She was a teenager marching into the National Olympic Stadium during the pomp and circumstance of the Opening Ceremony of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. And she was in awe. This athlete, who wishes to stay anonymous, was from a country that was participating in the Olympics for the first time. She held no aspirations of taking home a medal, and at times, she felt overwhelmed.

But when she saw the following words on the stadium screen, she felt they were meant for her.

The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part. Just as the most important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle.

The founder of the modern Olympic movement, Baron Pierre de Coubertin, had an idealistic view of the Games, that people and nations were not gathering to win, but to do their best. In fact, from the very first Modern Games in Athens in 1896, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) requires that each hosting organizing committee provide Participation Medals to all athletes attending the Olympics.

I have one, the participation medal from the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. Designed by Taro Okamoto and Kazumitsu Tanaka, the medal was manufactured from copper, with an image of three runners and a swimmer on one side, with the five Olympic rings and the words “XVIII Olympiad Tokyo 1964” in both English and Japanese on the flip side. Only about 5,600 of these medals were created, and as mandated by the IOC, the medal’s dies and molds are returned to the IOC. So in theory, I have one of a limited collection.


To be honest, most Olympians are likely not satisfied with going home with just a participation medal. But high jumper, John Thomas, would have been. At both the 1960 Rome Olympics and the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, he was expected by the press and perhaps the USOC to win gold. But he won bronze in Rome and silver in Tokyo, results that should be a matter of pride and joy for Thomas. But as he explained to the AP in 1964, “they have no use for losers. They don’t give credit to a man for trying.”

Over 5,100 athletes attended the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, and over 500 medals were distributed to people who were in first, second or third. In other words, some 90% of all athletes, or about 4,500 Olympians went home without a gold, silver or bronze medal. But they did take home a Participation Medal. And because of that, someone in Bulgaria thought it was OK to sell it to some guy in Tokyo.

An ad from the book, Tokyo Olympics Official Souvenir 1964
The Imperial Hotel in Tokyo in the 1960s was a stunning structure. Designed by the legendary architect, Frank Lloyd Wright, the Imperial Hotel’s lava rock facing, the abundance greenery and the dominant reflection pool makes me think of Angkor Wat or the Taj Mahal on a more intimate scale.

Known in Japan as the Teikoku Hotel, the Wright designed structure was built in the early 1920’s, opening up on September 1, 1923, the day of Japan’s most powerful earthquake ever, one that resulted in the flattening of Tokyo and over 140,000 deaths. Wright had already left Japan several months before, but was proud when told that the Imperial Hotel remained standing.

The ad above was published in the 1964 Tokyo Olympics Official Souvenir book, an item recently rescued from the damp and dingy garage of my old house in Queens we recently sold. The text in the ad makes the classic Japanese pitch to westerners, how their offerings are a perfect blend of East meets West.

While the ad was placed to attract guests, there was actually little need for advertising. A tremendous shortage of hotel rooms in Tokyo were expected during the 1964 Olympics. According to the official report of the Tokyo Olympic Organizing Committee post-Olympiad XVIII, the International Olympic Committee, the various national Olympic committees and international sports federations were going to send a significantly large number of foreign guests to Tokyo, and they would be in need of a dwindling number of accommodations in September and October, 1964.


Worried about meeting the needs of their important guests, the Imperial Hotel agreed, in 1962, to allocate 250 beds for the International Olympic Committee and the national Olympic committees. 750 beds were set aside by the Daiichi Hotel for the various international sports federations and their visitors. Nearly 600 additional beds were also reserved for the dignitaries by nine other hotels, including the Hotel New Otani, Fairmont Hotel and the Haneda Tokyu Hotel.

In the years and months leading up to the Games, the hotels tried hard to get the various committees and federations to provide more exact numbers of guests. The hotels were facing increasing pressures to accommodate more tourists, but they had already made commitments for the Olympic officials. Special liaison offices were created in each hotel to help confirm the exact number of guests who were planning to arrive.

In the end, many of the hotels got screwed, or perhaps a better way to say, they took one for the team. The Fairmont Hotel and Haneda Tokyu Hotel ended up filling 26% of the allocated rooms for national Olympic committee members and their guests, clearly given overly ambitious numbers. Other hotels suffered the same fate, although the Imperial Hotel, no doubt hosting the crème de la crème of the International Olympic Committee, were able to achieve 93% occupancy of rooms allocated to the Olympic and sports federation officials.

By the late 1960s, the Wright-designed structure was falling into decay, part of the building sinking into its foundation. The number of rooms was woefully short of economic viability for a downtown Tokyo hotel as well. The hotel was closed at the end of 1967, and demolished to make way for a high-rise structure.

For those nostalgic for the Wright-designed hotel, take a trip to Inuyama in Aichi prefecture, near Nagoya. There is a place called Meiji-mura, of the Meiji Village Museum, where historic buildings from Japan’s past are reconstructed, restored and preserved, including the entrance and facade of the Imperial Hotel.

The façade and reflection pool of the original Imperial Hotel in Meiji-mura


2016 was the year when the entire Russian track and field team was banned from the Olympics. The evidence was so strong that the IAAF took the bold step of enacting the ban, affirming the report by the World Anti-Doping Agency. WADA accused the Russian government of a state-sponsored program to use drugs in the development of their athletes and then to cover up the drug use through illicit techniques to avoid positive drug tests.

So one would think that the Rio 2016 organizing committee and the IOC would be well prepared to ensure that officials were doing their very best to ensure a level playing field for all “clean” athletes. And yet, one could say that the state of drug testing in the run up to Rio and during the Rio Olympics was chaos.

According to this BBC article:

  • Of the 11,470 athletes, over 40% or 4,125 athletes had no record of any drug testing in 2016.
  • Of those 4,125 athletes, almost half of them were competing in so-called “higher-risk sports” (e.g.: track and field, swimming, weightlifting, cycling).

Again, those are pre-Rio Olympic numbers and a black mark on the IOC, sports governing bodies, as well as anti-doping agencies.

But during the Rio Olympics, the anti-doping processes were apparently a mess.

  • Again, there was little or no in-competition testing for athletes in “higher-risk sports”
  • Of the 11,300 athletes in Rio, only 4,800 were providing information of their whereabouts, a step required of athletes and necessary to allow drug testing officials, aka chaperones, to locate and request drug testing on demand
  • The above resulted in the failure to test about 50% of targeted athletes every day during the Olympics because athletes could not be located (Chaperones were forced to ask team officials where the athletes were, which likely allowed athletes to know in advance that a test was forthcoming)
  • Nearly 100 samples were mislabeled and therefore invalid
  • The team fell nearly 500 tests short of their minimal requirements

Nick Butler of Inside the Games had this interesting perspective:

Two key questions here concern to what extent these problems were avoidable from the IOC perspective and to what extent this fundamentally affected the efficiency of the anti-doping operation at Rio 2016. 

To some extent, there appears little the IOC and other sports officials could have changed the approach of the organisers. Brazil and chaotic preparation are just too closely entwined and, when the budget cuts and political disruption is considered, it is a miracle the Olympic and Paralympic Games happened at all.

Yet, on the other hand, the IOC had seven years to get this one right and were not exactly strapped for cash to provide more support.

Will Tokyo2020 get it right?

Trump carries the torch in New York prior to the 2004 Olympics in Athens Bryan Bedder/Getty

Donald Trump will be the president of the United States from the beginning of 2017. The impact of this surprising and historic election will be particularly clear and significant regarding the role of government, US tax policies and decisions by the Supreme Court. Way down on the list is Trump’s impact on sport.

But this is a sports blog, so here we go.

One of the leading candidates for the 2024 Summer Olympic Games is Los Angeles. The support of US presidents has always been important to the selection committee. But rarely has the character of the president been an issue. The International Olympic Committee (IOC), the body that governs the Olympic Games and is the decision maker for which cities host the Games, is built on the values of diversity and inclusiveness. What president-elect Trump has said during the campaign could come back to haunt the US bid.

IOC president, Thomas Bach, said the following in this BBC article:

“An America that turns inward, like any country that turns inward, isn’t good for world peace, isn’t good for progress, isn’t good for all of us.” Bach also spoke in the summer about a “world of selfishness where certain people claim to be superior to others”. That was seen as a clear reference to Trump’s proposed plans that include potential restrictions on Muslim immigration and the deportation of millions of illegal immigrants.

The mayor of Los Angeles, Eric Garcetti, who is a Democrat and supporter of Hillary Clinton, Trump’s rival for the presidency, said in August in this Bloomberg article, “For some of the IOC members, they would say, ‘Wait a second, can we go to a country like that, where we’ve heard things that we take offense to?”’

But another IOC member and head of the World Anti-Doping Agency, Craig Reedie, put it this way. “It’s far too early to make any judgment. I would find it hard to believe everything said in a hotly contested election would come to pass. Let’s wait and see.”

There may be more practical issues the IOC may have to take into account, like who will pay for the significant security bill, according to the blog, Inside the Rings. “While Los Angeles doesn’t need the help of the White House to fund construction or other critical projects, the federal government still will need to spend as much as a $1 billion or more for security for the Games. Soon after Trump takes office in January, LA 2024 will need assurances from the new president that he is willing to make that commitment. Given the sharp political differences between Trump and the LA leadership, this is not a certainty.”

Is the American bid for 2024 in trouble? Will Paris or Budapest trump LA? Donald Trump gets inaugurated in January. The IOC votes on the selection of the 2024 Games in September. We shall see.

IOC and Russian flags

The IOC approved the eligibility of 271 Russian athletes out of 389 originally selected. That’s 70% of the original roster.

The quote of the Games so far comes from the president of the Russian Olympic Committee, Alexander Zhukov, who remarked that Russian will have “the cleanest team” at the Games.

Go here for more details.


Celebrate Humanity logo.jpgWhy do we love the Olympics? Why will the Rio Olympics succeed despite the political, environmental, security and health issues hanging over the Games like a black cloud on the verge of bursting?

Because we love what The Olympics make us feel, what the five colored rings represent: hope, dreams and inspiration, friendship and fair play, and the joy we have in making an effort.

After the 1996 Olympics Games in Atlanta, considered one of those most commercially blatant Olympics in the modern age, and the bid-rigging scandals of the Salt Lake City Games, the International Olympic Committee believed they had to reassert and protect the brand by reminding the world what the true value of the Olympics were. Thus was born the Celebrate Humanity campaign.

Enrolling TBWA, Chiat Day and their legendary worldwide creative director, Lee Clow, the man who developed the commercial that launched the Macintosh (“Think Different”), the IOC launched a series of public service announcements on television that dominated the airwaves leading up to the 2000 Sydney Games.

With the unmistakable voice of Robin Williams bringing both joy, tenderness and strength to the images, the Celebrate Humanity ads were everywhere – on your TV, radio, on your in-flight screen, in your magazines. Incredibly, broadcasters were even asking the IOC how much they had to pay to air the spots, according to Michael Payne, who tells this story of the Olympic brand in his book, Olympic Turnaround.

The campaign included seven short films that represent the Olympic values, symbolizing them, for example, in the 400-meter sprinter, Derek Redmond of Great Britain who pulled a hamstring during the competition at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, but gamely limped onto the finish line, or the Nigerian women’s 4×100-meter relay team who celebrate their bronze medal effort after first thinking they had finished fourth.

Watch them and be inspired.


Strength is measured in pounds. Speed is measured in seconds. Courage…   You can’t measure courage.


Just a reminder: At the Olympic Games, you don’t have to come in first to win.


When you smile, I smile, that’s the deal. I’ll not walk past you, and not look you in the eyes, and not acknowledge you. Instead we’ll pass each other and say hello. Not with our words–they’re not the same–but with our faces. I meet you and see there is good in your eyes. There’s passion in your heart and there’s a friendly hello in your smile, and for the first time we can relate and appreciate each other. That’s all it takes. That’s where it starts. Because I know that you will smile and I will smile. And all the rest is easy.


You are my adversary, but you are not my enemy. For your resistance gives me strength, your will gives me courage, your spirit ennobles me. And though I aim to defeat you, should I succeed, I will not humiliate you. Instead, I will honor you. For without you, I am a lesser man.

Russians banned not banned
Source: ABC News Australia

Who’s in? Who’s out? The very political decision making process for which Russian athletes are considered eligible for the Rio Olympics or not has changed yet again.

As most of the sporting world is aware, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) issued a report recommending that the entire team from Russia be banned from the upcoming Rio Olympics. The International Olympic Committee, which originally had the final thumbs-up, thumbs-down accountability on who gets to participate in the Olympics, decided to defer judgment on Russian eligibility to the international sports federations.

IOC and Russian flagsThis created chaos as, frankly, with less than two weeks to go, the various federations, some supremely under-resourced, have to make a well-researched decision on who to ban or not to ban. Many have criticized that decision. And as can be expected, decisions on Russians allowed to compete are inconsistent.

In this great summary by ABC News of Australia (as of July 27), the IAAF has banned all track and field athletes, as has the International Wrestling Federation. The World Rowing Federation has approved 6 for participation, but banned 19. The governing body for badminton (BWF), the International Judo Federation and the governing world body for volleyball, FIVB, have essentially cleared all of their eligible Russian players to compete.

As of this writing, the current estimates for Russian competitors at the Rio Olympics is more than 200, according to the Daily Mail.

However, on July 30, the IOC, likely buckling to criticism, decided to set up a three-member panel that will ultimately decide on Olympic eligibility, based on recommendations from the federations. The IOC spokesperson said that the process would be completed by August 5, which also happens to be the day of the Olympics opening ceremonies.

One person of note who will not be competing – Yuliya Stepanova. The athlete who risked her career, and perhaps even her life to help blow the whistle on the Russian state-sponsored doping and cover-up operations by talking with journalists and WADA was ironically banned.

Rusanova of Russia competes during the woman's 800 metres semi-final heat 1 at the IAAF World Championships in Daegu
Yuliya Stepanova

The IAAF, which has been hawkish in banning Russians from international competition, recognized the bravery and impact of Stepanova by approved her competition in the Rio Olympics as a “neutral athlete”. Despite that, the IOC decided to ban Stepanova from competing for her failed drug tests in the past, while conveniently dropping its accountability, casting a blind eye in all the other cases by allowing a third party to determine Olympic eligibility.

By the way, the honorary president of the International Judo Federation is Russia’s President Vladimir Putin.

Team of Refugee Olympic Athletes
Ten refugees have been selected to form the first-ever Refugee Olympic Athletes team.  © UNHCR

Nearly 60 million people in the world are considered refugees. If refugees were considered a sovereign nation, it would be the 22nd largest country in the world, in between France and Italy. But in France and Italy, its citizens live in relative safety and freedom. In the nation of Refugee, citizens live in perpetual instability, with little choice where they can reside.

To highlight the plight of refugees globally, the International Olympic Committee, in partnership with the United Nations Human Refugee Agency (UNHCR) made a wonderful decision to include a team of stateless athletes, to be called the Team of Refugee Olympic Athletes. They include a Syrian swimmer living in Brazil, and another living in Germany, two judoka from the Republic of Congo both now living in Brazil, a marathon runner from Ethiopia training in Luxembourg, and five middle-distance runners from South Sudan, who all live and run in Kenya.

Over 5 million people have perished in the ongoing civil wars in The Democratic Republic of the Congo. Yolande Mabika was separated from her parents in the midst of fighting. Orphaned she ran the streets alone as a young child, until she was picked up, put in a helicopter and placed in an institution for displaced children in the capital of Kinshasa. She learned judo, and became so good that she was selected to represent her country at the World Judo Championship in Rio de Janeiro, where, outside of the competition, she was held in captivity by her own coach. Having had enough, she left the hotel started her life as a refugee in Brazil.

With the advent of the Arab Spring, Syria began its descent into a long, cold winter. Since the Spring of 2011, the Syrian government has lost control of half of its country, fighting a long and bloody fight with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), creating millions of refugees in the process. Syrian swimmer, Yusra Mardini was in a boat with 20 other Syrians attempting to flee the murderous chaos of their country for what they hoped was safety across the Mediterranean Sea. But their rickety boat was taking on water. Mardina jumped in the water with her sister Sarah, and pushed the boat to Greece. Finally finding asylum in Berlin, Germany, Mardini is training for the 200-meter freestyle event in Rio.

South Sudan gained its independence in 2011, after decades of civil wars. Unfortunately violence due to ethnic conflict has continued, displacing anywhere from 20 to 50,000 people. James Nyang Chiengjiek escaped South Sudan at the age of 13 to avoid being forcibly recruited as a child soldier in one of the various militias involved in the conflict. He became a teenage refugee in a Kenyan camp. And when he joined a school that had a

Adam Scott
Adam Scott of Australia

Golf is returning to the Olympic stage in 2016, the first time since the third Olympics in 1904.

And yet, some big names in the game are declining their invitations: 3-time majors winner Vijay Singh of Fiji, World # 7 Adam Scott of Australia, and World #12 Louis Oosthuizen of South Africa.

And it’s possible they won’t be the only ones. While Singh cited fear over contracting the zika virus in Brazil, Scott explained that adding the Olympics to the already congested PGA Tour will make for an exhausting schedule. According to this article, “the PGA Tour has had to cram the World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational, British Open and PGA Championship into a five-week window because of the Olympics. And, two weeks after the Olympics end, the FedEx Cup playoffs begin. Two weeks after those are done, the Ryder Cup will be contested.”

In other words, ensuring they are in top condition for the tournaments that count are key to many of the top pro golfers.

Professional ice hockey players, perhaps many of them, may be having an opposite reaction. Ice hockey has been an Olympic sport since 1920, and countries like the United States, the Soviet Union and former members of that nation, and Canada have had epic battles in the Olympic Games over the decades.

Alex Ovechkin
Alex Ovechkin at the Sochi Olympics

Professional ice hockey players, particularly those from the National Hockey League, were allowed to represent their national teams at the Olympics, starting from the Nagano Winter Games in 1998. But because the NHL and the owners of the team were worried about disruption to the NHL schedule as well as injuries, it was decided that the International Olympic Committee and the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) would foot the bill for transportation and insurance costs. For the Sochi Games in 2014, that was a combined USD$32 million!

The IOC, which provided USD$14 million of that bill for Sochi, just announced that they would not pay those costs to ensure the participation of NHL players at the PyeongChang Winter Games in 2018. Said Rene Fasel, president of the IIHF in this sportsnet article, “Our wish is to have the best players. [But the IOC] not covering the cost as they did at the last five Olympic Games puts us in a difficult financial situation.”

Immediately after this announcement, one of the NHL’s biggest stars, Alex Ovechkin, announced that he would join his Russian National Team for the PyeongChang Olympics regardless of the NHL’s decision. It’s likely that many of his colleagues in the NHL will have similar feelings.

Why the difference in reaction towards the Olympics? I’d have to speculate. But here are a couple of possible reasons:

  1. History: ice hockey and the Olympics have a long and emotional history. The Olympics are considered the pinnacle of achievement for many ice hockey players, even beyond the NHL Stanley Cup championship. Golf has practically no history in the Olympics.
  2. Rigors/Value of the Schedule: The Olympics happen at the time in the NHL schedule where teams are jockeying for playoff spots. But since the NHL controls the schedule, they can suspend the schedule for all teams, which makes it an even playing field for all teams. In the professional golf tour, as has been true with the professional tennis tour, those individuals who participate in the Olympics may lose out on opportunities to play in tournaments that will be more lucrative and perhaps perceived to be more important. When tennis returned to the Olympics in 1984, many of the best players did not compete.