Individual Men's Road Race
From the book, Tokyo Olympiad 1964_Kyodo News Service

It was the morning of October 8, two days before the start of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. Top Swiss cyclists Hans Lüthi and Heinz Heinemann were on the Koshu Highway in western Tokyo getting some training in when a truck, entering from a side road, hit them.

Lüthi had contusions on his left arm and his chest, waist and thighs, while Heinemann, a veteran of the 1960 Rome Olympics, had contusions on his waist, legs and hands. Doctors at the Jinwakai Hospital in Hachioji, according to The Yomiuri of October 9, 1964, were quoted as saying “Heinemann’s injuries would require one week’s medical treatment and Luthi’s three weeks’ treatment.” The article also said that they “might be unable to participate in the Olympic events.”

As it turned out, the men’s individual road race took place on October 22, two weeks after the accident, and both Lüthi and Heinemann were able to compete. While the records of who was in what place and when they finished in this 194-kilomter race is unclear for this particular event, according to this site, Lüthi appears to have finished in 16th in a field of 107, not far off from legend-to-be Eddy Merckx . Heinemann finished 63rd.

If one believes what one reads in the press at the time, every single Japanese in Tokyo took it upon themselves to be the perfect ambassador to any foreigner they came upon. Thus the truck driver, one Katsu Wada, might have been mortified that he was the one who may have ended the Olympic dreams of these cyclists.

Cyclist Hans Luthi and driver Katsu Wada
Cyclist Hans Luthi and driver Katsu Wada.

As you can see in the above photo, Wada publicly showed his contrition.

But as The Yomiuri article goes on to say, it may have been the Swiss who were in the wrong. According to the Metropolitan Police Department, “the Tokyo Olympic Organizing Committee (TOOC) had approved an advance schedule for practice by Olympic cyclists to enable police to impose restrictions to protect cyclists from vehicles. According to the schedule, Olympic cyclists were to practice on the road race course on eight days, October 2, 4, 5, 6, 12, 14, 19 and 22 under police protection, said the MPD.”

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sleep-deprivation

I wrote recently about cycling coach, Sky Christopherson, and his recommendations for a particular member of the US women’s cycling team to get more deep-sleep in order to improve the performance and recovery of her intensive training regimen. Sensors attached to her body were informing the cycling team that Jenny Reed’s body temperature was not cool enough to reach consistent levels of deep sleep, so they made efforts to ensure a cooler room and mattress in order for her to get the sleep she needed to maximize the return from the next day’s training.

I found that tidbit fascinating. I had been reading fairly consistently over the years of the importance of sleep in the workplace and the impact that sleep deprivation has on performance of employees. Here are some of the insights I gathered from a recent internet search:

  • Sleep experts often liken sleep-deprived people to drunk drivers: They don’t get behind the wheel thinking they’re probably going to kill someone. But as with drunkenness, one of the first things we lose in sleep deprivation is self-awareness. (The Atlantic)
  • One 2014 study of more than 3,000 people in Finland found that the amount of sleep that correlated with the fewest sick days was 7.63 hours a night for women and 7.76 hours for men. (The Atlantic)
  • On an annual basis, the US loses an equivalent of about 1.23 million working days due to insufficient sleep. This is followed by Japan, which loses on average 604 thousand working days per year. The UK and Germany have similar working time lost, with 207 thousand and 209 thousand days, respectively. Canada loses about 78 thousand working days. (Rand)
  • An individual that sleeps on average less than six hours per night has a ten per cent higher mortality risk than someone sleeping between seven and nine hours. An individual sleeping between six to seven hours per day still has a four per cent higher mortality risk. (Rand)
  • When asked what factors are keeping us awake at night, the need to use the bathroom (55%), an old, uncomfortable bed (46%) and partner snoring (42%) emerged top. Meanwhile, 23% claimed they were being kept awake by the partner using a mobile phone or tablet in the bedroom.  (Huffington Post)

There is far less research done on the impact of sleep deprivation on athletes, but the emerging consensus is sleep “can have significant effects on athletic performance”, according to the paper “Sleep in Elite Athletes and Nutritional Interventions to Enhance Sleep“.

Sleep deprivation can impact how effectively your body metabolizes fat, as well as your neuroendocrine system, which impacts how much human growth hormone (HGH) gets released. Because HGH is important to how fresh and ready you are to take on physical and cognitive tasks during waking hours, and to how fast you recover from exercise, experts are preaching more and more how important it is for athletes (particularly young athletes) to get more sleep, especially more quality sleep. Why fiddle with illegal injections of HGH? You can get HGH naturally by simply hitting the hay.

sleep-patterns
Examples of my sleep patterns, taken from my Fitbit on two different days.

While the research on the correlation between sleep and sports performance is still light, the paper cited above provides some of the early findings:

 

  • Improved Physical Performance: Increased sleep has been shown to increase the performance of basketball players in their sprint speed and free-throw performance over a two-week period. Additionally, increased sleep led to better moods, and thus “increased vigour”. The same researchers found similar results with swimmers with improved sprint times, turn times and mood improvement. Napping for 30 minutes also has an impact, with post-nap sprint speeds increasing.
  • Improved Cognitive Performance: Increased sleep has shown to have an impact on attention spans, ability to concentrate, memory, and other high-level cognitive functions. This is particularly relevant to the ability to perform in team sports. If you’re feeling drunk from lack of sleep, you won’t be able to see the field of play as fully as you like, or anticipate the consequences of newly adjusted offensive or defensive alignments, or recall the rules well enough to make the split-second decisions required in the heat of play.
  • Diminished Levels of Pain: Athletes have all sorts of aches and pains from the beating their bodies take from competition and training. According to the research, sleep deprivation can “cause or modulate acute and chronic pain”. In other words, you can encourage a vicious cycle of pain, which causes you to lose sleep, which enhances the pain, which makes leads to continued loss of sleep. And as stated before, loss of sleep results in disruption to the release of HGH.

In other words, whether you are fighting it out in the corporate jungle or on the playing field, sleep, particularly deep sleep, may be your biggest competitive advantage in today’s always-on lifestyle. Sleep, perchance to dream….of greatness.

personal-gold-2

Four women, Dotsie Bausch, Sarah Hammer, Jennie Reed and Lauren Tamayo, did something no American women had done in 20 years – win a medal in track cycling at the Olympics.

Their incredible story of training and triumph are told impactfully in the documentary, Personal Gold. You can find a summary of their story at this link here. This post is about the amazing transformation sports performance sciences is undergoing, and how biometric data is making an impact on the training and performance of athletes today.

With incredibly little resources available to them, Reed called her former USA Cycling teammate, Sky Christopherson, who was well on the way of making a marked transition from athlete to entrepreneur. Christopherson had become convinced that digital medicine would become a vital tool for high performance athletes. Understanding how to uncover insight from big data is hugely important in marketing, financial services, economics, and is now a big part of health and human performance sciences.

Due to the relatively low support of the women’s cycling track team by USA Cycling, Christopherson recruited volunteers to help him gather individualized biological and genetic data on each of the four cyclists, data that was being generated by sensors attached to the athletes bodies 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and then to analyze it.

According to Christopherson, who was also the producer of the documentary, Personal Gold, the amount of information available to them was overwhelming, not only for Sky and his team, but for his computers, which in the early days crashed in trying to cope with the number crunching.

But once Christopherson recruited a big data analysis firm to volunteer their time and expertise, they began to take note of insight they could use. And all the data told them that each cyclist had unique characteristics and individual needs, and thus training them all the same way could at times be detrimental to the individual’s performance and growth. Here are a few examples pointed out by Christopherson at a recent speaking engagement in Tokyo, sponsored by the US Embassy:

  • In Hammer’s case, blood tests showed she had Vitamin D deficiencies, made worse by training indoors most of the time. Having normal levels of Vitamin D is key to getting the most out of one’s training, so Hammer was working harder than she needed to due to her deficiency.
  • Bausch, whose experience was greater as a distance cyclist and was struggling at sprinting speeds, was found to have what is known as the “sprinter’s gene”, which according to this Wired article, boosted her confidence.
  • Sensors noted that Reed was not getting enough deep sleep. More and more research is revealing the importance of deep sleep. In the case of athletes, the longer and deeper you sleep, the more HGH (human growth hormones) like cortisol or testosterone, is released naturally into their systems. These hormones are essential to faster recovery, and thus the ability to train longer at peak performance.

The data can also tell an athlete when an athlete can train hard, when the body is ready for it, or when to rest. This is key because as Christopherson advised, this knowledge can prevent injuries from occurring.

personal-gold-screenshot
Trailer screenshot

I asked Christopherson if this was a case of “Moneyball“, where the women’s team had access to insight that other teams didn’t have, using that information arbitrage to their advantage unbeknownst to the heavily-resourced cycling giants.

“We were grassroots and so we were very nimble and could innovate and change very quickly,” Christopherson told me. Being a small, low-budget operation forced them to be innovative, using whatever resources were available to them in the world. In fact, he felt that the well-financed teams, whose funds came from sponsors, often limited their flexibility. While teams are obligated to using the products of sponsors, the American team had no such limitations, and Christopher told the audience that they had the flexibility to change sensors and equipment as they saw fit.

The proverb, “necessity is the mother of invention”, was never truer.

Michael Phelps
The incredible Michael Phelps

Gymnast Oksana Chusovitina, representing Uzbekistan, competed in her seventh Olympics in Rio at the age of 41.

American cyclist, Kristin Armstrong, won a gold medal in the individual road time trial in Rio, the third consecutive Olympics she has done so, at the age of 42.

Equestrian Phillip Dutton won a bronze medal in individual eventing for America at the age of 52.

Relative to Chusovitina, Armstrong and Dutton, swimmer Michael Phelps is a spring chicken. But at the age of 31, Phelps’ phenomenal Olympic career, particularly based on his results in Rio, is most definitely an outlier vis-a-vis his rivals and rival-wannabes. According to The Washington Post, “over the past 10 Summer Games, the oldest athlete to swim in the finals for the same events in which Phelps is scheduled to compete has been 29 years old, with the average age just under 22 years old. And, not surprisingly, times get slower as an athlete ages.” (Yes, Anthony Ervin winning gold in the 50-meter freestyle at the age of 35 is an even greater outlier.)

Michael Phelp's Aging Curve Compared_Washington Post

Role models are so important to aspiring athletes. And it’s not just adolescents and teenagers whose passions are ignited by their heroes. It’s Gen X. It’s even the Baby Boomers. They see Chusovitina and Phelps as trailblazers for those of us in our 30s, 40s and 50s, whose daily lives are filled with marketing meetings, children’s soccer matches, evening social gatherings, and attempts to overcome sleep deprivation on the weekends.

More and more commonly, men and women past their “prime” are making the time and taking the challenge to up their game in high performance athletics. The “Olympics” for athletes of age groups from 35 to over the century mark is the World Masters Games. The number of participants since 1985 has grown from over 8,000 to close to 30,000 in 2009, which was more than twice the number of athletes who took part in the Sydney Olympic Games in 2000.

Oksana Chusovitina in Rio

As the nations of the industrialized world see their populace age rapidly, the people with the most money and influence are the aged demographics. Clearly, their interest in staying healthy and happy grows as they collectively age. As the human body’s production of hormones that enhance the benefits of physical exertion diminish from the age or 35, we can feel very clearly our strength diminishing over time. But considerable research and thought is going into how to increase flexibility, strength and staying power the older you get.

And the research tells us that exercise, low intensity or high, done on a consistent basis, will yield positive results for practically everybody. But the fact of the matter is, our busy lives demotivate so many of us from making that daily effort. This personal coach explains that making the effort is just a matter of making a decision.

The hard part about this for maturing athletes is that job and family responsibilities may make getting to bed early difficult. You need to make a choice as to the type of life you want to lead. If you’ve made the decision that you want to live a healthy, fit life, then going to bed early is part of it. That will likely mean the end of midweek social events, skipping TV after dinner, and strict adherence to stopping work after 8:00pm.

But to get to competitive levels of athletic performance, no matter your age, you need to dream. Photojournalist, Susana Girón, has followed these silver athletes taking their pictures, and concluded that age is not an issue if you have that burning passion for excellence

Sport in the elderly is not simply an issue of health. It is said that once you become older, you stop dreaming and become less passionate about things. The bodies of these athletes might dwindle with each year, but the passion with which they live and face the events remains stronger than ever, especially as they become aware that every championship might be their last. Living with passion means to remain forever young.

Phillip Dutton in Rio
Phillip Dutton

Cycling Olympic games-1964-Tokyo
Part of the road cycling route on the Hachioji Highway.

In 1964, there were 20 new countries participating in the Tokyo Olympic Games. Malaysia was participating for the first time, a newly formed federation that included Singapore, Sarawak and North Borneo.

If there is one thing you need to know about Malaysia, it is a part of Southeast Asia, which means temperatures are high. As they say in that area, there are three seasons: Hot, Hotter and Hottest. October in Malaysia is probably in the season “hotter”, with temperatures routinely around 27-30 degrees centigrade (80 to 86 degrees Fahrenheit).

Unfortunately, on the day of the 190 kilometer road race in the Western part of Tokyo, it was rainy and cold.

The new Malaysian Olympic squad had 9 cyclists, including Hamid Supa’at of Singapore, a long-distance road racer. Hamid found the conditions very difficult. “My cheeks were red. My hands were very cold. And I could see smoke coming out of mouth,” he told me. “My coach told me to stack newspapers under my shirt to keep me warm. I had never raced in that weather before. It was always hot, hot, hot for me.”

Jpeg
Hamid Supa’at, third from the right, with his teammates at the Cycling Village in Hachioji, not far from Mt Takao_from the collection of Hamid Supaat

Hamid was a spry 19-year old, someone who had raced long-distance road races many times. In fact, he had participated months before in the Tour of Malaysia, winning two stages and two time trials. But nothing prepared him for the cold. And the lack of experience didn’t help either.

Hamid Supaat 5The Europeans were all up front, and most of the Asians were in the back. The roads were wet, so it was very slippery. In the first few kilometers, we were all in one big bundle as we entered the first climb, where the road was very narrow. A few cyclists crashed, so those in front sprang ahead, while the rest got stuck.

Hamid was fortunate that he did not fall, but he had to do quite a bit of waiting before he could pick up any speed behind the crowd. He said he remembered everyone talking in many different languages how they were stuck and couldn’t do anything. In the end, the cold, wet weather took its toll on about 25 of the 132 cyclists who failed to complete the 190-kilometer course. Hamid told me he lasted only about half the race before he bowed out.

But he said it was a great experience as he had a clear view on how the Europeans, the best in the business, ran their race: what gears they used in the climbs, how they took turns, what kind of bicycles they rode. “The Europeans were all very tall and strong,” said Hamid. “If we were motorcycles, they were 1,000cc machines, and we were 500cc.”

Hamid had similar feelings about being in Japan. As the bus took the Malaysian team from

Individual Men's Road Race_Merckx
Eddie Merckx in the blue shirt and Belgium tri-colors (at least I believe it is). From the book, Tokyo Olympiad 1964_Kyodo News Service

Eddy Merckx is called the greatest cyclist of all time. As listed by Sports-Reference.com, he had won or had tied for the most championships in “the Tour de France (5), Giro d’Italia (5), World Championship road race (3), Milano-Sanremo (7), Gent-Wevelgem (3), La Flèche Wallonne (3), and Liège-Bastogne-Liège (5), and in that list, only Merckx’s five Tour de France wins has been surpassed, intially by Lance Armstrong, with seven, prior to his doping disqualifications.”

In 1964, this cyclist from Belgium in 1964 headed into the Tokyo Olympics as a favorite to win the gold as he had won the Amateur World Championships in Sallanches, France. Merckx was called the “Cannibal”, for his ferocious competiveness, and his attacking, devouring style towards the end of a race. And at Sallanches, he showed early evidence of this aggressiveness according to author, William Fortheringham in his book, “Merckx: Half Man Half Bike“.

He fell on the quarter after a few kilometers of chasing. He had barely given himself time to breathe before he attacked again…one by one his erstwhile companions fell back. Accelerating again to the final climb of the road that climbed to Val d’Assy, Merckx forged a lead of a hundred meters in spite of the courage Luciano Armani showed in hanging on to his back wheel. It was enough of a lead to earn him the world title by a clear margin. He was the youngest world amateur champion to that date: nineteen years old.

From there, it was on to Tokyo with dreams of gold.

Individual Men's Road Race
From the book, Tokyo Olympiad 1964_Kyodo News Service

The Men’s Individual Road Race in Tokyo took place in a twisting winding 194 kilometer-race, that was essentially 8 laps of a 25 kilometer course. This course took the 132 cyclists on a tour of Hachioji, a suburban town on the outskirts of Western Tokyo. According to an AP report, “the route took the competitors past the Tama Mausoleum of Emperor Taisho and Empress Teimei eastward on the Koshu Highway and through Hachioji City. The riders then pedaled toward the town of Hino and across the Tama River. They then sprinted on a three-kilometer flat stretch between the towns of Tachikawa and Akishima. From this point on, the road starts climbing on the Tama Mountain range, and winding then through a scenic rural area and returning to the starting point past the town of Tobuki.”

 

Roger Swerts and Eddy Merckx Olympic Village.gif
A quiet evening dinner in the Olympic village in Tokyo with two members of the Belgian AMATEUR cycling team: ROGER SWERTS and EDDY MERCKX.

Despite being a heavy favorite to win gold due to his recent Amateur World’s title, Tokyo was an early blip on Merckx’s legendary career. He finished twelfth in the men’s individual road race. As explained by Fortheringham, his cannabilistic tendency was not so apparent. And the author claims that Merckx was not yet so entitled that the three other members of the Belgian cycling team would naturally support him, and that perhaps a failed attempt to monetarily persuade led to his mediocre results:

Merckz achieved his dream of racing at the Tokyo Olympics later that year, but while the ambition to ride the event had driven him since his early teens, the race itself was anything but a defining occasion. As the amateur world champion, he was no longer just another rider. He was heavily marked by the entire field as he attempted to split the race apart – not the last time he was to find this happening. He suffered from cramp. He rode a less restrained race than in Sallanches, and was chased down by Gimondi when he made his move three kilometers from the finish. Fate had stepped in. the night before, his wallet had been stolen from his room in the Olympic village; in it were the 12,000 Belgian Francs he had brought to pay his teammates. That was the best way to be absolutely certain that they would help him to win. Instead the Belgian team rode for themselves: the gold medal went to an Italian, Mario Zanin, with Godefroot winning the bronze medal and Merckz tweflth. His meteoric amateur career was all but over. Merckx turned professional on 24 April 1965 for the Solo-Superia team led by Rik Van Looy.

The Hachioji Velodrome in 1964, from the book
The Hachioji Velodrome in 1964, from the book “THE GAMES OF THE XVIII OLYMPIAD TOKYO 1964 – The Official Report of the Organizing Committee”

The Velodrome was in Hachioji, a suburban town in Tokyo where the cycling events were held in the 1964 Summer Games. About 43 kilometers from the Olympic Village, or about 70 minutes of travelling time in 1964 traffic, the Hachioji Velodrome was made of cement mortar, which was considered suitable for all kinds of weather….since the velodrome was outside…and it rained a lot. As it turns out, on October 19, the cycling events at the Velodrome were postponed because of rain.

As described in this blog post, the Hachioji Velodrome is long gone, a deserted baseball park in its place. Hachioji did make a bid to bring cycling back to its neck of the woods, but it was not to be. Earlier this month, the IOC finally settled on Izu as being the location of the 2020 Olympic cycling events.

The IOC and the Tokyo Olympic Organizing Committee have been trying to figure out a low-cost way to keep cycling events in the downtown Tokyo vicinity. The hope was to have cyclists race by the Tokyo Bay waterfront. But the cost of customizing temporary infrastructure in prime property was thought to be prohibitive, particularly in a time when the IOC is working closely with National Olympic committees to make the Olympics less of an economic burden on city governments and taxpayers.

The Izu Velodrome
The Izu Velodrome

Thus the decision to move the cycling events, which include track cycling, mountain biking and BMX, two hours away to Izu. Famous more for its hot spring resorts, Izu is also the location of an existing modern cycling velodrome. There will need to be additions made to seating capacity, but that cost will be covered by local cycling associations.

It isn’t so unusual to have events away from the Olympic Stadium. In 2020. the sailing events will take place in Enoshima, basketball in Saitama, fencing, taekwando and wrestling in Chiba. Which is fine. Let’s spread the Games around. It is just as much Japan’s Games as it is Tokyo’s.