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

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

  1. A Helicopter View of US-USSR Relations, Olympic Style
  2. American Gymnast Makoto Sakamoto and Memories of Home: Post-War Shinjuku
  3. Arnold Gordon (Part 1): Befriending Judy Garland at Manos in Shinjuku
  4. The Banning of Headgear in Boxing: The Convoluted World of Protecting Our Athletes
  5. Clumsy Handoff, Beautiful Result: A World Record Finish for the American 4X400 Relay Team in Tokyo
  6. Coach Hank Iba: The Iron Duke of Defense Who Led the Men’s Basketball Team to Gold in 1964
  7. Creativity by Committee: The 2020 Olympic Emblem and the Rio Olympic Mascots?
  8. Crowded, Noisy, Dirty, Impersonal: Tokyo in the 1960s
  9. The Dale McClements’ Diary: From Athlete to Activist
  10. Doug Rogers, Star of the Short Film “Judoka”: A Fascinating Look at Japan, and the Foreigner Studying Judo in the 1960s
  11. Escape from East Berlin in October 1964: A Love Story
  12. Escape from Manchuria: How the Father of an Olympian Left a Legacy Beyond Olympic Proportions
  13. Fame: Cover Girl and Canadian Figure Skater Sandra Bezic
  14. Frank Gorman: Harvard Star, Tokyo Olympian, and Now Inductee to the International Swimming Hall of Fame
  15. The Geesink Eclipse – The Day International Judo Grew Up
  16. India Beats Pakistan in Field Hockey: After the Partition, the Sporting Equivalent of War
  17. The Narrow Road to the Deep North
  18. On Being Grateful: Bob Schul
  19. Protesting Via Political Cartoons: Indonesia Boycotts the Tokyo Olympics
  20. The Sexist Sixties: A Sports Writers Version of “Mad Men” Would Make the Ad Men Blush
  21. “Swing” – The Danish Coxless Fours Found It, and Gold, in Tokyo
  22. Toby Gibson: Boxer, Lawyer, Convict
  23. Vesper Victorious Under Rockets Red Glare – A Dramatic Finish to One of America’s Greatest Rowing Accomplishments
  24. What it Means to Be an Olympian: Bill Cleary Remembers
  25. Who is that Bald-Headed Beauty: The Mystery of the Soviet Javelin Champion
Bob Schul_Life_30October1964
Bob Schul winning the gold medal in the 5000 meters in Tokyo_Life Magazine, October 30, 1964

 

Bob Schul was in a room under the National Olympic Stadium, mentally preparing himself for the race of his life, the 5,000 meter competition at the 1964 Tokyo Summer Games. Schul was already filling a little uneasy. It was rainy and cold, so he spent most of his time in his dorm. Then he walked 200 meters in the rain, got on the bus and made it to the stadium, where his coaches ran up to him saying, “Where have you been?” Schul told me that his adrenalin shot up, and he thought he had gotten the time wrong. But they told Schul there was still over an hour before the race, which is exactly how much time he had intended to have. So calming himself down, Schul headed to a small room to prepare himself for his race. A member of the US track team and gold medal hope, Willie Davenport walked into the room.

“Willie Davenport, one of the world’s best hurdlers, was standing in the middle of the room dripping wet,” said Schul. “I knew he had just finished one of his trials. The first race for the US hurdlers should have been a cake walk for them. As I walked by and patted him on the back, I asked him how it went. His response was not what I had expected. He turned towards me and looked at me in the eyes and said, ‘Bob, I didn’t make it.’ Now, when somebody says that sort of thing, you don’t want to be there. I had a race to win and I didn’t want anybody saying to me ‘I didn’t make it’. But I couldn’t get away because he kept talking. I thought, ‘come on, I got to get out of here.’ Tears were coming down and he turned away. What do you say? I stood there and reached out and put my hand on his shoulder. I put my bag against the wall, and went to warm up. I tried to forget that.”

Fortunately, Schul was unaffected, winning the first ever gold for the US in the 5,000 meters. Davenport would recover after being eliminated in the 110m hurdle semis in Tokyo, going on to win gold in Mexico City, and bronze eight years later in Montreal.

The acclaimed author, Frank Herbert, once wrote, “I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little death that brings total obliteration.” Herbert’s mantra is particularly true for high performance athletes. The anonymous author who wrote the book, The Secret Olympian: The Inside Story of the Olympic Experience, also spoke of fear, its particular odor and its negative impact.

Fear-is-the-mind-killer-Dune
Kyle MacLachlan as Paul Atreides in the 1984 miniseries, Dune.

“The physiologists can’t measure our sanity. Some of us are going well in training, quick and confident. Probably an equal number are struggling, working harder than they should to make the pace, and it’s those guys (some are friends, some rivals) who are starting to crack up. I can sort of smell this creeping fear of failure, an aura or a vibe around them. It’s like an elephant in the room. No one wants to talk about it. Some have gone very quiet; others are sort of manic. I can tell my best mate has been crying in the loos after training and back in the hotel sometimes. Not good for a grown man.”

The author, Anon, writes that everybody feels the fear. But you need to

Bob Hayes, from the book "Tokyo Olympiad 1964_Kyodo News Service"
Bob Hayes, from the book “Tokyo Olympiad 1964_Kyodo News Service”

Yeah, you’re the fastest man in the world. But you’re running in the first lane, the most beat up sodden lane after two weeks of competition, and you can’t find your shoes.

This was the predicament that “Bullet” Bob Hayes found himself in, according to Bob Schul, in his book, “In the Long Run”.

Just in front of me was Bob Hayes, who seemed to be searching for something. “Bob, what are you doing?” I questioned. “Aren’t you supposed to run the next race?”

“Bob, I can’t find my shoes!” he said in a very worried tone.

“Can’t find your shoes! Where did you leave them?”

“Here, right here!” he answered frantically. “Every day I leave them under this bench while I warm up.” Then he stopped and turned to me. “I know where they are! They’re under my bed at the village! I forgot to bring them!” He looked at my spikes and I knew what he was thinking.

“I wear size 10 and a half, Bob,” I said.

“Too big! What am I going to do?” Just then Tom Farrell entered the area. Tom was in the in_the_long_run800 final, which followed the 100 meters. It was apparent what Bob was thinking, and he ran over to Tom and asked what size spikes he word. I couldn’t hear what they were saying, but within seconds Bob had Tom’s shoes and was running for the check-in room.

As I waited for the bus outside the stadium I heard the final results of the 100 meters. Bob Hayes had set an Olympic record in winning the gold medal. “Way to go, Bob,” I said out loud.

Bob Hayes set a world record running the 100 meters in 10 seconds flat.

Bob Schul had already won gold in the 5,000 meters, the only American Olympic champion in that event.

Tom Farrell would find glory four years later in 1968, wining bronze in the 800 meter race. He graduated from Archbishop Molloy High School, which is a 5-minute walk from where I grew up in Queens. I spent many a summer day playing stickball in that high school parking lot.

Bob Schul victorious_
Bob Schul upon winning the 5,000 meter race in Tokyo, from the book “The Olympic Century – XVIII Olympiad – Volume 16”

There comes a moment in your life, hopefully, when you realize that you are not apart from the world, that “no one is an island entire of itself”.

In the 1960s, the support from national Olympic committees and sports associations was not as great as it is today. Unless you were from a family of means, world-class athletes training for the Olympics had to sacrifice significantly to make ends meet. When long-distance runner, Bob Schul, was selected for the US track and field team, he did not have the means to bring his wife on the journey to Tokyo. His military paycheck yielded only $78 a month, which almost all went to food and the gas to pay for his car trips to the military base so he could train.

But as Schul related in his stirring autobiography, “In the Long Run”, schoolchildren in his hometown went door to door raising money in order to buy air ticket for Sharon Schul. Along with this financial contribution and a telegram with all the donor’s names – family and friends all – came this wonderful, heartfelt letter.

Dear Bob,

This is our way of expressing in you the pride we feel in our hearts at this time. The entire community has gained in civic pride from your achievements and representation. When you face the starting line and look up at the throng in that vast stadium, you’ll not be alone; for sitting there in spirit, and cheering you on, will be 3500 happy and emotion-packed citizens of West Milton. As the race is in progress, there will be 3500 heartbeats running in unison to yours. When you start your kick in that last lap, there’ll be 3500 people praying for you to have the strength to do your best. Win…lose…or draw, you’re a champion and first-class citizen in the minds and hearts of the people of this community. Good luck and God bless you.

A grateful Schul went on to win gold in the 5,000 meter race in 1964, the first and only American to do so in the Olympic Games.