marathon to athens map
Marathon to Athens

Albin Lermusiaux of France, jumped out to the lead, but eventually relented to the Greek heat, and quit the footrace at the 32 kilometer mark, carried the rest of the way by horse-drawn cart. Then the Australian, Edwin Flack, jumped to the lead, only to fall at the 37 kilometer mark.

At these first modern Olympic Games in Athens, on April 10, 1896, 80,000 people sat in the Panathenaic Stadium waiting, listening to updates brought in by messengers on bicycles or horses. This was the scene of the very first marathon, an event created for the first Olympic Games. A colleague of Pierre de Coubertin, Michel Bréal, transformed a legendary story of a man named Pheidippides into an Olympic event. In 492 BC, Pheidippides ran from a place called Marathon to Athens, a distance of about 42 kilometers, to deliver new of a Greek victory over Persia, in what is called the Battle of Marathon.

So when the spectators in Panathenaic Stadium saw who was first to enter the stadium, an explosive cheer split the sky. A Greek named Spyridon Louis was to win the final event of the first modern Olympic Games in the spiritual home of the Olympics. Here is how David Goldblatt, author of the book, The Games: A Global History of the Olympics, described the significance of that moment:

It proved to be the most important event of the games, generating the kind of modern mythological hero and collective stadium spectacle that raised the 1896 Olympics above the level of a country-house games weekend or a mere historical recreation…. The man who entered the stadium first was the Greek, Spyridon Louis. The crowd went wild. The king and the crown prince descended to the track to run alongside him and, when the had finished the race, members of the royal entourage and the organizing committee embraced and kissed him.

Coubertin was also impressed, according to Goldblatt. “Egad! The excitement and the enthusiasm were simply indescribably. One of the most extraordinary sights that I can remember. Its imprint stays with me.”

Spyridon Louis

Louis was not a man of wealth. He made his wages by transporting mineral water his father mined to buyers in Athens. After his victory, Louis was showered with gifts, but continued to live a simple life of a farmer and later as a police officer.

Four years prior to his death in 1940, forty years after his momentous victory in the marathon, he could still remember that moment of glory with happiness.

That hour was something unimaginable and it still appears to me in my memory like a dream … Twigs and flowers were raining down on me. Everybody was calling out my name and throwing their hats in the air …

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alain-mimoun-and-emil-zatopek
Alain Mimoun and Emil Zatopek
Alain Mimoun had crossed the finish line of the marathon in Melbourne, and had won a gold medal at the 1956 Olympics. The Algerian-born Frenchman watched the other finishers cross the line – the silver medalist from Yugoslavia, and the bronze medalist from Finland. A Korean finished, followed by a Japanese. And finally, the Czech arrived. And Mimoun rushed to his friend, Emil Zátopek. Here is how Richard Askwith, author of a wonderful biography on Zátopek, described this beautiful interaction:

“Emil, congratulate me,” he said. “I am an Olympic champion.” After all those years as Emil’s shadow, he was now the hero in his own right. “Emil turned and looked at me,” Mimoun recalled in later life, “as if he were waking from a dream.” He got to his feet, took two steps backward, “snapped to attention”, took off his cap and saluted him. Then he embraced him. “For me,” said Mimoun, “that was better than a medal.”

Zátopek was a truly great athlete. But for those who knew him, he was an even greater man. We note when we meet someone so open and sincere, so kind and generous. In addition to being considered, arguably, the greatest track athlete of the 20th century, people the world over who met the great Zátopek often leave him thinking he represents the very best of humanity. There are many stories of him being so giving of his possessions and his time. He’s provided training tips to competing athletes and coaches. He’s invited strangers into his home. He’s fought and cajoled authority in order to help or even save his friends.

This was an athlete who was not just fast but heroically tough. A hard man, but also a man of infectious warmth and humour. A man who never gave up, never complained, and never forgot that, in words that will always be associated with his name: “Great is the victory, but greater still is the friendship.” His fellow Olympians worshipped him. The Englishman Gordon Pirie praised his “magnificent character”; the Frenchman Alain Mimoun called him “a saint”; Fred Wild, the American, called him “perhaps the most humble, friendly and popular athlete in modern times”; Ron Clarke, the Australian, said: “There is not, and never was, a greater man than Emil Zátopek.” (Askwith)

emil-zatopek-portrait

Ron Clarke, who set 17 world records in distance running, was as taken with Zátopek as Mimoun was. But Clarke, for whatever reason, was the recipient of a breathtakingly kind gift, a story that has become legend.

It was 1966 and Clarke was in his prime. There was a track meet to be held in Prague, and the national broadcaster, CSTV, asked Zátopek if he would personally invite Clarke to participate in the meet. Of course, Zátopek did so, warmly asking the Australian track star to attend. Clarke was humbled to be asked by Zátopek, cancelling other events so he could go.

As soon as Clarke arrived in Prague, the two great distant runners were nearly inseparable. Zátopek met Clarke on the tarmac, got him waved through immigration and customs, and basically chauffeured Clarke for several days. He drove him to the track meet from Clarke’s hotel and cheered him on. He took him shopping. He even took him to one of his favorite training spots in the woods of Stará Boleslav where they worked out together.

“It was a beautiful forest, and we did a huge workout, talking and chatting, and he showed me all the training things he did,” said Clarke according to Askwith. “Emil was eight years into his retirement, but Clarke later wrote that it had been one of the most demanding sessions he had done for a long time.”

Eventually it was time for Clarke to return to Australia. Of course, Zátopek drove him to the airport, whisked him through the red tape, and said goodbye. He handed Clarke a gift, a small object wrapped in plain brown paper, held together with a piece of string. According to Askwith, who interviewed Clarke about his time in Prague, Clarke was not sure what the object was for or why he should receive something like this, so he did not look at it until he arrived in London. Perhaps it was something that Zátopek wanted to have surreptitiously brought out of the country, so Clarke wanted to make sure he was out of Czech air space.

ron-clarke-and-his-medal-from-emil-zatopek
Ron Clarke holding the gold medal given to him by Emil Zatopek
And according to Askwith, based on review of several sources, Clarke finally looked at the gift. In fact early references to this story placed him inside the private confines of a lavatory stall.

In an account given much nearer the event, he [Clarke] retreated to the toilet. Either way, he was sitting alone and unobserved as he unwrapped a small box. Inside was an Olympic gold medal – one of the three that Emil had won in Helsinki. Emil had signed inside of the lid, adding (in the limited space available): “to Ron Clarke, Prag. 19-7-1966”. For a moment, realizing what it was, he felt “overwhelming excitement”. And then (reverting here to the earlier account) he understood what it meant – and: “I sat on the lavatory seat and wept.”

What prompted Zátopek to gift a symbol of one of the greatest athletic accomplishments in human history to a person he knew only for a few days?

It may be a conundrum for us normal folk – people who could not imagine surrendering such an artifact of personal accomplishment, something that would be treasured not only by the individual, but by people around that person, a reflection of greatness that come to the very few. Most would hold on to it as a family keepsake; some would guard it and the reputation it enhances like a jealous person.

For people like Zátopek, people were the prize. “Great is the victory,” he said, “but greater is the friendship.”

 

testing-new-road-material
Testing the new high-tech road surface August, 2016

The average temperature in Tokyo in July and August is around 30 degrees Celsius or 86 degrees Fahrenheit. But on the roads of Tokyo, after absorbing day after day of heat, can get as hot as 50 degrees Celsius, or over 120 degrees Fahrenheit.

That’s hot!

And that’s not counting the dreadful humidity that time of year in Tokyo. I hated summers in New York City, but they’re worse in Tokyo.

Now, imagine running 42 kilometers on those roads, in that heat and humidity, because the marathons for women and men are scheduled respectively on August 2 and 9 in 2020. Researchers say that on average optimal times to run a marathon are temperatures of around 6 degrees Celsius or 43 degrees Fahrenheit. Average body temperature is around 37 degrees Celsius and research also shows that running performance drops significantly if body temperature rises above 38.8 degrees celsius, according to this article.

At 38.8 C, the body can no longer effectively cool itself and it begins to divert blood to the skin to help keep it cool. This decreases the amount of blood available to carry oxygen to working muscles, which affects performance.

In intense hot weather athletic events, as the body becomes severely dehydrated, the result can be heat exhaustion, heat cramps, heat stroke, heat-induced coma and then even death.

road-surfaces-for-marathon
The examples of the high-tech road surfaces: the one on the left is the water-retaining material and the one on the right is the ceramic-based sprayed material

Clearly, organizers of the Tokyo Olympics want to avoid both cramps and death. What are they going to do? They’re going to turn the roads white. On August 31, 2016, a special event was held on a 250-meter stretch of road in the middle of Tokyo that incorporated two pieces of heat-reducing technology:

  • a ceramic-based spray coating with insulating properties which resulted in a whitish-colored road that reflects the sun’s infra-red rays, as well as
  • another road material that has water-retaining properties, by which water is retained and slowly evaporated, thus cooling the roads.

These two technologies will be combined to build out a road of some 21 kilometers, according to a television broadcast I recently saw, and allows the entire 42-kilometer race to be run, presumably, on a road much cooler than what they would experience today.

Olympic marathon runner Toshihiko Seko and Paralympic wheelchair marathon runner Nobukazu Hanaoka, were on hand on August 31 to test them out the new road. Their reaction?

  • “The heat-insulating paving was clearly cooler,” said Seko after a test run on the road.
  • Hanaoka said: “The wheels did not slip when I applied the brake, even when the surface was wet.”

Other ideas being explored to keep the road and the runners cooler are:

  • More shade along the course
  • An earlier start in the day
  • Routing the course through more open areas with greater wind movement
  • Routing the course near water and presumably lower temperatures
  • Placement of cool mist stations along the course

miyuki-zoku-2

The gauntlet was thrown.

“To the weak-livered denizens of Ginza – you who wear sun glasses, tight pants, and saunter down the street carrying a big paper bag as you chase the girls from the day-time – If you are men accept my challenge. I’m 56 years old but let’s see who will last the longer in the marathon…”

Apparently, those were fighting words, at least as translated by the Mainichi Daily New on September 16, 1964. The above notice was a challenge to race a marathon, for the senior Japanese to show his manly vigor in a competition of endurance. And yes, it got the attention of the teenagers, who were labeled the “Miyuki-zoku”, a mix of boys and girls who gathered on the fashionable street in the Ginza called Miyuki Street. (The suffix “zoku” means “tribe” or “club”.)

detectives-question-miyuki-zoku
Mainichi Daily News_September 17, 1964
So on the appointed time of Monday, September 14, 1964, the Mainichi Daily News reported that “hordes of onlookers, young and old, flocked to the place of challenge in front of the fountain in Hibiya Park.” Members of the Miyuki-zoku came out to meet the challenge of the 56-year old, but as it turned out, not only did the elderly challenger not appear, the police had already rushed to the scene to ensure an unauthorized marathon did not take place.

It was only a few months earlier when Heibon Punch, a new magazine focusing on fashion, started a revolution by launching the so-called “Ivy Look”. Other magazines like “Men’s Club” followed quickly, going into detail on cool Ivy. (See my previous post on this here.) When teenagers in Japan saw how young men were dressing in the United States, particularly at the Ivy League universities, with their perceived associations of class and style, they found an exciting replacement for their drab, black school uniforms, and a way to rebel.

Yes, it took the preppie look for kids in Tokyo to flip parents and authorities the bird – which is astonishing, if you look at the pictures today.

But this is Japan. And the Japanese proverb most quoted to explain social behavior here is “the nail that sticks out gets hammered down.” In other words, it’s important to conform. Those who don’t, are informed in no uncertain terms that they need to do so.

And so in the 1960s, in a time of burgeoning prosperity, with a generation that grew up with faint memories of post-war rubble and hunger, there grew a hunger to express one’s individuality, and dare to be that nail that sticks out, even if just a tad.

But the authorities were concerned about even this whiff of rebellion. After all, the Olympics were coming to town and Tokyo had to be clean, friendly and most of all orderly. These “hordes” were unsightly, the boys in their (gulp) tight, high-cut slacks with oxford-cloth or madras plaid shirts, and the girls in tight long skirts with the hemline (gasp) several inches below the knee.

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According to this post in the blog “Ivy Style”, the older generation co-opted a leader of the Ivy fashion movement, Kensuke Ishizu. Ishizu “discovered” this look when he visited college campuses in the United States in the 1950s, and when he returned to Japan, he created a fashion brand called “VAN”, and published Japan’s first men’s fashion magazine, “Otoko no Fukushoku”.

Neighborhood leaders desperately wanted to eradicate the Miyuki-zoku before October, so they went to Ishizu of VAN and asked him to intervene. VAN organized a “Big Ivy Style Meet-up” at Yamaha Hall, and cops helped put 200 posters across Ginza to make sure the Miyuki-zoku showed up. Anyone who came to the event got a free VAN bag — which was the bag for storing your normal clothing during loitering hours. They expected 300 kids, but 2,000 showed up. Ishizu gave the keynote address, where he told everyone to knock it off with the lounging in Ginza. Most acquiesced, but not all.

So on September 19, 1964, a huge police force stormed Ginza and hauled off 200 kids in madras plaid and penny loafers. Eighty-five were processed at nearby Tsukiji jail. The kids got the message and never came back, and that was the end of the Miyuki-zoku.

Oh those raucous and rebellious sixties…

Opening Ceremony Maracana Stadium 2016August 5_New York Times
New York Times

The Debutante Ball is over. And Brazil is looking very good.

Despite all the issues that have arisen in Brazil in the run-up to August 5 – the impeachment of its President on corruption charges, the collapse of its economy, the constant news of the polluted Guanabara Bay, the shocking news of the impact of the zika virus, rumbles of possible riots by the underclass – the opening ceremonies at Maracanã Stadium went off pretty much without a hitch.

And there were a few big moments. Let me focus on three:

Sex: Carlos Nuzman is the president of the Rio Organizing Committee, and former member of the International Olympic Committee. He and his teammates likely helped inspire generations of volleyball fans in 1964 when he was on the men’s Brazilian team in Tokyo, where the sport debuted as an Olympic event. There he was on his country’s biggest stage on Friday, bubbling with excitement, exorcising all of the repressed worries he told countless people in the press not to be concerned with.

We never give up, we never give up. Let’s stay together when differences challenge us.

But to add a bit of spice to the formality of the opening speeches, Nuzman made one of those slips of tongue that the head of the IOC will never forget. Nuzman was responsible for introducing Thomas Bach, and said it was his honor “to hand over to the president of the IOC, the Olympic champion Thomas Bach, who always believed in the sex…success of the Rio 2016 Games.”

OK, Bach will always cherish that moment I’m sure…and it’s what’s on the mind of half the athletes at the moment anyway. (It’s been heavily reported that 450,000 condoms have been made available in the Olympic and Paralympic villages.)

Beauty: I’m a Jets fan. I hate Tom Brady. That goes with the territory. While Brady is one of the best quarterbacks in the history of the NFL, an instant hall of famer, his wife is arguably even more famous globally. Super Model, Gisele Bündchen, who was born in in Southern Brazil, travelled to London at 17. She was plucked out of the crowd of wannabes to make it on the catwalk for designer Alexander McQueen. From that point, Bündchen was a star, becoming a mainstay on the cover of Vogue and the body of Victoria’s Secret.

And so, in a moment of exquisite simplicity, the organizers brought together Brazil’s most famous song and its most famous face. First the crowd heard the massively familiar bossa nova rhythm and melody of The Girl from Ipanema, performed by Daniel Jobin, the grandson of the music’s writer, Antonio Carlos Jobim. From the other end of the stadium emerged the super model, coming out of retirement to make her final catwalk. Probably her longest catwalk ever, Bündchen sashayed some 150 meters across the entire stadium floor to the roars (and photo flashes) of 78,000 ecstatic fans.

gisele bundchen rio olympics
Gisele Bündchen – click on this image to see a video of the moment.

Glory Restored: It was the marathon event at the 2004 Olympics, in the birthplace of the race, Greece. Brazilian, Vanderlei Cordeiro de Lima, of Cruzeiro de Oeste, was leading the marathon race with 7 kilometers to go when a strangely dressed spectator burst onto the road and just as suddenly pushed de Lima off the course. As I have described in a previous post, de Lima looked disgusted as he made his way back onto the course and continue on with the race. At the end of the 42-kilometer footrace, de Lima finished in third. There were attempts to give him a gold medal, but it is likely that since de Lima was still in first with a decent lead, the IOC decided to keep the results as is.

No doubt, this incredibly quirky incident was hard to forget for Brazilians, and particularly de Lima, who could have been on the top step of the awards podium, with a gold medal around his neck, listening to his national anthem. Instead, he listened to the Italian anthem, consoled with a medal of bronze.

Fast forward to 2016. The most famous athlete in Brazil, the legendary Pelé is rumored to be too ill to participate in the opening ceremonies. Up steps de Lima, who took the sacred flame from Brazilian basketball star, Hortência de Fátima Marcari, and carefully climbed the 28 steps to the Olympic cauldron. He raised the flame high with two hands to immense cheers, turned to the cauldron and ignited it, and the hearts of 78,000 people in the Stadium.

As the cauldron climbed into the night, to become the centerpiece of an incredible metal sculpture that turned the sacred flame into a swirling solar spectacle, de Lima was probably feeling the pride and joy he could’ve, should’ve, would’ve felt, if not for that crazy man in Greece in 2004. As the fireworks exploded around and above Maracanã Stadium, de Lima’s heart, I’m sure, was full.

Vanderlei de Lima lighting the cauldron
Vanderlei Cordeiro de Lima lighting the Olympic cauldron.
Neko Hiroshi running in a Cambodian marathon
Hiroshi Neko

Hiroshi Neko is a comedian from Japan, whose popularity was fleeting. Nary Ly is a biology PhD who survived the Killing Fields.

Both are representing the Kingdom of Cambodia in the marathon competition at the 2016 Rio Olympics.

Cambodia is not a sporting hotbed – no Olympic medalists have hailed from this Southeast Asian nation, despite participating in seven Summer Olympic Games. One fundamental reason was the massive genocide of 2 million people under the government of the Khmer Rouge, in a country that had only 8 million people at the time. To have a quarter of your population wiped out, including a large number of the young, inhibits the chance of athletic stars to emerge and shine.

Neko Hiroshi cat imitation
Hiroshi Neko the comedian

The qualifying time for the 2016 Olympic marathon is 2 hours and 19 minutes for men, and 2 hours and 45 minutes for women. Neither Hiroshi Neko, a naturalized Cambodian citizen, or Dr. Ly have qualifying times. But by virtue of a program to allow broader representation by countries lacking the dedicated resources for the development of world-class athletes, the International Olympic Committee has an allocation called “Universality Place.”

Both Dr. Ly and Hiroshi Neko were allocated universality placements by the IOC to represent Cambodia.

In 2011, Neko became a Cambodian citizen, with the hopes of going to the 2012 London Games under the blue-and-red-striped flag of Cambodia. The IOC ruled that Neko had not fulfilled a requirement of one year as a Cambodian citizen, and so did not qualify under the Universality Placement system. Additionally, there was criticism of Neko, that perhaps he was taking the place of a native Cambodian.

This May, Neko, who real name is Kuniaki Takizaki, came first in a marathon in Cambodia in which 10 other Cambodians competed. And he has the full support of the Cambodian government, according to this article from Kyodo News.

“We are happy and congratulate Mr. Neko on being admitted for the Olympic Games. He deserves to be admitted for his tireless efforts and hard training on his own,” said the secretary general of Cambodia’s Olympic committee, Vath Chamroeun.

“As you know, some countries spend much money to buy foreign nationals who are good at sports, but we pay nothing to Neko and instead he comes to help us,” said Pen Vuthy, secretary general of the Khmer Amateur Athletics Federation. He went on to say that Neko’s sacrifices for the sake of Cambodia are a source of pride for Cambodians.

Dr Nary Ly of Cambodia at the New York City Marathon
Nary Ly running in the New York City Marathon

At the same time, Dr Ly, who was Cambodian, is a native symbol of the Olympic spirit. She was born in 1973, two years before the Khmer Rouge emerged as the country’s overlords, as explained in this wonderful blog post. Dr Ly was thankfully too young to remember the horrors of that time and was able to survive until the fall of the Khmer Rouge in 1979.

Dr Ly was 6 years old when the Red Cross evacuated her to France, where she was able to grow in safety, get an education, and become an expert biologist. Over the years, she has become a competitive runner, good enough to seek consideration for the 2012 London Olympics. But she was told at the time, when she was about 38, that she was too old.

“The men who run the [Cambodian sports] governing bodies told me I was too old to run at the Olympics,” she says. “Even then, I was the best in the country. They lacked

John Akhwari's bandaged leg
John Stephen Akhwari walking his final lap

Mamo Wolde had already completed the 42-kilometer marathon in the oxygen-thin air of Mexico City, continuing Ethiopian dominance in the footsteps of Abebe Bikila. Wolde had already received his gold medal, and was likely resting somewhere inside the stadium when a humming murmur turned into joyful cheers on that evening of October 20, 1968.

A man was walking into the Estadio Olimpico Universitario, his right leg heavily bandaged. He limped decidedly, the result of falling close to the halfway point in the marathon while jockeying for position. He had dislocated his knee and banged up his shoulder in the collision with the pavement. He got treated, and kept running despite the pain, and the cramps.

While 17 in the 54-man field did not complete this most grueling of the long-distance competitions, John Stephen Akhwari of Tanzania, was determined to finish. As intoned in this somewhat over-the-top narration of Akhwari’s final steps in this video below, “a voice calls from within to go on, and so he goes on.”

Afterwards it was written, today we have seen a young African runner who symbolizes the finest in the human spirit, a performance that gives true dignity to sport, a performance that lifts sport out of the category of grown men playing a game, a performance that gives meaning to the word courage. All honor to John Stephen Akhwari of Tanzania.

When asked why he kept running, Akhwari gave one of the most memorable quotes in sporting history: “My country did not send me 5,000 miles away to start the race. They sent me 5,000 miles to finish it.”

John Stephen Akhwari

Neal Horan pushing Vanderlei de Lima at the 2004 Athens Games Marathon

No Brazilian had ever won Olympic gold in the marathon, and there he was, in first place at the home of the marathon, Greece, competing in the 2004 Athens Summer Games.

With only 7 kilometers to go, Vanderlei Cordeiro de Lima was in the lead by a healthy 25 to 30 seconds when a man in a green vest, red skirt and green socks burst out of the crowd from de Lima’s right, grabbed de Lima and proceeded to push him all the way off the road and into the shocked crowd watching the race.

de Lima pushed his way out and back into the race, but lost a precious 15 to 20 seconds. And as you can see after he returned to the race, he was clearly disgusted with what had happened. (Be amazed as you watch the incident unfold around the 20 second mark in this video.)

In the end, de Lima was eventually passed by gold medalist Stefano Baldini of Italy and silver medalist Mebrahtom Keflezighi of the US. De Lima finished third, 42 seconds behind Keflezighi and 1 minute 16 seconds behind Baldini.

Would de Lima have won the marathon championship if not for literally being sidetracked? It’s hard to know. While the IOC declined an appeal by the Brazilian Athletics Federation to award de Lima with a gold medal, they did present him with the Pierre de Coubertin medal for sportsmanship. (The first one was awarded at the 1964 Tokyo Games.)

The perpetrator was Cornelius “Neil” Horan, a defrocked Roman Catholic priest from Ireland. Horan made the headlines the previous year by running onto the track at the 2003 British Grand Prix, running hard down the track in the direction of oncoming Formula 1 cars darting to their right to avoid Horan. (Be amazed again as Horan makes his appearance 10 seconds into the video below.)

US Olympic Marathon Trials 2012
US Olympic marathon trials in 2012. Credit David J. Phillip/AP

On Saturday, February 13, over 370 runners competed for a spot on the US Olympic marathon team. The USOC will send the top three finishers in the marathon race held in Los Angeles. It is considered a very American competition as the threshold was any American running a marathon in 2 hours and 45 minutes or less. As Amby Burfoot, an editor of Runner’s World said in this New York Times article, “Each of our runners must earn his or her bid for the Olympics — we tell them to line up, we’re going to shoot the gun, and you decide for yourself. It feels very American. One athlete, one vote.”

Apparently, other nations pick their marathoners through a committee of officials.

This made me think -“Hmmmm, can I qualify for a sport in the Olympics? Any sport?” Apparently, there are approaches to this, according to this article in Forbes Magazine.Kosovo olympic

  1. Move to a Different Country: Kosovo and South Sudan are entering the Olympics for the first time. You should look into their citizenship requirements and get in touch with their Olympic committees.
  2. Identify an Easy Position: the article points out that being a coxswain in rowing events that require one has low barriers to entry. You need to be light and have a strong voice, with some sense of race tactics, but you don’t have to row. You just need to be strong enough to steer the shell. Apparently, China ran an American Idol-like competition in 2006, in which they tried to find two coxswains for the China teams at the Beijing Olympics in 2008.
jamaican bobsled team
Jamaican bobsled team: Michael White, Dudley Stokes, Devon Harris and Frederick Powell

3. Enter a “Target Sport”: Shooting a rifle or an arrow apparently doesn’t require you to be in tip-top, high performance shape. You just need a steady set of arms and very good eyesight.

4. Start Your Own Team: The country you’re in may not naturally have athletes for a particular sport. Think the Jamaican bob sled team, or Eddie “The Eagle” Edwards in the ski jump – both of whom were the first to represent their nations in their sports at the Calgary Winter Games in 1988.

5. The Old-Fashioned Way: Identify what skills and physical attributes put you in the top percentile in your age group, and train, train, train.

Sohn Kee-Chung on the podium after winning the marathon at the 1936 Olympic Games.
Sohn Kee-Chung on the podium after winning the marathon at the 1936 Olympic Games.

He was 73 years old at the time, carrying the heavy burden of the Olympic torch as well as the shame of 1936, and yet he bounded into the Olympic Stadium, hopping and waving his arms to the crowd, overjoyed to be a part of the Opening Ceremonies of the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul.

Sohn Kee-chung deserved the honor. After all, he had won the gold medal in the premier athletics event, the marathon, in the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin. But he did not race as a Korean. Instead, he ran as a member of the Japanese Olympic team. In May of 1910, Japan had overpowered the rulers of Korea and made that country its protectorate. When Sohn was born in 1914, hundreds of thousands of Japanese had already moved to the Korean colony, ostensibly to increase Japanese claim to the territory, as well as ease population and food stress in Japan.

Sohn eventually grew into a fine runner, setting the world record in the marathon in Tokyo in November, 1935, a record that lasted for 12 years. The Japanese were eager to do well in the medal count in Berlin, so they sent Sohn and a fellow Korean named Nam Sung-yong to Berlin. And Sohn delivered, winning gold, with his teammate Nam taking bronze. Sohn’s victory, so dramatic, was featured in Leni Reifenstahl’s famed documentary on the Berlin Games. The Japanese national team was of course overjoyed. But nothing burned Sohn more than to look up, tired and victorious at the end of a grueling race, and not see his name on the scoreboard.

Sohn Kee-chung running under the Japanese flag as Kitei Son, from the book "A Picture History of the Olympics"
Sohn Kee-chung running under the Japanese flag as Kitei Son, from the book “A Picture History of the Olympics”

Up came the name Son Kitei, the Japanized version of the characters in his name. And next to that name was the name of the country Japan. The photo at the top of this post shows the shame of the two Koreans who stood on the podium listening to the Japanese national anthem. As you can see in the picture, the heads of the two Koreans are bowed, ashamed of the