reiko theo and naomi in tokuyama
Reiko and Theo with daughter Naomi visiting grandparents in Tokuyama.

After the Tokyo Olympics, Japan was at a peak in confidence. The economy was roaring. Team Japan tallied the third highest number of gold medals at the XVIII Olympiad at 16. The world had rave reviews for the organizers, with IOC president Avery Brundage heaping high praise on Japan:

Japan had demonstrated its capacity to all the world through bringing this greatest of all international spectacles to Asia for the first time and staging it with such unsurpassed precision and distinction. It is certainly the Number One Olympic Nation today.

The world had come to Japan and was excited to see a young, curious and energetic people. And the young, curious and energetic Japanese were eager to see the world.

In 1964, Reiko Kuramitsu was a freshman at Ferris College in Yokohama majoring in English, and was recruited to be a guide and translator for the Silk Center, which opened in Yokohama in 1959 to promote the silk industry.

Reiko worked 9 to 5, and was given special permission to skip classes so she could do her civic duty and help foreigners visiting the Silk Center learn about the great industriousness and skill of Japanese craftsmen. Born in Tokuyama-shi (now Shunan-shi), Yamaguchi in the Western part of Japan, Reiko had progressive parents who encouraged their daughter to study English and expand her horizons.

And with the arrival of the Olympics, Reiko was excited.

It is hard to believe that it was only 19 years after the war. It was amazing to make such a quick recovery. All the spirit came back. The whole country was so excited about the Olympics and Tokyo. Most of the people were able to buy TVs, black and white. All of Japan was talking about the Olympics!

And Reiko felt that something special was coming for her. “Before the games started, I had a premonition that something is going to really happen to change my life,” she said. “I sense things are going to happen in the future. I felt it very strongly.”

As the Tokyo Olympics were coming to a close, a group of Olympians entered the Silk Center. One of them, an Australian, looked so much like the American actor Steve McQueen, that the workers at the Silk Center were star struck, asking him for autographs. Reiko wasn’t interested, and walked away from the gaggle of girls. Ted (Theo) Mittet, a young American rower, was accompanying faux McQueen, and noticed Reiko. He left the Silk Center without saying a word to her.

photo by takeko honma 2
Ted “Theo” Mittet in front of the Kenzo Tange National Gymnasium during the 1964 Tokyo Olympics

But Theo returned the next day. Reiko wasn’t there, but her friend Sumiko, also from Reiko’s hometown, was. Theo asked Sumiko for Reiko’s name and where he could contact him. “The next thing I knew, I got his express letter from the Olympic village from Theo,” she said. “It just said, ‘Dear Reiko, would it be possible to have dinner together?’ He didn’t even know me. This must be fate.”

They met for dinner in Chinatown – Douhatsu – one of the popular restaurants in Yokohama at the time.  Reiko brought her friend Sumiko along – after all, she had never met this man before. Reiko sensed that Theo was unhappy that a party of two suddenly became a party of three. And she felt he was annoyed that she didn’t know anything about his hometown of Seattle. But she liked him.

He was cute. He had beautiful brown eyes. More interestingly to me, I learned he was studying to be an architect. I almost went to art school, but instead ended up studying English literature. To me, his interest in architecture meant he was artistic, and that interested me about him more than anything.

They met one more time before Theo took off on his 2-month journey through Japan. He even stopped by Tokuyama and met Reiko’s mother. After Theo returned to Yokohama, they met several times, but their relationship seemed to stall. And then one day, Theo was gone. He had embarked on a ship that took him around the world before returning home to Seattle.

Still they stayed in touch as pen pals, “just good friends.” But as her parents did, Theo encouraged Reiko to be more curious, to be more independent. And at some point, she decided that she would go to the United States, “to see America with my own eyes.”

greyhound ad_99 for 99_bakersfield californian_1966_highlighted
Greyhound Bus ad in 1966

While it is routine for single Japanese women to travel abroad today, in the 1960s, very few Japanese did. Overseas travel was not encouraged by the Japanese government, as they wanted to keep their hard-earned export dollars for use by Japanese corporations. And to get a visa to America, you had to go through a few hoops. She had to have sponsors in America, so she talked with her college teachers, and fellow church goers and got introductions to their friends in America. At the particular church she attended, she knew a Naval Commander named George Imboden, whose daughter she had become friends with.

Thanks to all these connections, she was able to convince the American Embassy she had a clear travel plan and people to meet her along the way. She boarded a ship that took 12 days, passing through the Aleutian Islands before arriving in San Francisco. Then she started her American journey in earnest, pulling out her Greyhound Bus ticket, taking advantage of an unlimited travel promotion called “99 days for 99 dollars.”

She was 21. She was on a bus. And she was seeing America: Colorado, Kansas, Tennessee, Georgia, New York, Massachusetts, Washington D. C., Illinois, Iowa. And then back to the West Coast with a visit to Seattle, Washington.

reiko kuramitsu and karen mittet_summer of 1967_bremerton ferry seattle
Reiko Kuramitsu and Karen Mittet on the Bremerton Ferry in Seattle.

Reiko was met by Theo’s family at the 8th avenue bus terminal, and was shocked to see these big Americans. Like Theo, his father and his brother were both over 6 feet tall. Reiko met Theo’s mother, and her sister. But Theo wasn’t there. He was in California, studying at UC Berkley.

So Reiko made her way south to California. She was able to stay with Commander Imboden at their home in Long Beach. When Theo took a summer job at a nursery in Laguna Beach, he arranged for a homestay for Reiko near him. And they got to know each other for another two months.

With her visa at her limit of 6 months, Reiko had to head back to Japan. But before she left, Theo and Reiko got engaged. A year later, they married.

If Reiko stayed in Japan, she likely would have ended up in an arranged marriage, and probably would still be in Yamaguchi.

My life is so much richer (for meeting Theo). I can’t imagine what would have happened if I stayed in Japan my whole life.

reiko and theo_napa valley
Reiko and Theo in Napa Valley
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year of the boar japan 2019

2019 is the Year of the Boar (in Japan) and Year of the Pig (in China). More specifically in the Chinese Zodiac, it is the Year of the Earth Pig, which waddles into the spotlight once every 60 years.

And it was 60 years ago on May 26, 1959 in the last Year of the Earth Pig, that members of the IOC met in Munich, Germany for the 55th General Session of the International Olympic Committee to decide which city – Brussels, Detroit, Tokyo or Vienna – would host the 1964 Tokyo Olympics.

In a decisive vote that required only one round, the IOC selected Tokyo, which took a majority 34 votes of the possible 58. Detroit came in a distant second with only 10 votes.

What were the reasons given for Tokyo’s winning bid in 1959?

Successful Asian Games: in 1958, Tokyo hosted the Asian Games, where over 1,800 athletes from 20 nations participated in 13 different events. As the Detroit Times wrote the day after its selection, “Tokyo, a strong favorite in recent months, after the world-wide fanfare it received after its holding of the recent Asian Games, was given the 1964 award.”

Fred Wada: Wada, a Wakayama native, was a Japanese American who hosted the Japan swimming team when they competed at the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics, and was instrumental in lobbying IOC members in Latin America in support of the Tokyo bid for the 1964 Olympics.

Cancellation of the 1940 Tokyo Olympics: Tokyo was awarded the right to host the 1940 Summer Olympics, but the threat of global conflict made the organization of those Games untenable, so they Olympics were cancelled in both 1940 and 1944. Avery Brundage, the president of the International Olympic Committee, would mention that they lost their chance to stage those Games because of “unfortunate circumstances,” implying that 1964 would be a second chance.

Avery Brundage: Brundage was a dominant president of the International Olympic Committee from 1952 to 1972. And he was someone deeply familiar with Asia, particularly its art. After visiting an exhibition of Chinese art in London in 1935, he began to amass a collection of Asian art, much of which would be donated to the new wing of the Memorial Museum in San Francisco. In his speech at the opening of the new wing, Brundage professed his admiration for Asia.

We think in terms of years, Orientals think in terms of generations, or of centuries, and some Indian philosophers even think in terms of five thousand year cycles. The great religions all originated in Asia. The Chinese invented silk, paper, gunpowder, porcelain, printing, and a hundred other things, and had a well developed civilization when Europe was in the throes of the dark ages and most of America a wilderness, inhabited only by savages. (From The Four Dimensions of Avery Brundage, by Heinz Schobel.)

Avery Brundage Visiting an art exhibition in Tokyo, 1958
Avery Brundage Visiting an art exhibition in Tokyo, 1958, from The Four Dimensions of Avery Brundage

Supporters of the Detroit bid didn’t take kindly to what they perceived as Brundage’s outsized influence and bias for bringing the Olympics to Asia. One of the leaders of the Detroit bid, Fred Matthaei, was quoted as saying, “We got the impression the committee wanted to hold the Games on another continent.”

The editorial in the May 27, 1959 editorial page of the Detroit Times was blunter in its criticism of Brundage.

Brundage is a native Detroiter. The local delegation hoped that fact might help their campaign. It didn’t. It merely proved how little they know the egotistic Mr. Brundage. He insists piously and repeatedly that his position as president of the IOC prevents his taking sides. But he made no secret of his leaning toward Tokyo. His explanation for the about-face in principle is that Tokyo lost the 1940 games because of the war. He indicated he deemed it an accident of fate. He ignored the argument that in 1940 the Japanese were engaged in an aggressive war and, accordingly, deserve no special consideration.

Whatever the reason, the Olympics came to Tokyo in 1964, thanks to that crucial vote in 1959, the Year of the Earth Pig.

Avery Brundage_cover of The Four Dimensions of Avery Brundage
Avery Brundage, from the cover of the book, The Four Dimensions of Avery Brundage

The dry weather and powerful winds of California combine to threaten America’s most populous state with frightening wildfires that seem to appear out of nowhere, taking on a violent and devastating life of their own. The fires that suddenly broke out in Northern California on October 9, 2017, have resulted so far in dozens of deaths, and untold financial loss – one of the worst fires in recent memory.

Unfortunately for Californians, wildfires in summer are a potential threat to life and property every year.

On September 22, 1964, a brush fire broke out in the mountains east of Santa Barbara, a city north of Los Angeles. It is also where the then-President of the International Olympic Committee, Avery Brundage, lived. Only weeks prior to the commencement of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, Brundage was actually in San Francisco, getting ready to leave for Tokyo when the fires began their assault. By the time Brundage got to his home in La Piñeta, the damage to his mansion was done. Here is the September 25 report from AP:

Santa Barbara, Calif. (AP) – A massive, uncontrolled brush fire yesterday killed one firefighter, burned 34 others and left scores of homes destroyed, including the mansions of educator Robert Maynard Hutchins and the Olympic Games’ Avery Brundage.

Some 1,800 firefighters braced for the predicted return of hot wind form the interior – the so-called “devil wind” of California lore. Wednesday night it whipped the fire to spreading fury and caused mass evacuations of more than 5,000 from their homes.

The Forest Service, after helicopter surveys yesterday, reported 78 homes destroyed. They ranged in value from $12,000 to the $100,000 – $200,000 residential palaces in the exclusive suburb of Montecito.

The fire that destroyed the Brundage home_The Four Dimensions of Avery Brundage
The fire that destroyed the Brundage home, from the book, The Four Dimensions of Avery Brundage

Brundage’s home was likely at the $200,000 range. But what caused him particularly heartache was the loss of his art collection. Famed for his expertise in Asian art, Brundage had such a huge collection that he needed to find new homes for it. A good part of it ended up in the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, which is fortunate, because around a thousand pieces were destroyed in the fire.

As explained in the book, The Games Must Go On – Avery Brundage and The Olympic Movement, by Allen Guttman, staff from the nearby Montecito Country Club, which Brundage owned, were able to save only a few items of his collection, “but the house and almost all of the art treasures in it were destroyed.”

When he surveyed the ruins in person the day after the fire, he told reporters “the whole house was filled with irreplaceable treasures Mrs. Brundage and I collected from all over the world. There were dozens of pieces she particularly liked. And there were ancient Greek and Japanese pottery, Etruscan works, Japanese swords and Roman and Egyptian sculpture.” He was quite naturally, “sick at heart.”

Guttman explained that Brundage’s wife was already in Tokyo awaiting her husband, and that Brundage’s friends in Japan were doing everything they could to keep the news of the fire and their home from her.

Brundage arrived in Tokyo, filled with ambivalence, keeping the sadness at bay from his wife, and preparing himself for the opening of Asia’s first Olympiad.

Guttman wrote of Brundage’s appreciation for Asian philosophies and poetry. This one is by Lao Tzu in his collection of poems The Way of Life:

How can a man’s life keep its course

If he will not let it flow?

Those who flow as life flows know

They need no other force:

They feel no wear, they feel no tear,

They need no mending, no repair

The first home_ of Avery Brundage_The Four Dimensions of Avery Brundage
The home of Avery Brundage destroyed by the fire, form the book, The Four Dimensions of Avery Brundage

Fuji Film 1_Hoisting of the 97 participating nations' flags

It was minutes before the commencement of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, the flags of 93 nations rising into a clear blue sky. The above photo was snapped and compiled into a set of photos by Fuji Film commemorating the XVIII Olympiad’s opening ceremony, which began at 2pm on Saturday, October 10, 1964, 53 years ago today.

Fuji Film 2_Japanese Delegation Entering the Stadium

The athletes would have to deal with cold and wet conditions for much of the Tokyo Olympics, but that day, the 5,500 athletes marched into the National Stadium under perfect conditions. As tradition has it, the host nation’s team marches into the Stadium last. Expectations were high for Team Japan, with a goal set of 15 gold medals. They actually achieved 16, third best after the US and USSR.

Fuji Film 3_IOC President Avery Brundage's Welcome

The President of the Organizing Committee for the Games, Daigoro Yasukawa, can be seen above introducing the International Olympic Committee President, Avery Brundage. In the official report which offered a post mortem of the Games from an operational perspective, Yasukawa expresses gratitude to the people of Japan.

…it was because Japanese in all walks and interests of life worked together in close and harmonious cooperation—all with one basic goal—that these Games might be an unqualified success. This spirit permeated into the Organizing Committee, and was to be found also in the sports associations and the many cooperating organizations involved. This surely is the only factor that enabled success in our organization efforts.

Fuji Film 4_Emperor Hirohito opens the Games

At the end of the Second World War, in the aftermath of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings, the Emperor’s voice was heard over the radio for the first time by his Japanese subjects. The Emperor asked his people to surrender, to “bear the unbearable, and endure the unendurable.” Nineteen years later, the Emperor is presiding over the Olympics, an event symbolizing peace and unity, in a city that was unrecognizable from its bombed-out shell in 1945. As noticed in this Japan Times article, the scene depicted in this photo may have been striking to many Japanese as the only person standing in the stadium was the Emperor – a role reversal of sorts in a very different time.

Fuji Film 5_Hoisting of the Olympic Flag

After the Emperor declared the XVIII Olympiad open, the Olympic Flag was brought into the stadium by Japanese self-defense forces, the embroidered satin flag initially brought in by the Mayor of Rome, the site of the XVII Olympiad. The flag was raised exactly 15.21 meters into the air. That was the distance Mikio Oda hopped, skipped and jumped to win the gold medal in the triple jump at the 1928 Amsterdam Olympics, Japan’s first ever gold medal.

Eleanor Holm headline news

It was headline news, literally.

For example, the front page of the Riverside Daily Press on July 24, 1935 blared across the full length of the front page, “Gay Cocktail Parties Result in Dismissal of Eleanor Holm Jarrett”.

Under the word “Ousted”, was a lithe Eleanor Holm in a skin-tight swimsuit posing like a Hollywood starlet. The caption read “Eleanor Holm Jarrett, attractive night club queen-swimmer who was dropped from the American Olympic team for indulging in liquor and parties contrary to training rules.” The article started with a provocative lead – “The one member of the American Olympic swimming team who appeared the most certain to win a title, Mrs. Eleanor Holm Jarrett, prepared to return home today.”

Eleanor Holm on cover of Look Magazine

Holm was the Olympic champion in the 100-meter backstroke, having won gold convincingly at the 1932 Los Angeles Games. Married to a jazz band leader, Art Jarrett, and very much used to the life as a celebrity, Holm did not take to the third-class accommodations on the SS Manhattan, which was transporting the US Olympic team to Europe and the Berlin Olympics.

According to The Book of Olympic Lists, by David Wallechinsky and Jaime Loucky, Holm – a veteran of two Olympiads – she wanted to be where the officials and the press were: first class. When an executive of the company that owned the SS Manhattan invited Holm up to first class for a party, the only Olympian invited, she of course said yes.

Quick to accept, she stayed up until six a.m., matching drinks with the sportswriters. She had to be helped back to her cabin. The next day there was much joking and wisecracking among the non-Olympic first-class passengers about the “training techniques” of the US team. Embarrassed US Olympic officials issued Holm a warning, but she was defiant and continued to drink in public off and on for the next few days. When advised by friends to moderate her behavior, she reminded them that she was “free, white, and 22”.

Wallenchinsky and Loucky described further examples of Holm’s drunken adventures on the SS Manhattan. On the evening of July 23, shortly before reaching Europe, the ship’s doctor found Holm “in a deep slumber which approached a state of coma”, which he diagnosed as acute alcoholism. The next morning, the American Olympic team manager woke Holm up and informed her that American Olympic Committee had voted to remove her from the team.

The next day, the press included the official announcement from Avery Brundage, the US Olympic Committee chairman. “Mrs. Eleanor Holm Jarrett has been dropped from the Olympic team and her entry has been withdrawn on account of violation of training rules. I wish to emphasize that there is no reflection in any way upon the entire team.” According to the press, Holm was requested to return to the United States.

Unfortunately for Brundage, Holm was immediately hired by news gatherer, the Associated Press to write a column, presumably about anything she wanted (presumably since she felt her Olympic career was over and her amateur status no longer a requirement). With press credentials, Holm was in Berlin to stay, and with her star power, she was at all of the biggest social gatherings. According to Holm in the book, Tales of Gold, Brundage didn’t like playing second fiddle to her.

A funny sidelight to Brundage kicking me off the team was that I was invited to everything in Berlin, and he would be there, too. He would be so miserable because I was at all these important functions. I would ignore him – like he wasn’t even alive. I really think he hated the poor athletes. How dare I be there and taking away his thunder? You see, they all wanted to talk to me.

Eleanor Holm at the press gallery at the 1936 Berlin Olympics
Eleanor Holm at the press gallery at the 1936 Berlin Olympics
Holm said she hung out with Herman Goering, and regularly got autographs from Adolph Hitler. She claimed that famed documentarian, Leni Riefenstahl, filmed her in the pool, although that footage was apparently left on the cutting floor. Despite the socializing, Holm wrote that she trained every day just in case she was reinstated to the team. In the end, however, Brundage would not budge and the world watched a Dutch woman named Nida Senff win gold in the backstroke.

Holm would go on to divorce Jarrett and marry a man named Billy Rose, who produced a hugely popular music, dance and swim show called Billy Rose’s Aquacade, where she would become an even brighter star, swimming with fellow Olympic champions Johnny Weissmuller and Buster Crabbe.

Holm passed away in 2004 at the age of 90, her star dimmed by the passage of time. But in the mid-20th century, during the Depression and War years, there were few brighter stars than Eleanor Holm.

Mel Pender_100 meter_1968
Mel Pender starting strong in 100-meter finals at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics_from the collection of Mel Pender

I cannot explain why I came in sixth place in the 1968 Olympics when the 100 meters was my best event. I could have won that race, and thought I should have. My start was great! I was out in front, but it was like I lost all my momentum and fell way behind.

So wrote Mel Pender in regards to his 100-meter finals at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics, as described in his autobiography, Expression of Hope – The Mel Pender Story. In fact, 1968 was in one respect a repeat of 1964 – a sixth place finish in the 100-meter finals. As Pender is painfully aware, there is no acclaim for the Sixth Fastest Man in the World.

But one significant difference between 1968 and 1964 was that at the Tokyo Olympics, Pender was running with a torn muscle in his ribcage, and was hospitalized after the individual 100 meters. In 1968, Pender had one more chance for a medal, as a member of the 4×100 meter relay team. And yet, while he was officially penciled in as the runner of the second leg, there was talk not only of replacing the injured lead-off man, Charlie Greene, but also Pender because of his age and his sixth-place finish in the individual finals.

Ronnie Ray Smith, Mel Pender, Charlie Greene, Jimmy Hines
Ronnie Ray Smith, Mel Pender, Charlie Greene, Jimmy Hines

And then there was the tension of race on Team USA. On October 16, Tommie Smith and John Carlos took first and third place in the 200-meter finals, and more famously, bowed their heads and lifted their fists in protest on the medal stand as the American anthem played. Their silent plea for equality and justice for Blacks in America created in an uproar in Mexico City and around the world. The IOC president, Avery Brundage, banned Smith and Carlos from the Olympic Village, and thus the Games.

As Pender recalled in his autobiography, Brundage “referred to black male athletes as boys. ‘If those boys act up, I’m going to send them home…’ was what he said publicly and privately. When the black athletes heard about this, it was more than we could stand. Remember, in April of 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated in Tennessee.”

Members of the US track team, particularly black athletes, with the support of their head coach, Stan Wright, protested Brundage’s decision. But Pender, and other members of the US military had an extra burden, told in no uncertain terms that they “could not be part of the demonstrations based on the oath of service we took.”

Ronnie Ray Smith, Mel Pender, Charlie Greene, Jimmy Hines_2

So, for Pender, Mexico City was not just a sports event, and the 4×100 meter relay was not just a race. It was to Pender, perhaps, an expression of hope, an opportunity to shine a spotlight of achievement for black Americans, and a shot at redemption for the five-foot-five man from Lynnwood Park. The 4×100 relay, an event of immense speed that requires split-second precision in the baton hand offs, was America’s to win or lose.

I took my position on the oval track, awaiting the baton from leadoff man Charlie Greene. Charley ran the first leg, and when he handed the baton to me, we were trailing a bit. Passing the baton was clean. I was in a good Lane; I think was the third lane. It was without those curves that you made you feel like you’re running sideways. I ran the second leg, which proved to be the fastest of the four, and gave our team the lead. When I pass the baton to Ronnie Ray, he did his job, and we maintained the lead. When Ronnie Ray handed off the baton, Jim Hines brought it home.

Greene, Pender, Ray and Hines set a new world record of 38.24 seconds.

 

roc-under-protest-1960
The Republic of China Olympic Team competing at the 1960 Olympics “Under Protest”

On December 2, 2016, Donald Trump took a phone call from the president of Taiwan, Tsai Ing-wen. She was simply offering her congratulations to the American president-elect. And yet, this simple phone call established the possibility of a radically different Sino-American diplomatic relationship.

Wang Dong, an associate professor at the School of International Studies at Peking University, was quoted in The New York Times as saying, “this is a wake-up call for Beijing — we should buckle up for a pretty rocky six months or year in the China-U.S. relationship. There was a sort of delusion based on overly optimistic ideas about Trump. That should stop.”

In fact, it was 38 years ago today (December 15) when then President Jimmy Carter officially recognized The People’s Republic of China, and Beijing as the sole government of China. A year later, the US cut off ties with Taiwan.

But in the 1950s and the 1960s, neither the People’s Republic of China (PRC), nor The Republic of China (ROC) in Taiwan were officially recognized by the United States. The International Olympic Committee, however, recognized both. The IOC invited the PRC and the ROC to the 1952 Helsinki Olympics. The ROC withdrew in protest of PRC’s Olympic debut. In subsequent Olympics, the ROC decided to participate, so it was the PRC’s turn to boycott the Games, which they did until 1980. In 1952, the president of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), Avery Brundage, was viewed by the PRC as a puppet of the United States.

Brundage was the president of the IOC in the 1950s and 1960s, and had to deal first hand with the China issue. As the head of the Olympic Movement, and thus symbolic proselytizer of the Olympic Charter, Brundage wanted to “contribute to building a peaceful and better world” by ensuring as many different nations participate in friendly sports competition. In his mind, he needed a logical way to bring both the PRC and the ROC to the Games.

avery-brundage
Avery Brundage

To that end, he got the IOC to vote and approve a decision that would force the ROC Olympic Committee to change their name from The Republic of China to either Taiwan or Formosa, which is another name for the island of Taiwan. According to David Maraniss and his seminal book, Rome 1960: The Olympics That Changed the World, Brundage’s argument was that the smaller ROC was in effect not able to represent the vast majority of China.

Brundage and the Marquess of Exeter, the strongest Western proponent of the name change within the IOC, said it was a practical decision arrived at free from ideological pressure and without political overtones. The political act came from those who insisted on calling it China when it was not China, they argued. “We cannot recognize a Chinese committee in Taiwan any more than we can recognize an Italian committee in Sicily or a Canadian committee in Newfoundland,” Brundage said.

As Brundage quickly found out, the United States government was not keen on the IOC interfering in international diplomacy, and viewed Brundage, to his surprise, as a communist sympathizer. As Maraniss wrote, “the U. S. government, which recognized Chiang’s Nationalist China but not Mao’s mainland government, viewed this as a major symbolic victory for the communist bloc, and thought Brundage had been naïve and manipulated by the Soviets, who had initiated the proposal.”

Brundage was a puzzled man. He believed himself to be a staunch anti-communist. And yet he found his name bandied about in the press as a communist sympathizer, with calls for his resignation from the IOC. But Brundage remained in role. The ROC competed as Formosa at the 1960 Olympics, and Taiwan at the 1964 Olympics.

In 1979, after the United States officially recognized the PRC, the IOC recognized the Chinese Olympic Committee from the PRC, and passed a resolution that the ROC team from Taiwan be designated Chinese Taipei at subsequent Olympics.

So you can understand why Taiwan hasn’t felt all that respected in the latter half of the 20th century. And this has continued despite the fact that Taiwan emerged as one of the great Asian economic stories in the past 30 years, and is currently the 22nd largest economy according to the IMF.

So the phone call that was accepted by President-elect Donald Trump was not just a simple courtesy call. For the tiny island nation of Taiwan, aka The Republic of China, it was a gesture of respect and recognition.

You can bet, though, this political football game is far from over.

collett-and-matthews-1972-munich-olympics
Wayne Collett (left) and Vince Matthews (Associated Press/File 1972)

They stood there casually, one barefoot, hands on hips, the other in thoughtful repose, right hand stroking the chin. You would think they were waiting for the bus.

But Wayne Collett and Vince Matthews were actually standing on the winners podium at the 1972 Munich Olympics, their medals for their silver and gold medal finishes in the 400 meter sprint around their necks, and the American national anthem playing.

Avery Brundage, the president of the International Olympic Committee, viewed the behavior of Collett and Matthews as abhorrent and immediately banned them from the Olympic Games. This may have seemed like déjà vu to Brundage as he had made the same decision four years earlier in Mexico City, when Tommie Smith and John Carlos accepted their medals after the 200 meter finals, and raised their black-gloved fists into the air, reflecting their anger at the state of race relations in America.

The day after Brundage’s decision to kick Collett and Matthews out of the Munich Olympic Village, a white bed sheet was suspended from the windows of the American team’s dormitory. According to Ollan Cassell in his book Inside the Five Ring Circus, the bed sheet read, “Down with Brundage”. Cassell reveals that the person who dropped this flag of protest was Vince Matthews.

The head coach of the US track team at the 1972 Munich Olympics was Bill Bowerman, the legendary coach at the University of Oregon. With Smith injured and Collett and Matthews suspended, he knew he would not be able to field a 4X400 relay team. Clearly the men would have been a near-lock for gold if not for the suspensions. According to Kenny Moore’s book, Bowerman and the Men of Oregon, Bowerman was upset with the behavior of Collett and Matthews, but he did not believe they deserved to be suspended.

“Matthews and Collett made asses of themselves,” as Bill would put it, “jiving around and talking, giving the impression they didn’t want to be ramrod straight. That was unfortunate but no big deal. I felt they hadn’t meant to be disrespectful during the anthem. Jesse Owens talked with them afterward and felt the same. He was arranging for them to apologize, but before they could, Brundage had Matthews and Collett suspended and sent from the Village.”

“You cannot expect on an Olympic squad of sixty to have everybody act like army privates,” Bill said later. “They’re great athletes. They’re great individuals. The fact that some of them did things that the press objected to didn’t bother me too much. They’re vivid, alive, human animals. They’re keenly interested, very competitive, and all different. So why not accept that and enjoy it?”

bill-bowerman-at-heyward-field-in-oregon
Bill Bowerman at Hayward Field in Oregon

So Bowerman said he would talk to Brundage the next day and see if an apology might convince Brundage to change his mind. Bowerman did meet with Brundage, and despite the fact that Palestinian terrorists had just broken into the Olympic Village and taken Israeli athletes hostages, Bowerman and Brundage were able to manage a discussion on Collett and Matthews. And as related in Bowerman’s biography, Brundage accepted Bowerman’s apology on behalf of his athletes and accepted their reinstatement on condition that the USOC agreed.

Bowerman, and his partner in this negotiation, Jesse Owens, rushed to a gathering of USOC members to tell them the wonderful news, that Brundage had actually reversed his decision and that all they needed was USOC’s endorsement. But Bowerman was surprised to learn that more than the IOC, the USOC was even more outraged, and had already voted to support Brundage’s original decision to kick Collett and Matthews out of the Olympics. According to the Bowerman bio, the presiding officer of the USOC, Clifford Buck gave as rationale, “Well, they insulted the American flag.”

And so, Collett and Matthews were suspended and the heavily favored 4X400 relay team never made it on the track.

Years later in 1992, Collett told the Los Angeles Times the following:

“I love America. I just don’t think it’s lived up to its promise. I’m not anti-American at all. To suggest otherwise is to not understand the struggles of blacks in America at the time.’’

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Gymnast Gabby Douglas in Rio.

The Twitterverse can be very petty.

After the US women’s team dominated the team gymnastics competition and won gold at the Rio Olympics, gymnast Gabby Douglas got hit by a social media storm. Why? Because she did not have her hand over her heart during the medal ceremony.

One of the uglier images that made the rounds was an image of two photos placed in contrast to each other: one of the US women’s gymnastics team and the other of the US 4×100 men’s freestyle swim team. The top caption was “Understand the difference”. Under a picture of the swim team, in which Ryan Held is wiping tears from his eyes, are the words “took hand off of heart momentarily to hide tears of pride, joy, and accomplishment.” Underneath the picture of the US women’s gymnastics team, which shows Gabby Douglas with her hands at her side, are the words “blatant disrespect”.

Douglas is an American star of the 2012 London Olympics, a member of arguably the hardest working gymnastics team in history, who has spent countless days and hours in practice and pain to help bring golden glory to the US again in Rio. Here she was, being ripped apart online because she did not have her hand on heart.

The onslaught was so swift and vicious, Douglas felt compelled to apologize:

In response to a few tweets I saw tonight, I always stand at attention out of respect for our country whenever the national anthem is played. I never meant any disrespect and apologize if I offended anyone. I’m so overwhelmed at what our team accomplished today and overjoyed that we were able to bring home another gold for our country!

Douglas had no reason to apologize. Fortunately, the better angels of the Twitterverse nature agreed, and came to Douglas’ defense.

David Wottle on Winners Podium
David Wottle at the Muinch Games in 1972, Munich, Germany  Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

But we’ve seen this movie before.

  • In 1968 at the Mexico City Olympics, Tommie Smith and John Carlos were expelled from the Olympic Games after their respective first and third-place finishes in the 200-meter finals because they lowered their heads and raised their fists in protest of the state of Blacks in America.
  • In 1972 at the Munich Olympics, Dave Wottle won the 800-meter finals in dramatic fashion. At the awards ceremony, he stood at attention, his hand on heart and his trademark white golf cap on head during the playing of the American national anthem. Well, tongues wagged, and the press kept asking Wottle if he was protesting something. Wottle replied very sheepishly that he simply forgot he was wearing it. Wottle is lucky that the Internet was not a factor our lives yet.
  • And for decades, the simple act of carrying the flag in the opening ceremony was a matter of consternation for Americans. Perhaps it’s the fact that America was born out of war of independence from a King in Europe. But it became customary for the flag bearer leading the American team in an Olympic opening ceremony would not dip their flag to the host country’s leader as sign of respect. While Americans dipped and not dipped over the decades, the USOC then decided in 1936 after the Berlin Games to make it policy for the US flag bearer not to dip.

In 1964, during the Tokyo Olympic Games, then head of the International Olympic Committee, Avery Brundage, went as far as to recommend that the medal ceremony be dropped from the Olympics. According to a AP report, Brundage said at a press conference that “he doesn’t want national flags raised and anthems played after medal performances in the various sports because they only help to generate extreme nationalism.”

Brundage hopes to eliminate olympics victory ceremony
October 24, 1964 AP

Americans can have thin skins. Raw interpretations of what acts, what behaviors, what words are viewed as patriotic are openly voiced at the water cooler, in the press, and of course in the 21st century, most flamboyantly on the internet. This is true in sports competitions between nations as it is true in the political discourse of the US presidential campaign.

Perhaps it’s fruitless to say that calmer heads should prevail, other cheeks should be turned. But for what it’s worth, President Abraham Lincoln said it best. America’s 16th president presided over one of the most politically tumultuous periods in American history, and in his first inaugural address on March 4, 1861, he addressed a country on the verge of civil war. The quote below are the most famous from that address, and resonate today:

We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory will swell when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.

Abraham Lincoln

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Mariana Jolly meets President Sukarno at the Asian Games in 1962, from the collection of Mariana Jolly

She was a 14-year old, and yet an artifact of colonial Asia – the daughter of British parents representing Singapore in The Asian Games. When Mariana Jolly was asked to join the national swimming team to represent Singapore at the Asian Games, she had no idea that she would catch the attention of the most powerful man in Indonesia.

“It was the Asian Games, but I was the only European there,” Jolly told me. “Sukarno organized a lot of these social events for the athletes, there were quite a few. And the first time, he took one look at me and came to me. He asked me if I was Dutch. I said ‘no’, and he smiled. I danced with him at a barbecue, and I sang to him in Malay at another party.”

Little did Jolly know that the Asian Games they joined ignited the heated feud between Indonesia and the IOC, resulting in the last-second decision by Indonesia and North Korea to boycott the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo.

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Dancing with Sukarno, from the collection of Mariana Jolly

Post-war, post-colonial Asia was a mess, a political vacuum, a time of economic experimentation that led to social upheaval. In the midst of those turbulent times, Malaysia emerged as a new nation in 1963, bringing together the British colonies of Malaya, Singapore, North Borneo and Sarawak.

Indonesia in the early 1960s was an emerging political power in Asia, led by that country’s first president, Sukarno. Leading the fight against the colonial rulers from the Netherlands, Sukarno was imprisoned by the Dutch rulers, freed by invading Japanese forces in 1942, and then appointed President of Indonesia when Japan surrendered to the United States and the allies at the end of World War II.

After decades of fighting Dutch colonial rule, Sukarno was anti-imperialist, and by extension, anti-West. While he did secure billions of dollars in aid from the United States and the Kennedy administration, Sukarno cultivated strong ties with the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and the Soviet Union.

And to reflect Indonesia’s growing power and influence, Sukarno won the rights to hold the Asian Games in Jakarta in 1962. The Asian Games is held every four years like the Olympics, and brings together the best athletes of Asia. In 1962, the participating countries included the PRC, which was boycotting the Olympic Games, as well as nations in the Middle East. Sukarno decided to make a statement – he would not invite athletes from Israel, which was the enemy of so many of Indonesia’s allies in the non-aligned world, nor athletes from Taiwan, which the PRC did not recognize.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC), led by then president, Avery Brundage, took umbrage, reiterating the importance to separate politics from sports, and indefinitely