It’s days before the start of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics and Olympic fever in Tokyo is rising. Athletes from all over the world were arriving days if not weeks in advance, filing off of planes and ships and filling the Olympic villages in Yoyogi, Enoshima and Lake Sagami.
For most Japanese, the Olympic villages were pop-up mini United Nations, places of such diversity to shock the mono-culture of Japan. They were drawn to the villages with the hopes of seeing the wide variety of shapes, colors and sizes of the world population, to shake hands with the foreigners, take pictures with them, and of course, get their autographs.
Certainly, to get the autograph of swimming siren Kiki Caron from France, or the amazing barefoot runner from Ethiopia Abebe Bikila, or the 218 cm giant center on the USSR basketball team, Janis Krumins would be a coup. But apparently, the Japanese would rush up to anyone who looked like a foreigner and ask for their autograph.
Hayes Jones was not just anyone – he was the 110-meter hurdles gold medalist. But when he wrote down his name “Hayes,” he would cause a ruckus beyond his expectation:
When I was going into town after the winning the gold in Tokyo, I was leaving the village to see my wife, and these Japanese kids were outside with the autograph pads and they saw me call me out, and this kid put my pen and paper in front of me. I started signing my sign, “Hayes”. …they started shouting “Bob Hayes” is here. I didn’t have the nerve to write “Hayes Jones”.
The “fanaticism” of the Japanese to get autographs was apparently wearing thin on athletes and officials alike, even before the Olympics opened, so much so that the press had words of caution for their readers. As you can read in the Yomiuri article of October 5, 1964 below, athletes were “outraged,” at risk of “writer’s cramp”! To be honest, it’s hard to tell whether the article was preaching, or teasing….
Some athletes have become so outraged that whenever they see these “fanatics” they raise their voices, yelling them to go away.
The great majority of the determined pack of autograph hounds consist of people assigned to the village. These are mostly defense force servicemen, interpreters and assorted workers who often show utter disregard for the time, place or mood of athletes in asking for autographs.
If this trend remains unchecked, many athletes will end up having writer’s cramp before they leave for home.
You’re at the White House, enjoying Breast of Chicken Georgina, Rice Pilaf and Eggplant Provençale. You’re seated at the table with Lynda Johnson, the daughter of the most powerful man in America at the time. But you’re also chatting at your table with some of the greatest athletes of 1964.
This is where Dick Lyon, bronze medalist in the coxless fours, found himself on Tuesday, December 1, 1964, at a fete for the US Olympic Team medalists who competed at the Tokyo Olympiad several weeks earlier, hosted by President Lyndon B. Johnson.
“We didn’t shake hands with President Johnson,” Lyon, a rower from California, told me. “He was probably meeting with General Westmoreland, or someone. It was a busy time for them. But we got to shake hands with the vice president, Hubert Humphrey.”
In addition to the president’s daughter and a staff member of the White House, those seated at Lyon’s table were some of the most celebrated athletes of the Olympics: 10,000 meters gold medalist Billy Mills, fastest man-in-the-world gold medalist Bob Hayes, 110-meter hurdles champion Hayes Jones, double-gold medalist swimmer Donna deVarona, as well silver and bronze medalists in the modern pentathlon, yachting, and shooting.
Lyon shared with me a picture of the actual menu, which he passed around the table for their signatures. Here are the names of those at Lyon’s table, just in case you aren’t experts in graphology.
Hayes Jones was in Japan for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. He had been to Japan before, but he had not quite mastered the local language. According to Sports Illustrated, he was getting food in one of the dining areas of the Olympic Village, and said to the Japanese working behind the counter one of the few words he had mastered.
Why Jones, the winner of the gold medal in the 110-meter hurdles at those ’64 Games, was saying “yes” in order to get served, is unclear. But since he wasn’t getting served, he doubled down.
As SI told it, “the Japanese responded immediately to this new American game. He laughed and said, ‘Hat! Hai!’ The two stood there shouting hais at each other over the counter until Jones finally said, ‘Hey, man, come on. Give me some salad!’ Instantly he was provided with enough lettuce and tomatoes for 10 men, which occasioned another round of hais, a few bows and a perplexed look on the part of the American.”
There is no dishonesty in saying that in Japan in 1964 the number of people who could speak English was relatively low. Organizers knew that in 1963, in the aftermath of the so-called “pre-Olympics”, a week-long rehearsal in preparation of the real Olympiad to be held exactly a year later. The feedback regarding the interpreters available was harsh.
Apparently, the organizers of the officially named Tokyo International Sports Week (TISW) had recruited interpreters from local universities and overestimated their abilities. The fact that the organizers provided the students with little training also contributed to the lack of readiness. This was particularly true regarding the students understanding of specialized sports jargon. Another issue was that the organizers limited their search to students who spoke either English or French, when in fact the athletes at Sports Week needed to be understood in Russian, German, French, Spanish or Italian for example.
As a result of this feedback post-Sports Week, the organizing committee made a few changes:
They recruited an additional 140 interpreters who spoke Spanish, German and Russian.
They expanded their talent pool beyond universities, openly recruiting interpreters from the general public via examination. Seven thousand five hundred people applied in the ten-day registration period.
They ensured that 750 interpreters of the now five core languages of English, French, Spanish, German and Russian would be allocated to the Olympic Village, particularly in the transportation waiting areas and reception areas.
As national olympic committees (NOC) expressed a desire to bring their own interpreters, particularly of those languages not in the five core languages, the organizers decided to create a new category called auxiliary interpreters. They allowed an NOC to bring in one local language interpreter for every 30 athletes on the team. Over 200 auxiliary interpreters from 65 countries were given credentials for the ’64 Games.
In such a multi-lingual environment as the Olympics, people who spoke three or more languages were highly valued. The organizers did not have to recruit these specialists as apparently requests to volunteer poured into the office after the end of the 1960 Rome Olympics. The organizers ended up inviting 13 foreign multi-linguist interpreters, people who did not speak Japanese, but eventually were found to be very helpful in the press center and the Olympic Village.
The preparation of the interpreters was completed early September, one month before the commencement of the Games. Beginning on 15th September, the day of the opening of the Olympic Village, 1,230 interpreters began their activities at their designated posts, whenever they were needed. Both men and women were uniformed differently from other personnel, in distinctive black doeskin blazer with white hemming, so that they might be easily recognized. There were perhaps occasions when the original plans and the practical results did not precisely coincide. As a whole, however, the young amateur interpreters recognized well the significance of the Olympic Games as a festival of youth, and was convinced that each one of them was in fact an ‘ambassador of goodwill’. With this conviction they made up for any linguistic efficiency. They laboured long hours day and night, they performed their duties well, without any incident worthy of mention.
Theirs was a significant role in the of the Olympic Games in Tokyo. The expenses defrayed by the Organizing Committee for the recruitment, training, and management of the services of the interpreters amounted to 150 million yen (US$416,666).
It’s Gate L of the National Stadium, section 27, seat O-20. It’s a Class-3 ticket, which is not as good as Class 1 or Class-2, but it has a far better view than Class-4 or 5.
One problem. The National Stadium has been torn down. And the date of the ticket is Sunday, October 18, 1964.
Yes, in my occasional hunt for Olympic memorabilia, I purchased an original unused ticket from the XVIII Olympiad held in Tokyo nearly 52 years ago.
I love this piece of history, the red circle, followed by a blue circle and the runner icon which represents Athletics. The clock at the top shows the start time – the white circle with black hands indicating that this is the first time slot of the day, and that I would only be able to see the second time slot of the day if I had the relevant ticket with a black clock with white hands.
The stubs are serrated in logical fashion – the first stub removed at the gate, the second removed as you enter the section, leaving you with the seat number. The price on the ticket is JPY1,000, which at that time was priced at USD2.80 or GBP1.000. Better seats would have cost one to three thousand more yen, the cheaper ones 500 yen less.
But who cares, as long as you were in the National Stadium that day. What could I have seen with this ticket? While I am not sure what times of the day these events happened, I could possibly have witnessed:
American Hayes Jones take gold in the 110-meter hurdles
Bob Schul become the first American to ever win the 5,000 meters
Hayes Jones was about to run the race of his life. His wife, Odeene Jones, was seated next to Jesse Owens in the National Olympic Stadium, saying to the 4-time gold medalist that Hayes hadn’t been executing on this strategy going into the finals. Owens told her not to be concerned.
And yet, there was Jones, anxiously prepping for the start of the 110-meter hurdles final, placing his starting blocks into the red cinder track. “I was setting up my blocks, and this Japanese official tapped me on my shoulder. I was annoyed. He tapped me again and pointed down. I look at the starting blocks and I see I had placed them backwards. That would have been a disaster. I was nervous.”
And then off went the gun. “I don’t know what happened. I don’t remember one thing about the race. I had run it so many times, I ran this one as rote. I do remember lunging for the tape, but that’s all I remember. I was that focused.”
But when Jones hit the tape, his US teammate, Blaine Lindgren, was there as well, on his left. And Anatoly Mikhailov from the USSR was running through at the same time on his right. “My goodness! Who won?” wondered Jones. “You can look at someone’s eyes and usually know, but we all had that stare – ‘Who won?’ They corralled us underneath the stadium. The Russian coach ran over to his guy. I thought he won. I didn’t see my coach close by – he was against the wall smoking a cigarette. I’ll be damned. I must not have won.”
As was true with almost every single other athlete in Tokyo, Jones trained hard to get to this moment. He and his wife sacrificed financially to be able to train for the Olympics, to make sure he was in top condition and form so that he could be the best in the world. And at that moment of truth, he had to wait and wait. And then the scoreboard lit up. “‘Ladies and gentlemen, the results of the men’s 110-meter hurdles…’ And I watched as the name in the number one slot was being typed J-O-N-E-S U-S-A 13.6 seconds.”
“That’s when I knew I won and my dreams had come true.”
The president of the International Olympic Committee, Avery Brundage, was the one to place the gold medal around Jones’ neck, which Jones found ironic. In 1961, after his return from the Rome Olympics, Jones thought he would use his secondary education degree to become a track coach. According to Jones, Brundage directed Dan Ferris of the USOC to advise Jones that if he accepted a stipend for coaching track in a high school, he would not be eligible for the Olympics. “So I left teaching and began to sell real estate and insurance. The guy who put the medal around my neck was the guy who denied me from pursuing my career dream. But the only thing I could think of was back as a young boy in Pontiac, Michigan, wanting to participate in track and field, and people around me encouraging me to keep trying.”
Jones and his wife went out to town to celebrate the day after his golden victory.
“We were eating steak, probably Kobe steak. All of the sacrifices we made. I couldn’t pursue my educational career in teaching. I had to go out and sell real estate and insurance, not certain how much money I was going to make. My wife was a teacher. I had a little boy on the way. It was challenging trying to make a life for yourself and still have this personal goal. So we were sitting there and we looked at each other, and we burst out laughing.”