Closing Ceremonies_Mixing_Games of the XVIII Olympiad_IOC
From the book, Games of the XVIII Olympiad_IOC

On Saturday, October 24, a national effort to restore pride to a defeated nation and demonstrate to the world that Japan was indeed back, ended at the Closing Ceremonies on the final day of the Tokyo Olympiad.

The ceremonies began with Emperor Hirohito entering the National Stadium. And then began the march of the athletes – perhaps less march, more flood. Here’s how it was reported in The Official Report of the XVIII Olympiad:

The flags of all participating nations were marched into the Stadium by standard bearers at 5 o’clock with the names of the nations held high. The athletes followed into the field behind them without distinction of nationality and like a flood water released from its gates. All lined up together in an orderly manner in the area behind the flags. There was a feeling of deep emotion with the completion of the Games, and a peaceful hush descended on the Stadium.

Closing ceremony 6
From The Official Report of the XVIII Olympiad

When the athletes had all entered the stadium, the national anthem of Greece was played as that nation’s flag was raised, followed by the flags of Japan and Mexico, accompanied to the playing of the Mexican national anthem. The president of the IOC, Avery Brundage, then officially closed the Tokyo Summer Games, and proclaimed hope for a successful Games in Mexico City four years later:

I call upon the youths of all countries to assemble four years from now at Mexico City and there to celebrate with us the Games of the XIX Olympiad. May they display cheerfulness and concord so that the Olympic torch will be carried on with ever greater eagerness, courage and honor for the good of humanity throughout the ages.

Closing Ceremonies_IOC Flag_Games of the XVIII Olympiad_IOC
Fromthe book, Games of the XVIII Olympiad_IOC

As The Tokyo Olympic Hymm B played, the Olympic flame dissipated into the blackness of the night. In the dark and the quiet, the Olympic flag was lowered and carried off the field by members of the Self-Defense Forces, their solemn march highlighted by a single spotlight.

And suddenly, blossoming from the dark canvas of the field, red-orange flames ignited from hand torches held by hundreds of female college students who formed an oval around the stadium track. As Auld Lang Syne wafted through the Autumn air, the students rotated and waved tehir torches that “made a most impressive and magnificant spectacle as their flames…rotated like a gigantic undulating wave,” according to the Official Report.

Closing ceremony 5_Tokyo Olympiad_Kyodo News Agency
From the book, Tokyo Olympiad_Kyodo News Agency

It was finally time to leave. As the athletes marched out of the stadium, the electronic signboard lit up with the words “Sayonara! We Meet Again in Mexico City in 1968!” The Emperor left the stadium, and then the evening sky exploded in a blaze of fireworks.

Closing Ceremonies_Sayonara_Games of the XVIII Olympiad_IOC
From the book, Games of the XVIII Olympiad_IOC

Thus ended one of the most significant milestones in Japan’s march to recovery and prosperity in the 20th Century.

Advertisements

Closing Ceremonies Ticket_front

If you had this ticket to the Closing Ceremonies of the XVIII Olympiad on Saturday, October 24, 1964, 53 years ago today, you would have had honored seats. Like this ticket to the Opening Day Ceremonies, you would likely have been watching the pageantry from this area marked in red on the ticket’s stadium layout. That would have placed you directly across from the Olympic Cauldron, and some distance behind Emperor Hirohito of Japan.

You would have seen a different march of the athletes from that on Day One. On October 10, in the daylight of a beautiful Autumn afternoon, the athletes of 93 nations marched in order and in an orderly fashion. On October 24, after the tension of months of intense training and two weeks of pressure-cooker competition, the athletes were ready to party. They did not march in order of their country or even in an orderly fashion. Athletes of different nations mixed as they strolled, ran, and lollygagged their way into and around the stadium.

Closing Ceremonies Ticket_back_marked

And as the November 2, 1964 issue of Sports Illustrated described it, the team from New Zealand likely drew the attention of the Emperor with their antics.

The butane Olympic flame had been turned off and a blazing “SAYONARA” flashed on the scoreboard in capital letters. At that moment of opportunity, a maverick group of nine New Zealand athletes had a second thought. Grinning preposterously, they broke ranks and began loping around the track in one last ceremonious romp, pausing in their progress to dance impromptu jigs and to sing sudden songs.

In front of the imperial box, they repeated their comic opera for Emperor Hirohito himself, bowing from the waist in an exaggerated series of jerks. Distance Runner Bill Baillie threw the Emperor a record-breaking kiss (of the numbers who had stood in his imperial presence, no one had ever done that before). Remarkably, nobody hurried to intervene. The Emperor smiled in spite of himself, and doffed his Western hat.

That doesn’t happen every day. And you would have had a fine seat to witness it!

NZ team bowing
Members of New Zealand team bowing to the Emperor, from the book, XVIII Olympiad Tokyo 1964_Asahi Shimbun

misha-the-bear

The headlines in the United States in the late 1970s and early 1980s was of economic malaise, Three Mile Island, the Iran hostage crisis, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the presidential campaign pitting incumbent Jimmy Carter against Ronald Reagan.

It was the Cold War, and the temperature was below zero. And yet, then president of stuff toy manufacturer and importer, Dakin & Co., Harold A. Nizamian, thought the planned mascot for the 1980 Moscow Olympics was charming. So he bought the license to create a stuffed bear and began producing and selling “Misha the Bear“.

Dakin began producing 240,000 Misha the Bear toys a month in early 1979, and the bear was selling. According to this Inc. article, Nizamian implies that he had global licensing rights as he claims the “the Russians were delighted and tried to buy it from us”.

But when the United States government announced that America would boycott the Moscow Olympics in protest of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, and forbade American companies to do business in relation to the Olympics, orders were cancelled, and Misha was suddenly a victim of a bear market.

misha-the-bear-dakin-adI actually had one of those bears. I remember getting a whole bunch of Moscow Olympic swag because NBC had the US broadcast rights for those Games, and my father was working for NBC at the time.

What’s fascinating about Misha the Bear is that ironically, this lasting symbol of the Soviet Union is one of the best known of all Olympic mascots in the world, its image gracing t-shirts, coffee mugs, pins, posters, and toys. In other words, the Soviet Union created the first commercially viable and globally popular Olympic mascot.

According to the Huffington Post, “no other mascot has done more for its country than Misha from Moscow. As the smiling tiny bear touted as Russia’s cuddly ambassador to the world, Misha served as a warm child-friendly sight as the peak of the Cold War. His image, starkly different from the traditionally gruff bear common in Russian lore, propelling Olympic merchandise sales forward while 55 nations boycotted the games.

It is said that Misha the Bear’s farewell during the Closing Ceremonies was one of the most memorable moments of the 1980 Moscow Games.

As for Dakin, Nizamian had $1 million dollar’s worth of Misha the Bear sitting in his warehouse. So what did he do?

Nizamian decided to give the bear a new nationality and a new lease on life. He removed the belt and reintroduced Misha in an assortment of T-shirts. “I Am Just A Bear,” one read; another proclaimed “U.S.A. Olympic Hockey Bear,” trading on the stunning victory by the United States at the winter Olympics. “It moved fairly well,” he explains. “We were able to dispose of about half of our stock by using that vehicle.” Dakin donated another 100,000 bears to the Special Olympics, a competition for handicapped children, and sold the final 100,000 to liquidators.

The Closing Ceremony of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, October 24, from the book,
The Closing Ceremony of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, October 24, from the book, “XVIII Olympiad Tokyo 1964”

To many Japanese, so much was riding on the success of the 1964 Olympic Games, particularly the need to avoid shame, and to project the image that Japan can run a global event flawlessly, in a first class fashion. And for the most part, they did. The Japanese were justifiably proud that their country pulled off the first Olympic Games in Asia.

So on Saturday, October 24 (exactly 51 years ago today), the final day of the 1964 Olympic Games, after everything had proceeded to near perfection, the Closing Ceremony was to be the icing on the cake. And to many it was…except that the athletes did not behave exactly as they were supposed to.

According to the procedures of the Olympic Organizing Committee, the objective was to “carry out all the ceremonies in a well-defined and orderly manner.” The athletes were relieved and ready to celebrate after months of preparation and a few weeks of intense pressure and competition. The officials and supporting staff were also likely very relieved that everything was working to plan. So it’s possible that during the closing ceremony, inhibitions as well as the will to police them crumbled.

“We were told we had to stay in line,” US gymnast Rusty Mitchell told me. “That lasted 5 minutes as we all started taking pictures, exchanging pins. It was disorderly and fun.”

From the book,
From the book, “XVIII Olympiad Tokyo 1964”

For whatever reason, the athletes came into the stadium arm in arm with athletes from different countries, whether friendships had been struck up during the two weeks of competition, or right then and there. And there was plenty of horsing around, in ways that ordinarily would not have been permitted in rule-rigid Japan.

The ceremony was invaded by a non-athlete who just jumped into the mix, the mysterious number 351 on his shirt. As AP explained, a citizen from Sierra Leone named Arnold Gordon, jumped on the track as the athletes were marching in. “Normally, a cordon of police would have swooped down and gobbled him up before he had taken more than a dozen steps. Instead, the Japanese officials acted as if he did not exist. The crowd, stunned at first by this interruption of the show, soon accepted it as a big joke, laughed and waved as the volunteer pranced around the 400-meter oval, waving in reply to every cheer. ‘It was a just a gag,’ he said afterward. ‘I did a television commercial in this suit, and decided to pull this stunt for the fun of it.’ Emperor Hirohito, graying, bespectacled and nattily attired in a business suit, showed little emotion during this and the more serious proceedings.”

From the book,
From the book, “XVIII Olympiad Tokyo 1964”

According to Stars and Stripes, “a group of New Zealand athletes made a gallant – if not successful – bid to be the star attraction during the Olympic Games closing ceremonies Saturday night. The Kiwis, before a packed audiences in National Stadium, stopped in front of the Imperial Box and bowed low several times to Emperor Hirohito and Empress Michiko. Then distance runner Bill Baille drew cheers and applause when he threw a kiss at the emperor, Hirohito acknowledged by waving his hat. Baille was completely out of the medal picture. He placed sixth in the 5,000-meter run – and they didn’t strike any medals for the 50-meter kiss throw.”

But then, all good things must come to an end, and Japan bid farewell in the dying light of the dusk, and offered their best wishes to the city that would next host the Olympiad – Mexico City.

As John McBryde, captain of the Australian field hockey team told me, “what really made it special, (the closing ceremony) took place as dusk was approaching. By that time were all strolling in, in a very leisurely fashion, it had become dark. And when the flame was extinguished, it was suddenly gone. There was no light. And then, up popped the sign for Mexico city. Everybody was in tears.”

Sayonara
Sayonara