

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Betty Cuthbert and her 1964 Tokyo gold medal

Cuthbert had accomplished something that no man or woman had done before or since – take the gold medal in all three individual sprints: the 100, 200 and 400 meters. As she stood on the award podium, on Saturday, October 17, 1964, Cuthbert was overwhelmed with emotion as she watched her country’s flag rise, with the Olympic flame “jumping and dancing in the breeze.”

Nothing had ever touched me as much as that medal cere­mony. Eight years before in Melbourne I had been too young fully to realise just what I had accomplished in winning three gold medals. But there in Tokyo I had at last achieved some­ thing I’d wanted for so long, sacrificed so much for and worked so hard to get. It was a dream come true.

Over 50 years later, Cuthbert lives in a nursing home near Perth, Australia. Her room is unadorned with her sporting triumphs, except for a single picture of her days as an athlete, according to this article – “a shot of her crossing the finish line in her finest hour, her mighty comeback race in the first Olympic women’s 400m final: Tokyo, 1964.”

Robbie Brightwell, captain of Team GB’s track and field team, was about to board his flight for Tokyo and the XVIII Olympiad when he got a telegram. It was from his mentor, Harold Fletcher, the headmaster of his school when he was a young teenager, as he explained in his autobiography, Robbie Brightwell and His Golden Girl.

“Best of luck to you & team. Stop. Do your best. Stop. Hold true to T&D. Stop.”

Brightwell, the 400-meter sprinter from Shropshire, was likely pleased to receive such encouragement, but he was puzzled about what he had to hold true to. What did “T&D” mean?

This was the 1960s and long flights had long stopovers – the one Brightwell boarded landed in Tehran, Iran to refuel. The Persian air hung hot and heavy despite the early morning, and the nagging flies made the new environment somewhat unbearable. Brightwell’s teammate and eventual double silver medalist in Tokyo, hurdler John Cooper, remarked, “This place is a bloody disaster.”

And that last word unlocked the puzzle that had been rattling around Brightwell’s brain since he left London. Fletcher was referring to Rudyard Kipling’s famous poem, “If”.

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;

If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;

If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster

And treat those two impostors just the same;

Brightwell was a young 21, and was asked to captain a group of talented athletes who were looking to be the most successful athletics team Great Britain had ever sent to an Olympics. But he was feeling the pressure. This was a time when athletes in the US and the UK were bristling at the hierarchal and top-down nature of sports associations – how they selected athletes for meets and competitions, what support they provided, and in general whether they treated them as people or pawns.

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Brightwell had strong views that sports associations and officials needed to be more transparent and give athletes greater voice, but also knew that transparency and voice would not come without a fight. Brightwell clearly was popular among other athletes for his positivity, evenhandedness, and clarity of values. And when the powers that be, notably the British Amateur Athletic Board (BAAB), noticed that the track and field team was enjoying success and had a great esprit de corps, many believed Brightwell was a major influence.

When Jack Crump, the secretary to the BAAB, offered the captaincy to Brightwell, the runner was overjoyed. But perhaps he heard Kipling whisper in his ear to treat “Triumph” as an imposter. Brightwell took a mental step back and asked Crump questions: Would there be any duties? Could the captaincy be rolled over into the following season to ensure consistency? Brightwell was involved in reform activities in athletics – could he still continue with that? In other words, was this just a title, placed on someone who’s most important role was to avoid controversy?

If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,

Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,

Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,

And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

Brightwell eventually accepted. But he did not stay quiet. The captain asked to be present when the BAAB made its selections for Great Britain’s track and field team, but he was turned down. “Surely I should have sight of the team before it’s splashed over the newspapers? I don’t believe it’s an unreasonable request, if only as a matter of courtesy.”

And yet Brightwell was left in the dark. The reaction to the selection was emotional, according to Brightwell.

A chorus of omitted athletes raised merry hell, providing the press with a wealth of “protest” stories. In my opinion, many had cause for complaint. Athletes who were still injured had been picked, while alternative candidates reaching top form had been ignored. Similarly, world-class athletes recovering from illness (and almost certain to achieve full fitness before Tokyo), were disregarded. Also, complaints abounded that regional bias within the selection panel had influenced decisions.

Brightwell did not believe his captaincy was just in name only. He decided to write an open letter to the press to voice his disappointment in the lack of transparency. Brightwell was

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Robbie Brightwell, from his autobiography

The headline read “Olympic Team Revolts”.

With only two weeks to go before the start of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, the London press was saying that the Great Britain Athletics team was insubordinate over television fees, and that their captain, Robbie Brightwell was leading the insurrection.

The BBC was doing a pre-Olympics show with the hopes of interviewing members of Team GB before they took off for Tokyo. Appearing on television or radio often resulted in payments to the athletes. In order to protect their amateur status, very often a third of these fees were, based upon an agreement with the media, would go to the charity of their choosing (after two thirds were deducted for administrative and tax purposes). Those in track and field commonly sent their fees to the International Athletics Club (IAC), who organized training fees and helped absorb parts of their participation fees in meets, for example.

To the surprise of the athletes, they learned that the BBC had made a separate agreement with the British Amateur Athletic Board (BAAB), the sports authority accountable to selecting those to compete in the Olympics, which required the television fees to be sent to the BAAB.

The athletes felt that the BAAB were not responsive to their needs. For example, the athletes requested a pre-Tokyo training camp, but was rejected by the BAAB, which only got involved once the IAC agreed to fund such a training camp. When Brightwell explained the situation to his team, he wrote in his autobiography, that his teammates felt their individual rights were being violated:

“Hold on,” said one, “this isn’t a simple contractual dispute between two parties. It involves personal liberties. Whilst the Board is acting quite properly negotiating fixture contracts, that right doesn’t extend to binding individuals to appear in interviews. That is a personal matter for us to decide.”

“And there’s another important principle at stake,” added another. “Apart from flouting our right to decide whether we wished to appear on television, the Board is also set upon pocketing our appearance money.”

“That’s right,” piped up Ann. “I’ve just begged a ten-shilling parachute from my parents to keep the wolf from the door. If we all direct our fees to the IAC to reduce their running costs, they will be able to give us a rebate on the moneys we’ve paid to be here.”

“Damn right,” interjected Cooper. “Let’s have a vote on the issue.”

In the end, Brightwell explained to the influential secretary of the BAAB, Jack Crump, that his teammates “refused” to participate in the BBC program. But Crump was incensed. “Refused? Refused? I’m not negotiating with a trade union. I’m secretary to the British amateur athletic board, giving instructions to the British Olympic team captain.”

The two parties were at a standstill. There were compromises. The BAAB agreed that athletes had the right to choose whether to participate in the interviews or not. But the BAAB would not budge on where the fees would go. Brightwell was overseeing a split in his own team, as some athletes chose to appear on tv, and others did not. Brightwell, his fiancé Ann Packer and two of his 4×400 teammates, John Cooper and Adrian Metcalfe chose not to.”

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The mantle of leadership weighed heavily on Brightwell. He escaped to a quiet spot with Packer and broke down in tears.

“What in God’s name is happening? We should be focused on the Olympics, not wrangling with a fossilized governing body about the rights and wrongs of appearing on television. Why are we in this situation?”

The next morning, the newspapers were writing of the “revolt”. On top of that, Brightwell was made aware of a move within the BAAB to take away Brightwell’s captaincy. Would his place on the Olympic team follow?

Brightwell, wracked with uncertainty, went to the team and told them that he was willing to step down as captain. Lynn Davies, the eventual gold medal winner of the long jump in Tokyo, knew that if the team put it to a vote, that Brightwell would have to change his mind. Davies proposed they vote, and the vote was unanimous – the team supported Brightwell.

In the end, the team manager, Pat Sage, approached Brightwell and said that this fight had to end. “I don’t intend going to Tokyo with this fracas hanging over me.” Sage said that he would support Brightwell in his captaincy with a desire to forge team unity if Brightwell would support him as team manager. Brightwell remained captain. And the headlines finally changed for the better:

“UK Olympic Team Calls Off Revolt Against Manager”

As the UPI article of September 26, 1964 stated, “We shook hands chatted, and so far as I am concerned the argument between Sage and myself is finished. I take back nothing of my views about the official bumbledom which led to these differences of opinion. But let’s bury the hatchet and look forward to Tokyo.”

 

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A young Ann Packer and Robbie Brightwell
There was a gravitational pull that brought Robbie Brightwell and Ann Packer together. Like two small satellites spinning around a sun called Athletics, they would meet every now and then over a four or five year period, and appear to get closer and closer…until finally, they were together, spinning in their orbit, in synch. 

It was the spring of 1957 and 17-year-old Brightwell was at a six-day athletics training camp in Lilleshall Hall, a national sports center in Shropshire. He saw a girl, “dark haired, curvey and attractive.” As Brightwell wrote in his autobiography, Robbie Brightwell and His Golden Girl, “she stood out a mile.” He made an attempt to talk with her, but he got shooed away by a track judge. And then, he lost her.

In the summer of 1960, Brightwell had become an accomplished sprinter, good enough to make the Olympic Team and represent Great Britain at the Rome Olympics. He was at the English School Championships in Shrewsbury where he was asked to present medals to the 220 yards senior girls’ finalists. And there she was again.

The pretty, dark-haired girl mounting the rostrum for her silver medal had a familiar face. In a few seconds I placed her. She was the girl I’d admired at Southampton three years earlier. Her name was Ann Packer and she hailed from Berkshire.

But again, he was shooed away, this time by the administrator of the athletics course he was attending. Despite attempts to walk her back to her team section, Packer was escorted away as if he were a ne’re do well to be avoided, and not a newly-minted Olympian.

Then, in the Spring the following year, at a training camp at Loughborough Colleges organized by the International Athletics Club, their magnetic forces brought Packer and Brightwell together again.

At the outset, one particular attractive girl caught my eye. Within seconds, I realised it was Ann Packer, whose medals I’d presented at the previous year’s ESAA Championships. Having previously failed to attract her attention I determined to make up for lost time. Waiting until after lunch, I wandered over to her group. Apart from a perfunctory smile, she ignored me.

Packer had many potential suitors and Brightwell’s shyness left him at the outskirts of Packer’s orbit. But as fate would have it, their gravitational pull would send them careening together, coincidentally in the street, on their way to a dance party.

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From Brightwell’s autobiography
She laughed off my apologies, and I escorted her to the dance hall. When we arrived, the evening’s entertainment was in full swing, and anxious to maintain the initiative, I asked for the first dance. Leaving the floor and anxious to keep her to myself, I steered her to join Barry Jackson and his Melton Mowbray girlfriend, Pat Parker. From time to time, our conversation would be interrupted by others whisking her off, but I held a trump card; guaranteeing her return, I kept a firm grip on her handbag. Encouragingly, she stayed by my side. I felt more and more confident in her presence.

And that, as Bogey said at the end of Casablanca, was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Fast forward to October 1964. Ann Packer had won a silver in the 400 meters and a gold in the 800 meters. Robbie Brightwell had come from behind to snag silver for his 4×400 relay team. They left Tokyo as heroes of the 1964 Summer Olympics, and were headed home to England where the Olympic heroes would take center stage in one of the biggest weddings of the year.

You can’t even see her – Kon Ichikawa‘s camera is tightly focused on the two lead runners of the women’s 800 meter race,Maryvonne Dupurer of France and Zsuzsa Szabo of Hungary. Occasionally, the angle lengthens and you can see the rest of the pack bleed into the frame. Towards the end of the race Dupurer is safely in the lead, with about 6 others in a pack a few yards behind. Until, Billy Mills-like, #55 of Great Britain splits wide and sprints past the pack, blasts pasts Duprerer and wins the 800-meters with, apparently, ease.

#55 was Ann Packer. At that time, she wasn’t experienced at the 800 – her specialty was the 400 meters. And while her hopes for gold in the 400 meters were very high, she had to settle for silver, losing to a powerful Betty Cuthbert of Australia. At that stage, with her best event done, she wasn’t motivated to do worse in a 800-meter field packed with superstars. After all, her 800-meter career was really only a few months old.

 

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Ann Packer wins the 800 meter race in Tokyo unexpectedly.

 

Just prior to the Tokyo Olympiad, members of the Great Britain track and field team were in France for a meet. Packer’s hamstring was barking somewhat so she was reluctant to run in events unnecessarily. However, there were open slots for the 800-meter competition, and as her then fiancé and fellow 400-meter specialist, Robbie Brightwell, explained to her, the 800 would be less punishing on her hamstring than the 400 and it would also still be a good tune up. Additionally, Brightwell reasoned, there would be no pressure as everyone recognized Packer as a 400-meter runner.

And as all great sports stories play out, she ran and she nearly won in an event she rarely gave a second thought to. The Olympic authorities for GB agreed that Packer should get one of the open 800 meter slots. Packer protested, saying that she would be taking another worthy runner’s spot to Tokyo, but the fact of the matter is that Packer had smashed the qualifying time required.

But when she got to Tokyo, after taking second in the 400 meters, Packer no longer had visions of glory. She could already see herself back home in England. In fact, her plan was to forgo a potentially disastrous 800 and catch up on her shopping in downtown Tokyo. As far as she was concerned, her Olympiad was over. Here’s how Brightwell described her state of mind, in his autobiography, Robbie Brightwell and His Golden Girl:

“Do you think I should run in the 800 meter heats tomorrow?” she asked. “Maybe I should call it a day and go shopping.” I gaped in astonishment. “Shopping? You must be mad! Shopping? This is the Olympic games, not the Moulsford Village sports!”

“I know, but I’m hardly likely to bed or a silver medal, am I? And I need to buy some presents for the folks back home.”

“Come off it!” I exploded. “Think about the British girls back home who would have given their eyeteeth to be here in your place!”

She smiled sheepishly. “OK I’ll run. Not that it’ll make much difference. I’m bound to get eliminated in the heats, and then I can go shopping.”

As it turns out, Packer and perhaps even her fiancé Brightwell were missing the telltale signs of potential success. While Packer hoped just to remain respectable, others saw a form and ease that would translate easily to victory. As Packer prepared for the finals, after essentially just making the cuts in the heats, two people of considerable experience and respect came up to Packer with powerfully motivating words. Again, here is how Brightwell explains it in his autobiography:

Milkha Singh jogged past with his 1600 meters relay squad. Espying her, he dashed over, taking both hands and staring stern-faced into her eyes. “Ann Packer, listen to me. You will win!” She giggled self conscientiously, flashing me an amused smile. Shaking her hands emphatically, he repeated his message.

“You’re not listening, Ann Packer! Yesterday, I watched your semi-final. You were coasting! After the race, you come and show me your gold medal.”

She nodded respectfully. No sooner he departed than Percy Cerutty, Betty Cuthbert’s coach, rushed up. Even though they had never been introduced, Percy wasn’t a man for social ceremonies. “This,” he said, wagging a finger in front of her face, “is the finger of experience. And it’s standing to attention. Listen! Better and I’ve been talking. Stay with them until the end, and you will hammer them. Understand?”

Astonished, Ann nodded dumbly. Mission completed, Percy disappeared as quickly as he’d appeared.

When Packer won her race, right away she steered to the stands and into the arms of Brightwell. Milkha Singh was there as well, smiling with the satisfaction of clairvoyance proved correct. “Did I not say your woman would win? You didn’t believe me! I was right! Hee, hee, hee! Brightwell, you never listen to me!”

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Mary Rand, from the book, XVIII Olympiad Tokyo 1964 Asahi Shimbun

“I went to Rome in 1960,” Mary Rand explained in this video interview. “I was favored to win the long jump there. Did one of the best qualifying jumps but in the finals I ran through the pit and everything went wrong. And so when we came back to England, the headlines were ‘Flop Flop Flop’. I kinda thought I’m going to pack it in.”

In 1960, Mary Rand was expected to win the gold medal in the women’s long jump, but the 20-year-old cracked under pressure in Rome, and came home to unwanted and unwarranted attention from the press. Here’s how The Times described the press reaction in 1960. “British athletes, you should be ashamed of yourselves,” wrote one newspaper over photographs of those deemed to have failed. Bignal (Rand’s maiden name) was the star failure.”

Rand thought she was done with athletics. After all, she was married with a small daughter. But the call of competition was strong, and Rand found herself preparing the Tokyo Games. When she qualified for the British Olympic Squad, and landed in Tokyo, she was four years older and wiser. And yet, the demons of past failure were still in her head.

In this wonderful profile Rand in the Sunday Times as a run-up to the 2000 Sydney Games, the writer describes a joyful Rand the night before her long jump competition, singing a lullaby she would sing to the daughter she left in London, refusing to allow her roommates to sleep.

“Mary, for crying out loud,” says Mary Peters from the next bed. Her roommates cannot be angry. She sings so beautifully and even now, so late at night, her effervescence bubbles. “I’ll teach you,” she says, “come on, ‘I ullowoost to halowav an alawold banjalawo’, try it.” And so in this small room at the 1964 Olympic Games, four British athletes serenade themselves to sleep.

Sleep? Singing brings them to life. “Mary, I’m going to bang a nail into the wall,” says [Ann] Packer, “and from it I’ll hang the medal you’re going to win. It’ll inspire us to get the other ones.” It’s just a bit of fun but Mary Rand shivers at the mention of winning.

But according to the writer, Rand does not want to sleep, for silence forces her to hear the voices of doubt in her head:

What are you going to do tomorrow Mary, flop like you did in Rome four years ago?”

Outside, Mary hears the rain fall, so loud it could be hailstones: “What will that do to the cinder track, Mary?” She hates not being able to control the voices.

Alone in the darkness, Mary talks to God. “Please,” she pleads, “let me do well tomorrow.

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Mary Rand, from the book XVIII Olympiad Tokyo 1964 Asahi Shimbun

But as it turns out, the 24-year-old version of Rand was made of stronger stuff. In the video interview, Rand reflected on her attitude as she readied herself for the women’s long jump competition, and her refusal to allow her competitors to psych her out during the practice period.

The hardest thing in long jumping in the Olympics is everybody is trying to get their run-ups. The Russians. The Poles. They’re all pushing and shoving, you know? So you have to be pretty tough. I got a couple of jumps in. It was really cold and windy. It was a little nervewracking because in the back of your mind ‘Oh my gosh, this happened four years ago.’ And I know the press were thinking, ‘Is she going to fall apart again.’ And everything went right.

Rand did not run through her mark. She did not foul. She did not crash and burn. In fact, Rand dominated from start to finish in the six rounds of the finals. In the first round, she broke the Olympic record with a leap of 6.59 meters, 35 centimeters further than Diana Yorgova of Bulgaria. In the fifth round, she broke the spirit of all competitors with a world record jump of 6.76 meters.

Like many British and American athletes who were not used to the metric system, she had no idea what that meant in feet and inches. The world record at that time was 21 ft 11.75 in so she had to dig into her bag for the meter to fee conversion table to learn that she became the first woman ever to exceed 22 feet – 22 feet 2 1/4 inches to be exact.

A star was born.

 

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Ann Packer and Mary Rand with their gold medals

Even the Queen of England was impressed.

After the completion of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, Queen Elizabeth had lunch with hundreds of Olympians from TeamGB a few days after their return from Japan, and was most taken with Mary Rand, the sensational triple medalist. Rand won gold in the women’s long jump, silver in the pentathlon and bronze as a member of the women’s 4X100 relay team, leading a resurgence in British track and field.

The Queen is reported to have measured out 22 feet, 2 inches (6.76 meters), the length of Rand’s world record jump that resulted in Great Britain’s first gold of the Tokyo Olympics. According to an October 28, 1964 AP article, the Queen told her son, Prince Andrew, that was the length Rand jumped to win the gold. “‘He just couldn’t believe that anyone could jump that far,’ the queen laughingly told Mrs. Rand at a buffet lunch at the palace Tuesday.”

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Mary Rand with daughter

Not that I am expert on the British Royal Family, but clearly the Queen was taken with Rand. To be fair, many were. She was not only an Olympic champion, she was also perceived as wholesome (with a dash of sensuality). In 1964, she was married and had a daughter and had a reputation for being “nice”, which back then was more positive in nuance. But she also drew the attention of famous rock and rollers. “Apparently Mick Jagger said he’d like to date me,” she says (in this Mirror article). “I wish he’d asked! But then again I was married to my first husband at the time and the mother of a young daughter.”

Here is how Olympic observer, Neil Allen described Rand in his book, Olympic Diary Tokyo 1964:

An Italian journalist gave a melting look at the long legs and swinging hips as Mary walked across the grass, then surveyed again the world-record long jump on the indicator board and reluctantly handed me back my binoculars, misty by now. He shook his head in amazement and pronounced the accolade, “All that and a mother too!’

If it was the sheer femininity that struck first, next must come the almost effortless superiority of Mary Rand. Under the pressure of modern sport no British man or woman has ever won an Olympic victory with such authority. Here at last was our Elliott, our Zatopek, our Wilma Rudolph. Our goddess of the arena.

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Mary Rand in Kimono with Ann Packer

The somewhat sexist comments of the era aside, Mary Rand had a rare combination of grace, power and independence that made her arguably one of the most popular women in Tokyo. Her willingness to speak her mind and not to follow the norm may have also intrigued people.

When she was 17 years old, she developed a relationship with young man from Thailand living in England, nearly marrying much to the chagrin of those around her. The “scandal” of this relationship resulted in her being expelled from school.

When she was preparing for the Tokyo Olympics, she worked at the postal office in a Guinness factory in London, which fortunately gave her the opportunity to both earn wages and train for the Olympics. And one time, her involuntary need to tell jokes got her in a little trouble: She said in the Mirror article: “One of the benefits I got there was a free Guinness in the work’s canteen at lunchtime. I jokingly told a reporter I had a half pint every day as part of my training routine. The next thing I knew there were headlines about my drinking and I got a long lecture from my coach about putting on weight.”

But Allen wrote in his book that people found Rand’s openness charming:

There are few athletes easier to interview for she is completely honest. And her great sense of fun never allows her to have a moment’s conceit about all her ability in so many events. In her greatest moment of all, in the Olympic interview room, she still had time to grin at the incredulous look on the continental journalist’s face when she said she’d ‘had a rub from Johnny’ just before the long jump. Johnny Johnson is, of course, the dedicated masseur to the British athletics team. To Mary, as always ‘life is a bit of a giggle.’

There was definitely something about Mary.

Milkha Singh
Milkha Singh

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.

Here is the final scene from the Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra film, Bhaag Milkha Bhaag in which Singh triumphs in Pakistan.

Ann Packer wins 800 meters.
Ann Packer wins 800 meters.

She wanted to go shopping.

Ann Packer had won the silver medal in the women’s 400 meters, finishing second to Australian, Betty Cuthbert. So instead of bothering with the 800-meter race, it was time to ease the disappointment with a trip into town. Her fiance, and captain of Team GB at the 1964 Tokyo Games, Robbie Brightwell, convinced Packer that she was here to compete, and that she should. So she did.

Packer had little experience in the 800 meters. And as you can see in this film clip, Packer was at the back of the pack for most of the race. But in the final two hundred meters, she climbed to third, and in a burst sprinted out a dominating finish. A world record finish, in fact.

Packer explained subsequently that the 800-meter race for women had only been introduced 4 years earlier in Rome, so not many women were experienced in this distance, and for her personally, she had no preconcpetions about how to run the race. But being naïve, and being a sprinter, was Packer’s advantage. As she later said, “ignorance proved to be bliss.”

Sport Illustrated also noted the Packer cool, a modesty and lack of concern about the bigness of the moment, and that her future husband had to re-emphasize to Packer that her achievements were indeed a big deal.

“But what is it, really?” Ann said. “So many have won medals. I don’t think it is better than doing anything else well. I won a gold medal because I ran twice around a track, that’s all.”

Brightwell looked at her. “I don’t think you realize