There is only one legacy of the Olympics, of every Olympics, that really matters – the impact on the aspirations of children. On Wednesday, July 24, 2019, the organizers of the Tokyo2020 Games celebrated the One-Year-To-Go mark with a day of fun and games for the kids. With school out, parents took their kids to the Tokyo International Forum at the outskirts of the Ginza district, and future venue for weightlifting during the summer games next year.

 

 

As the Japanese word for five is “go”, and there are a total of 55 Olympic and Paralympic events, the organizers dubbed this event “Let’s 55!” And indeed kids of all ages had activities galore for a fun-filled “go-go” day.

 

 

Both inside and outside the International Forum, there simulations and games for: fencing, basketball, field hockey, cycling, karate, archery, volleyball, weightlifting, golf, baseball….you name it. And to make sure they tried everything, they were given a sheet with all of the activities to get stamped after an activity, and to receive other gifts.

 

T2020_1YTG_Miki Ando
Olympic figure skater Miki Ando.

 

Amidst the fun and games, the officials were proud and optimistic about prospects for the Games a year hence.

“Preparations are making excellent progress, thanks to the amazing work of the Organising Committee and with outstanding cooperation and support from the government and the business community, said Thomas Bach, the president of the IOC. “There is so much to look forward to. I have never seen an Olympic city as prepared as Tokyo with one year to go before the Olympic Games.”

 

T2020_1YTG_photo with Kanae Yamabe
Getting your picture taken with 2016 Rio Olympic judoka bronze medalist, Kanae Yamabe.

 

And with a nod to the youth, Tokyo 2020 President Yoshiro Mori said:

I believe the Tokyo 2020 Games will become an important part of Olympic history and a talking point for future generations. This–the second time that Tokyo will host the Olympic and Paralympic Games–will be an occasion where the world is united as one regardless of nationality, race, culture or religion. I fervently hope younger generations will learn to respect, understand and accept each other as a result of these Games and play a central role in realising an inclusive society in the future.

 

T2020_1YTG_weightlifting 1

 

Advertisements
Musashino Forest Sports Plaza 1
Musashino Forest Sports Plaza on the left, and Ajinomoto Stadium on the right

It was a cold and desolate Sunday when I walked around the grounds of the new Musashino Forest Sports Plaza. Located a short walk away from Tobitakyu Station on the Keio Line, the Musashino Forest Sports Plaza is right next to Ajinomoto Stadium, the home of the J-League Division 1 soccer team, F. C. Tokyo.

Musashino Forest Sports Plaza google maps

There were no events scheduled at either the Sports Plaza of Ajinomoto Stadium on the January afternoon I visited, but come July 2020, this quiet area of Chofu, very near the American School in Japan where my son went to high school, will be filled with thousands of noisy fans. The Musashino Forest Sports Plaza opened on November 27, 2017, the first of eight new permanent Tokyo 2020 venues to be completed. The Plaza will host badminton and pentathlon fencing in the 2020 Olympics, as well as wheelchair basketball during the 2020 Paralympics.

Musashino Forest Sports Plaza 3
View of the Main Arena on the left background, the sub-arena with its pool and gym on the right background, with a track and field in the foreground.

According to this article, the Musashino Forest Sports Plaza is built to serve the community long after the Olympics end. The facilities include a swimming pool, a gym, a multi-use sports area and two fitness studios which are available to the public. The roof of the facilities are made up of solar panels, to help provide a more sustainable energy source.

Musashino Forest Sports Plaza 2
Main Arena and its solar panel roof

And in line with Tokyo2020 Accessibility Guidelines, “the facility designed to be accessible to all, including the elderly, people with impairments, parents with infant strollers and those with guide dogs. The main arena has space for wheelchairs, and the space is designed with enough height difference between the rows of seating to ensure that those in wheelchairs can see clearly, even if spectators in front of them stand up.”

Ajinomoto Stadium will also host matches in the soccer competition during Tokyo 2020, and will be called Tokyo Stadium during the Olympics in accordance with its non-commercialization policy.

Musashino Forest Sports Plaza 4

Roys Star Wars memorabilia

I admit it.

I was a very geeky Star Wars fan. On May 25, 1977, 40 years ago today, I cut school with a couple of other junior high school buddies to see the highly anticipated opening of George Lucas‘ magnus opus at the Astor Plaza Theater in Manhattan.

I own original Star Wars posters, buttons, trading cards and various promotional items from that period. I even created a quiz that tested the Star Wars acumen of my friends, to very nerdy depths.

One thing I didn’t know at the time was that the iconic baddie in black, Darth Vader, was represented by more than two people. We all knew that David Prowse was the body inside, and that James Earl Jones intoned Vader’s menace with his breathy baritone. But we didn’t know that the swordbuckling Vader was animated by a 1952 Helsinki Olympian from England named Bob Anderson.

Anderson of Alverstoke, Hampshire served in World War II with the Royal Marines, where, according to The Independent, he learned how to fence. After the war, Anderson found success in competition, succeeding in the 1950 British Empire Games before joining TeamGB at the World Championships and the Helsinki Games. While his team finished fifth, Anderson went on to coach Great Britain’s fencing teams for the next five Olympics. His teams took silver at both the 1960 Rome Olympics and 1964 Tokyo Olympics.

Along the way, Anderson became the go-to guy for swordbuckling fill-ins and fencing choreography in film. He worked with Errol Flynn in The Master of Ballantrae, Johnny Depp and Orlando Bloom in Pirates of the Caribbean, and Antonio Banderas, Anthony Hopkins and Catherine Zeta-Jones in the Zorro films.

Mark Hamill with Olympian and Darth Vader stand in Bob Anderson
Mark Hamill with Olympian and Darth Vader stand-in Bob Anderson

He was also brought in to choreograph the lightsaber fight between Obi-wan Kenobi and Darth Vader in Star Wars. When Lucas began work for the sequel, The Empire Strikes Back, it was likely determined that Prowse could not execute the lightsaber duels to the precision desired. That’s when Anderson the choreographer became Anderson the dark lord. It is Anderson who duels with Mark Hamill in The Empire Strikes Back, and it is Anderson’s Vader who cuts Luke Skywalker’s right hand off.

Anderson went on to reprise Vader’s lightsaber scenes in The Return of the Jedi. At the time, however, Anderson’s screen presence was never officially acknowledged. Upon the release of The Return of the Jedi, which I also saw on opening day, May 25, 1983, Hamill felt he needed to let the world know the truth about his on-screen dad in an interview with Starlog Magazine. “Bob Anderson was the man who actually did Vader’s fighting. It was always supposed to be a secret, but I finally told (director) George (Lucas) I didn’t think it was fair any more. Bob worked so bloody hard that he deserves some recognition. It’s ridiculous to preserve the myth that it’s all done by one man.”

I didn’t know this until recently. I will have to add this to my quiz.

Bob Anderson and Mark Hamill training for ROTJ
Bob Anderson training with Mark Hamill in Return of the Jedi
Imre Park on the medals podium
Gold medalist South Korea’s Park Sangyoung (C), silver medalist Hungary’s Geza Imre (L) and bronze medalist France’s Gautheir Grumier attend the awarding ceremony of men’s epee individual of fencing at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on Aug. 9, 2016. / CHINA OUT

He was so close! Up by 4 at match point in an épée finals, victory was imminent.

The Hungarian, Géza Imre, was competing in his fifth Olympic Games, since his debut at the 1996 Atlanta Games, where he won bronze in the men’s individual épée. He tasted near glory by taking silver with his compatriots in the men’s epee team event.

And yet, there he was, the defending world champion, at the age of 41, seconds away from grasping gold at match point, up 14-10 on the Park Sang-young, the 20-year-old South Korean, ranked 21st in the world.

The drama was compelling even for me, a person who can’t tell the difference between an epee, a foil and a sabre. But my journalist’s eye saw that this was a compelling contest of righty vs lefty, East vs West, promising youth vs grizzled veteran.

Except for South Koreans, most spectators likely felt Imre was a split second from winning his elusive gold medal. Down 14-10, Park took it one step at a time. Countering a lunge, Park strikes, and makes it 14-11. “There’s one back,” said the announcer. Park goes low, and sneaks his epee in to hit Irme’s left hip. 14-12. “Park’s closed the gap.”

The crowd is beginning to think that Park has the slightest of chances. Imre lunges, aiming midriff, but is blocked by Park, who counters to get to 14-13. “There’s another one for Park!” shouts the announcer. “This is an amazing final now!”

Rio Olympics Fencing Men
Park Sangyoung of South Korea celebrates with his national flag after defeating Geze Imra of Hungary to win gold in a men’s individual epee final at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Tuesday, Aug. 9, 2016. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)

Balancing caution and aggression, Park hops his way to Imre and then suddenly withdraws getting into a deep crouch, nearly losing his balance and falling backwards. The announcers are saying of Imre, “all he needs is a double. A double will do it,” at the very point Park strikes. Suddenly, it’s 14-14, and in épée, you don’t need to win by two. Gold goes to the winner of the next point.

“Géza Imre at the age of 41,” shouts the announcer, “was miles ahead, and then decided ‘I want to finish in a flourish. I want to finish with an attack.’ And Park has earned the right to be contested – a one-hit gold medal final!”

When play resumed, Park attacked. With his lunge, he stabbed the left side of Imre’s helmet convincingly, his helmet flashing green, his blade bending beautifully and fleetingly in a 180 degree arc.

“It’s Park! The 20 year old from Korea has done it. He’s won Korea’s first ever épée.”

Youth exploded. He flipped his helmet. He roared. He swung his épée in wild glee. He raced to his coach and slammed into him in an exuberant hug. “Unbelievable”, the announcer said, stressing each syllable. “That young man is a massive, massive talent!”

Perhaps it was Park’s youth that kept him in the hunt for gold. A promising fencer, a knee injury kept Park out of competition for much of 2015, which is why his ranking was so low when he got to Rio. But Park was not dwelling on the past. As he said in this article, he was in the moment.

“I was not even thinking about trying to win a gold medal. Since this is the festival for everyone, I wanted to enjoy myself. When will I ever compete at an Olympics again? I did not want to have any regrets, and I think it showed.”

Imre outpointed by Park in epee finals
Park scores the decisive 15th point.

Helene Mayer's Salute at 1936 Berlin Games
Helene Mayer’s Heil Hitler Salute at the 1936 Games
This is not a Hollywood script.

An Olympic fencer, gold medalist at the 1928 Amsterdam Games and six-time national champion in Germany, Helene Mayer was a golden girl and likely eager to participate in her country’s Olympics in 1936.

While studying international law in the US in the early 1930s, she got surprising news. Her membership in a major fencing organization, The Offenback Fencing Club, was rescinded. The reason? Her Jewish heritage.

Mayer was surprised to learn that her father was Jewish. And apparently, she denied that fact. As explained in the fun-fact-filled book, The Book of Olympic Lists by David Wallechinsky and Jamie Loucky:

She was the perfect embodiment of the Nazis’ conception of Aryan womanhood, except for one detail – her father, a doctor who had died before the Los Angeles Olympics (in 1932), was Jewish. Mayer did not think of herself as Jewish, particularly after her father’s death.

Naturally, the German authorities were not going to invite Mayer to the Berlin Games three years later. The Hitler regime intended to allow not a single Jewish athlete to compete. But the German authorities were also desirous of pulling off a public relations coup by hosting the Olympics, showing the world that Germany was a nation of superior standing, representing world peace and inclusion. Under pressure, they decided to ask two Jewish athletes to compete on the German national team – a high jumper, as well as a fencer – Helene Mayer.

While she received pressure from Jewish groups in the US to not go to the Olympics, Meyer was overjoyed to return to Germany for the Berlin Olympics. She was open for her love for her home country.

Helene Mayer portrait

And while she did not win the women’s individual foil championship for Germany, she placed second, good enough for silver and a spot on the medal stand. Quite amazingly, when the Hungarian national anthem was being played for gold medalist Ilona Elek, Mayer, one of only two Jewish athletes added to the team, reluctantly by the German authorities, held out her right arm in a Heil Hitler salute. As is described in this article, the image is striking: “Her face is determined. Her posture is perfect. Her arm points strong and fierce. She leaves no doubt as to what she is doing.”

What was Ilona Elek, whose father was Jewish, thinking when she saw Meyer to her left show her definitive support for the Arayan Race. What was Meyer feeling, as she stood in

Ibitihaj Muhammad
Ibitihaj Muhammad

Ibitihaj Muhammad was invited to speak at South by Southwest (SXSW), the popular culture, media, technology conference in Austin, Texas. When she arrived to check into the conference, she was asked to remove her hijab so that a photo ID could be taken.

During the panel discussion entitled, “The New Church: Sport as Currency of American Life”, Muhammad said “I had a crappy experience checking in. Someone asked me to remove my hijab isn’t out of the norm for me. Do I hope it changes soon? Yes, every day.”

Muhammad is the first Muslim woman to join Team USA and represent America in the Olympics. She is a sabre fencer who got into fencing when she noticed as a young teenager that fencers have to cover their entire body from head to toe. In other words, she can wear her hijab and compete without any concern for what people will think or feel.

But fencing may be one of those uncommon sports where one can wear something on your head without a rule being invoked or disapproving stares cast your way.

In August 2014, officials of the International Basketball Federation (FIBA) at an international basketball tournament in China insisted that two Sikh players representing the India team play without their turbans. Why? Because FIBA rules state that “Players shall not wear equipment (objects) that may cause injury to other players”, which apparently includes hijabs, turbans and yarmulkes.

Despite the fact that the opposing players in that game did not mind that the Indian players wore turbans, and that the coach of the Indian team, Scott Flemming had apparently already attained approval from FIBA for his players to wear turbans, FIBA officials at the game still decided that the rules were the rules.

I know that US bureaucracy has a few rules for headshots for passports and driving licenses, and I know they don’t allow you to wear anything on your head. But as it turns out, the US government realizes that while rules are rules, you do need to be flexible in maintaining other rules (e.g.: the first amendment of the US constitution). The US State Department clearly states that there is an exception for headgear used “for religious purposes” are allowed, as long as the face is fully visible.

US Passport Photo Rules Headgear
US State Department passport photo rules

Hijabs, turbans and yarmulkes in various sports like basketball and soccer have not proven to be a safety risk, any more than any other piece of clothing worn during a competition. And yet, the fact that Muhammad is in the news because she is wearing a hijab in addition to the fact that she is a gifted athlete, and that I am writing this blog post indicates that the hijab and the turban are less about safety and more about a conflict of values.

There is power in being the first. It would be wonderful for Muhammad to do well at the Rio Olympics, to show a whole generation of Muslim women in America (and perhaps in other countries) that values and attitudes can change, and that new possibilities for them are opening up.

Moon Tae Jong of South Korea (L) passes
Moon Tae Jong of South Korea (L) passes a ball as Amjyot Singh of India (R) defends during their preliminary round match between South Korea and India at the 26th Asian Basketball Championships in Wuhan in China’s central Hubei province on September 17, 2011. South Korea won 84-53. AFP PHOTO / LIU JIN (Photo credit should read LIU JIN/AFP/Getty Images)

ujlaky-Rejto IldikoShe is one of the greatest fencers of all time, winning two gold medals at the 1964 Tokyo Summer Games on a strong Hungarian squad, one in individual foil, and another in team foil, four years after winning a team silver medal in Rome. She went on win silver and bronze medals in Mexico City, Munich and Montreal, for a total of seven medals over five Olympic Games.

And Ujlaky-Rejto Ildiko was deaf.

And just as true in Budapest as it is anywhere else in the world, a child with differences – in this case, ear pieces, reading lips and general inability to react to the sounds of the world around her – gets mocked and mired in low self-esteem.

While it is hard to find verbatim comments in English by Ildiko, there is this quote from a deaf fencer named Jennifer Gibson, who explains the challenge. “Being the only one at school who wore hearing aids was not easy and in fact, it was extremely difficult. It was the same with sports, I was the only kid who wore hearing aids on the teams I’ve played on. At the time, in the 70‘s and 80‘s, most teachers and coaches were ill prepared to deal with someone like me. They lacked the proper training and understanding on how to teach to people with a disability, particularly hearing loss. It was essentially a whole new ball game for all of us. From a very young age, I’ve had to be very forward about my hearing loss and inform the teachers or coaches that I couldn’t hear them, particularly in large or noisy environments. Very few of them took the initiative to find alternative means of communicating with me such as using a clipboard or talking to me one on one.”

ildiko at tokyo games
Ildiko, left, competing at the 1964 Olympic Games

Ildiko likely had similar experiences to Gibson, except decades earlier. She picked up fencing at 15. She worked with coaches who instructed her by giving feedback and direction on paper. But there is no getting around the fact that hearing the clash of blades is key feedback to the fencer. Again, here is Gibson explaining the challenge for deaf fencers: “One issue is that some fencing calls rely on hearing the blades come in contact with each other which means I am unable to do that. Bear in mind that it’s also very difficult to see the fencers faces due to the tight metal weave of the mask. When they try to talk to me while wearing the mask, I actually hear very little.”

But as we see from time to time, those with the will to overcome challenges often find a way to slingshot to phenomenal accomplishment.

women's hungarian foil team 1964_Ildiko 2nd left
Ildiko with the Hungarian women’s foil team (2nd from left)