It’s a game of grams. Waldemar Baszanowski of Poland and Valdimir Kaplunov of the Soviet Union battled through the three events that make up weightlifting competition: the military press, the snatch and the clean & jerk.
The world record holder at the time, Baszanowski, trailed behind two other favorites, teammate Marian Zielinski and Kaplunov, after the completion of the military press. But Baszanowski got back into a tie for the lead with the Russian after the snatch. In the final round, both Baszanowski and Kaplunov ended lifting the same weight in the clean and jerk, resulting in a world record tie, a total of 432.5 kg over the three weightlifting events.
After the final lift, the final ruling was out of their hand. Here’s how Neil Allen in his book, Olympic Diary Tokyo 1964, told the story.
The moment of victory was most unclear in the weightlifting over at Shibuya Hall where Poland’s Waldemar Baszanowski beat Russian Vladimir Kaplunov by the margin of 10.5822 oz. (300 grams) This was the difference in his body weight and that of Kaplunov and it was the only way of dividing two men who both broke the world lightweight record with a total lift of 953 1/2 lb. (432.5kg) Baszanowski held the previous record of 947 3/4 lb. (429.9kg) But it was only after an enervating tactical battle, and records beaten in all three movements, that he was able to give the mixed smile of relieve and exhilaration which is the right of the champion.
That’s right – the tiebreaker in weightlifting is the difference in body weight. The lighter of the two, in this instance was Baszanowski. Only three hundred grams separated gold from silver.
While Baszanowski would win gold convincingly four years later in Mexico City, Kaplunov in 1964 may have been wondering what he had for breakfast that fateful day.
The women’s pentathlon, like the men’s decathlon, are challenging endurance competitions that require capability in a variety of athletic disciplines. A significant weakness in one discipline could sink you. And like C. K. Yang in the decathlon, Mary Rand had difficulty throwing heavy things.
Rand was the brightest star of a resurgent British track and field team at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. In fact, it’s stunning to think of the punishing schedule she had to compete in the long jump (October 14), in the pentathlon (October 16-17) and in the women’s 4X100 relay (October 20-21). So there are several factors one could take into account, for Rand’s results, including the heavy lifting she needed to do for TeamGB.
But in the end, Rand’s ability to heave a 4kg shot was her undoing.
The women’s pentathlon in 1964 was a two-day event that featured the 80-meter hurdles, the shot put, the high jump, the long jump and the 200 meter sprint. Against strong Soviet competition, as well as a fellow member of the British team, Rand won three of the five competitions: the high jump, the 200 meters, as well as the long jump, the event she was awarded gold only three days before.
In the first event, the 80-meter hurdles, the two Soviet athletes, Irina Press and Galina Bystrova, nipped Rand at the tape by 0.2 seconds. In other words, Rand had the best or second best scores in 4 of the 5 pentathlon competitions.
Here are the results of the 1964 women’s pentathlon.
You can clearly see that Rand’s shot put of 11.05 meters was poor, over 6 meters short of Irina Press’s toss. Each result in the pentathlon converts into points, and as you can see, Rand’s shot put score was 384 points behind Press’s score. The end result was that Rand was 211 total points off of Press’s total score. So let’s play the “what if” game. If Rand had thrown as well as her compatriot, Mary Peters, the additional 226 points would have given Rand the world record and the gold medal.
Press appeared to be both impressed and flummoxed with Rand, incredulous that Rand would not work harder to improve her shot putting, as Neil Allen implies in his book, Olympic Diary Tokyo 1964:
[Irina Press] does not possess the extraordinary natural talent of Mary Rand; but unlike the British girl she has no weakness in her athletics armoury. Mary beat the Russian in three of the five events but her shot putting, which has always been miserably poor, let her down yesterday and not even a superb long jump today could make up the deficit. At the medal presentation Irina Press told me she could not understand why Mary, with the minimum work, could not put the shot at least over 42 ft. (12.8 meters)
So second place it was for Mary Rand. With a gold in the long jump and a silver in the pentathlon, Rand thought out loud in an AP article from October 19, 1964 that “a bronze from the relay would complete the set.”
Unfortunately for her sprinting teammates, Rand got what she wished for.
After the completion of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, Queen Elizabeth had lunch with hundreds of Olympians from TeamGB a few days after their return from Japan, and was most taken with Mary Rand, the sensational triple medalist. Rand won gold in the women’s long jump, silver in the pentathlon and bronze as a member of the women’s 4X100 relay team, leading a resurgence in British track and field.
The Queen is reported to have measured out 22 feet, 2 inches (6.76 meters), the length of Rand’s world record jump that resulted in Great Britain’s first gold of the Tokyo Olympics. According to an October 28, 1964 AP article, the Queen told her son, Prince Andrew, that was the length Rand jumped to win the gold. “‘He just couldn’t believe that anyone could jump that far,’ the queen laughingly told Mrs. Rand at a buffet lunch at the palace Tuesday.”
Not that I am expert on the British Royal Family, but clearly the Queen was taken with Rand. To be fair, many were. She was not only an Olympic champion, she was also perceived as wholesome (with a dash of sensuality). In 1964, she was married and had a daughter and had a reputation for being “nice”, which back then was more positive in nuance. But she also drew the attention of famous rock and rollers. “Apparently Mick Jagger said he’d like to date me,” she says (in this Mirror article). “I wish he’d asked! But then again I was married to my first husband at the time and the mother of a young daughter.”
An Italian journalist gave a melting look at the long legs and swinging hips as Mary walked across the grass, then surveyed again the world-record long jump on the indicator board and reluctantly handed me back my binoculars, misty by now. He shook his head in amazement and pronounced the accolade, “All that and a mother too!’
If it was the sheer femininity that struck first, next must come the almost effortless superiority of Mary Rand. Under the pressure of modern sport no British man or woman has ever won an Olympic victory with such authority. Here at last was our Elliott, our Zatopek, our Wilma Rudolph. Our goddess of the arena.
The somewhat sexist comments of the era aside, Mary Rand had a rare combination of grace, power and independence that made her arguably one of the most popular women in Tokyo. Her willingness to speak her mind and not to follow the norm may have also intrigued people.
When she was 17 years old, she developed a relationship with young man from Thailand living in England, nearly marrying much to the chagrin of those around her. The “scandal” of this relationship resulted in her being expelled from school.
When she was preparing for the Tokyo Olympics, she worked at the postal office in a Guinness factory in London, which fortunately gave her the opportunity to both earn wages and train for the Olympics. And one time, her involuntary need to tell jokes got her in a little trouble: She said in the Mirror article: “One of the benefits I got there was a free Guinness in the work’s canteen at lunchtime. I jokingly told a reporter I had a half pint every day as part of my training routine. The next thing I knew there were headlines about my drinking and I got a long lecture from my coach about putting on weight.”
But Allen wrote in his book that people found Rand’s openness charming:
There are few athletes easier to interview for she is completely honest. And her great sense of fun never allows her to have a moment’s conceit about all her ability in so many events. In her greatest moment of all, in the Olympic interview room, she still had time to grin at the incredulous look on the continental journalist’s face when she said she’d ‘had a rub from Johnny’ just before the long jump. Johnny Johnson is, of course, the dedicated masseur to the British athletics team. To Mary, as always ‘life is a bit of a giggle.’
Peter Snell was the 800-meter Olympic champion, coming out of relative obscurity to set an Olympic record at the 1960 Olympic Games in Rome and win the gold medal. But in Tokyo in 1964, Snell was not only the favorite in the 800 meters, he and many others were expecting him to compete and win in the more glamorous 1500-meter race.
While our stereotypical view of Olympic champions are they are super confident and expect to win, the reality is that many oscillate between expectations of victory and the inevitability of disaster. Peter Snell of New Zealand may have exemplified the latter.
As British Olympic reporter, Neil Allen, noted in his book, Olympic Diary Tokyo 1964, Snell was shy and filled with doubt prior to the start of competition.
Two years ago the shy New Zealander and I had sat on the grass in Geraldon, Western Australia, and I had listened to him ponder, with worried brow, his problems in training for the forthcoming Commonwealth Games. Now he was behaving as though he was the last man in the world to hold the records for 800 meters, 880 yards and the mile, the last man you could imagine had won the Olympic 800 meter title four years ago.
“Running both events here might take it out of me, you know,” he said, staring at the ground. “My training was going so badly back at the beginning of last month that I got to the pitch where I couldn’t care less about the Olympics. There are times when you wonder how on earth you could run a 4:30 mile. You no longer have the ability to punish yourself.”
After a successful trial run in the 800 meters, Snell decided he would go for both the 800 and 1500 meter championships. He understood the ramifications of having to run heats in both races, with the possibility that the effort and strain of competing in both could mean doing poorly in both. And those doubts would not go away, as Snell wrote in his autobiography, No Bugles, No Drums.
My most nerve-racking period of the Games was the night before my first race. I’d made the decision to try for the double and promptly that night all sorts of doubts crowded into my mind in a sleep-wrecking procession. Quite seriously I wondered whether the decision was the right one. I felt I could produce a really good performance over 1500 meters. But if I ran in the 800 meters first, there was a strong possibility that not only could I run out of a place in that event – or even fail to qualify at all – I could find myself too tired for the 1500. I could, through tackling both, miss out on both. Was I being too greedy?