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.
The sprinting heir-apparent to Wilma Rudolph in 1960, was Edith McGuire, a member of the famed Tennessee State University Tigerbelles. Clearly, SI hadn’t heard about Wyomia Tyus, who won the 100-meters championships and the crown of fastest woman in the world, but didn’t merit a listing in SI’s top three in that event.
Prediction is very difficult, especially if it’s about the future. – Nils Bohr, Nobel laureate in Physics
A good forecaster is not smarter than everyone else, he merely has his ignorance better organised. – Anonymous
In Sports Illustrated’s preview of the Tokyo Olympics, the editors offered their very specific predictions for gold, silver and bronze medalists for each of the Olympic events. Not only did they provide the names and orders of victors, they offered a bit of analysis for practically each event.
If we consider that this is 1964, when the only practical way to share information real time was the telephone, and shorter term by telegram, telex and snail mail. Using their considerable global connections at the time, they put together a pretty impressive set of predictions.
Let’s take a look at the 17 track and field events shown at the top of this post. Of that 17, SI identified the actual gold medalist 11 times, as you can see the green check mark I applied to an accurate prediction. In four events (indicated by a gray check mark), they didn’t identify the eventual gold medalist, although the one they picked made it to the medal podium.
It was 1999 and the two premier national teams in women’s soccer were facing off in the Rose Bowl in Pasadena California to determine the champions of the second FIFA World Cup Championship.
The United States and China were locked in a scoreless draw through regular and extra time, with victory coming down to a penalty shootout. After goaltender Briana Scurry stopped a shot in the third round, victory rested in the left foot of Brandi Chastain. And when she rocketed the ball into the upper right hand corner of the net, Chastain immediately ripped off her jersey, fell to her knees, her arms extended in ecstatic triumph, and her black Nike sports bra exposed for the entire world to see.
Lisa Lindahl was at home in Vermont when her phone rang and her friend told her to switch on the TV. Lindahl was an entrepreneur who established the market for sports bras in the late 1970s, so when she saw Chastain raise her arms in victory, she said was astonished, and proud. “It was her confidence, her preparation and her long journey that came to fruition in that moment,” said Lindahl in this 99% invisible podcast. “And that is perfect because I could say that about my journey of the jog bra.”
One of my favorite podcasts, 99% Invisible, is not about sports, but about design. And strange as it may seem today, the sports bra was non-existent before 1977. No sportswear or sports equipment manufacturer ever imagined why women would ever need a sports bra.
Dr. LaJean Lawson, who is the Sports Bra Science and Marketing Consultant to Champion Athleticwear, and has been shaping the design of the sports bra for three decades, said that the environment for women in sports when she was growing up was very different.
When I started high school we weren’t allowed to run full court because there was the assumption that girls were too weak, and we couldn’t run any races longer than 400 meters. So women participating in sports having/needing a sports bra is so recent.
The more Lawson promoted the sports bra and the idea of better fitness for women, she even got hate mail.
This letter said “If God had intended women to run he would not have put breasts on them.” There was a whole socio-cultural stereotype of how women should behave, and it wasn’t vigorously and badly. It was more calm and sweet, and how to comport yourself with more steadiness, and not the sort of enthusiasm and passion you see with sport.
But in the 1970s, circumstances were conspiring in the United States to make it easier for women to participate and compete in sports.
In the United States, a section of the United States Education Amendments of 1972, famously called “Title IX,” was created, and subsequently had a huge impact on American society. While the overall goal was to ban gender discrimination within federally funded schools and universities, encouraging greater access for women to higher education, protecting pregnant women and parenting students from being expelled, and challenging gender stereotypes about whether boys or girls were strong in a particular academic category like math and science, Title IX has had a tremendous impact on women in sports.
According to this article, “the impact of Title IX on women’s sports cannot be overstated: the NCAA says the number of female college athletes is at an all-time high, and the numbers of girls playing high school sports has swelled from fewer than 300,000 in 1974 to more than 3.1 million in 2012.”
Additionally, getting into shape and staying fit became a huge part of the American pop culture in the 1970s and 1980s. With bestselling books like The Complete Book of Running by Jim Fixx, which came out in 1977, and Jane Fonda’s Workout, published in 1981, women were running and working out more.
And the more women ran, the more obvious it became that they had a problem men did not. Here’s what Lindahl had to say about that:
My whole generation started exercising, and I had a friend introduce me to what was then called “jogging”. When you have at-shirt over bouncing nipples, you get chafing. So the answer to that is to put a bra on. Because I did try running without any bra. And then of course I got a lot of comments from passing motorists, and certain male runners. So you wear a bra and that poses problems of different sorts, like the straps that fall off your shoulders so you’re always jigging them back up, hardware can dig into your back, and they’re hot and sweaty.
One day, Lindahl’s sister, who also ran, called to ask this obvious, painfully obvious, question: “‘What do you do about your boobs? I am so uncomfortable when I’m running! Why isn’t there a jock strap for women?’ That’s when we really laughed. We thought that was hilarious.”
But Lindahl couldn’t get the idea out of her head, and started to think about the ideal bra for female runners – a bra with straps that wouldn’t fall off the shoulders and wide enough so they wouldn’t dig in. Lindahl recruited a friend, Polly Smith, who was a seamstress and costume designer. And they worked through multiple prototypes for this bra, but could not hit upon the design that made it easier for her to run. Then one day, Lindahl’s husband came down the steps with a jock strap not where it was supposed to be – over his head and across his chest – and said playfully, “Hey ladies, here’s your new jock bra!”
The three of them had a great laugh, and Lindahl thought to continue the joke by pulling the jock strap off her husband and putting it on herself….except that when Lindahl put the jock strap over her breast, she had an epiphany. “Oh!”
The next day, Lindahl went running in a contraption that featured two jock straps sewn together, and realized she had a design that would work. Lindahl, Smith and Smith’s assistant, Hinda Schreiber decided to build a business. Schreiber’s father lent them $5000, the team built a relationship with an apparel manufacturer in South Carolina, and by 1978, they were distributing the “Jog Bra.”
Despite the initial reaction of sports retailers, who thought that the jog bra should go in a lingerie department and not in a sporting goods store, sales of the $16 bra took off. Jog Bra had annual sale increases of 25%, and created an entirely new market. More importantly, it enabled women to enjoy their sporting activities more fully and freely, whether it was taking part in a Jane Fonda workout, playing point guard on a high school basketball team, or running a marathon. The sports bra that Lindahl, Smith and Schreiber created liberated a whole generation of women athletes.
That feeling of liberation came to fruition that moment Brandi Chastain ripper off her jersey in 1999. But that vision was in Lindahl’s head in 1977.
It should be modest enough I could take off my t-shirt on really hot summer days because I had a running partner who would do that. He would take off his shirt in the middle of his run, pull it over his head and tuck it in the back of his shorts. I was so jealous because I couldn’t do that.
Today, millions of women can and do, thanks to the Jog Bra. Happy 40th!
The film, over 54 years later, can indeed make one cringe.
The male coach, throwing a volleyball to the right and to the left of a young woman whose sole mission is to get a hand on the ball, do a somersault on the hard court over her shoulder or across her back, land on her feet in order to begin running the other way so she can desperately get her hand on the ball, back and forth, down and up, over and over again….until she’s so tired she does not realize her body is simply moving on its own.
This technique is called “kaiten reshibu” (receive and rotate), and was one of the secret weapons that made Japan’s women’s volleyball team so effective in the sixties. When they marched into Moscow to take on the mighty Soviet Union in the 1962 world championships, where the Soviet team was not only on their home court, but had a distinct height and strength advantage, the Japanese entered the arena as underdogs, and left the arena as world champions.
It is said that the Soviet press were so amazed by the Japanese that they called them “The Oriental Witches”, a moniker that the international press took up with relish. Interestingly, the Japanese press and the team itself took to that title with pride.
The domineering head coach of the women’s national team of Japan, Hirobumi Daimatsu, knew that the Japanese had to find a way to compensate for their weaknesses. The Japanese women were smaller, so they had to be quicker, more efficient, more willing to sacrifice their bodies.
And while the end seemed to justify the means – the women’s volleyball team under Daimatsu had never lost – some wondered whether the coach was crossing the line, and abusing his players. In a Japanese documentary cited by Iwona Mewrklejn in her article, “The Taming of the Witch: Daimatsu Hirobumi and Coaching Discourses of Women’s Vollevball in Japan”, the labor union of the company that employed the members of the women’s volleyball team criticized Daimatsu for his training regimen. But “the union’s objections did not seem to matter, either to the coach or to the management.”
Overseas journalists also thought that the women were being abused, as you can tell in the title of a Sports Illustrated article, “Driven Beyond Dignity.” In this March 16, 1964 article, the writer, Eric Whitehead, described the punishing practices that Daimatsu put his players through. When a player looked so exhausted that she wanted to quit, Whitehead quoted Daimatsu as saying:
If you’d rather be home with your mother, then go. We don’t want you here.
There’s a South Korean team in town. If this is too tough for you, maybe you should go and play with them.
Whitehead goes on to describe the evening meal break from practice as terse, something that more or less interrupts the coach’s training timeline.
It is 7 o’clock now and the girls’ supper is wheeled in in metal urns: rice, meat and fish. Daimatsu ignores it and quickens the pace. His grim, wild-eyed intensity is frightening. His face is still a mask, but it is strained and beaded with sweat. Now many of the girls are openly sobbing, their faces distorted with the agony of effort and the physical punishment. But they keep staggering in, and the food sits for half an hour before Daimatsu gives a curt signal and the first-team girls- always the first to eat – go to the urns. The others shift to a brisk scrimmage as Daimatsu goes to the sidelines for his own meal, which is served to him by a ball girl. As he dines he is even more chilling to observe, for now one seems to see in him the cool arrogance of a despot.
One could also say there is a bit of “arrogance” in Whitehead’s writing. In response to a comment by Daimatsu about the importance of this kind of training, Whitehead editorialized directly in his article with a single, dismissive line.
Except for a one-week break around Eastertime, this is the routing, year in and year out. Says Coach Daimatsu: “There is time for nothing else. The players know absolutely no other life. They do it because they choose to. The preparation for winning is a personal, individual challenge. It is accepted without question.
Ah, but then, I said to myself, it’s only volleyball, played by girls.
If this were high school football in Texas, where football has been religion for decades, my guess is that Whitehead would never write “Ah, but then, it’s only high school football, played by boys.” Never mind that many of the women on Daimatsu’s team were in their mid to late 20s, he may not have fully understood the expectations that the entire nation of Japan had of this women’s team, although he gives a nod to the notion, albeit in a somewhat patronizing way:
The team’s captain, tall, graceful Masae Kasai, smiles shyly from her desk. Little stories like hers tell the big one. Two years ago, at age 28, Masae was in love and engaged to a young man from Osaka. She had a choice: marriage and a home, or a continuation of the daily torture under Hirofumi (sic) Daimatsu. She chose the latter, for at the 1964 Olympics the glory of Japan will flicker again and glory is everything.
Perhaps Masae had said it all the previous night when I asked her about the team’s chances at the Olympics. “You must understand,” she said gravely. “We have never experienced defeat. We must win.”
Whether they were chasing glory or just trying to meet the heavy expectations of their country, Kasai and her teammates bought into Daimatsu’s approach, as explained by Macnaughtan. After all, they tried his methods and won, and never believed that he was treating them with disrespect. In fact, they trusted Daimatsu explicitly.
I had a lot of trust and respect for Coach Daimatsu. The team was happy to take direction from him because we trusted him. He was a volleyball player himself when he was a university student. He joined Nichibo (the name of the team’s company) after being a soldier in the war. The team and I followed his hard training because of his great human nature. He was a man we could trust and respect as a human being. Whenever our team won, we were convinced that his hard training was the right way to go, and so we would practice and train hard again, and then we would win again. There was a very close bond between him and the team.
Since the time he left Rio de Janeiro, with a silver medal in the marathon from the Summer Olympic Games, Feyisa Lilesa has not been able to enjoy the triumphant return home to an adoring populace like most other Olympian medalists.
Instead, he lives a life a self-exile.
When he crossed the line to finish his marathon achievement in Rio, he crossed another line by extending his arms and crossing them in the shape of an X, with fists clenched. It was a clear sign to his country men and women in Ethiopia that Lilesa was outraged with his government, his arms raised in protest against his country’s leaders for the treatment of the country’s largest ethnic group which he belongs to – the Oromo. According to reports, hundreds of Oromo have been killed by Ethiopian troops, and thousands of others have been injured, arrested or disappeared, according to a report by Human Rights Watch.
While the Ethiopian government has said Lilesa would be welcome back with arms wide open, he does not believe that. And in his new home in the arid desert of Arizona in the United States, in his lonely jogs, he is constantly reminded that a government agent of Ethiopia might be lurking to do him harm.
“There is nothing I could do to stop it if someone wanted to do something to me out there,” he says through an interpreter in a May 1 Sports Illustrated article. “I am alone, just like I am alone in this country. All I can do is stay strong and keep going.”
The time I first wrote about Lilesa in December, 2016, he truly was all alone, as he left his family behind when he defected to the United States. And according to the Sports Illustrated article, a remarkable interview, his wife, Iftu, let him know what a painful decision he had made when he first talked with her on the phone.
When Iftu called, he could not pick up the phone. He didn’t know what to say. It took him two days to call her back. There was fear and anger in her voice. “Why didn’t you tell us what you were doing?” she demanded. “You gave us this good life, and now our lives aren’t as good. What plan did you have? You’ve risked everything. Why did you make this decision?” She knew her husband had been pained for years. She knew that he felt stifled, that he’d kept quiet for fear of reprisal. She knew he had visited imprisoned protesters and had given clothing and training shoes to needy Oromo. Deep inside, she knew the answers to her questions.
She knew what is in his heart. And according to this fascinating article, Lilesa was thinking that he could make a difference if he was able to get a medal in Rio. This act of defiance was not a spontaneous act of a tired athlete who had just run hard for over two hours. It was premeditated.
Preparing for Rio, Lilesa felt desperate to call attention to a crisis largely ignored by the international community. He needed a medal. Only gold, silver and bronze finishers would get significant media coverage. He had won big races in Europe, the United States and Asia, including the Tokyo Marathon at the start of 2016. But he wasn’t a heavy favorite in Rio. His time in Tokyo had been 2:06:56, only the 31st-fastest marathon of the year. Rio would be the race of his life — a race for his people. He kept his plan a secret, even from his wife and children. If he’d told them, he would have been swallowed by emotion. If he had felt Iftu’s sorrow, he might have lost his nerve.
But he did not lose his nerve. And when given other opportunities – the Honolulu Marathon in December, 2016, or the London Marathon in April, 2017, Lilesa will cross his arms to show he is still thinking of his family members and friends who have suffered and perished. But now, he no longer is running this political marathon alone. On Valentine’s Day of 2016, Lilesa was re-united with his wife and children.
On Feb. 14 — six months after Feyisa said goodbye to them in Africa — his children leap into his arms in the Miami International Airport. Soko, a girl sharp and willful, seems beyond her years. Sora stands close. Near the baggage claim in the bright airport, they laugh and tease, and Feyisa picks them up and cuddles them. Moments later, he holds Iftu in a tight embrace. Tears stream from her brown eyes. With both hands, he wipes them away. Tears well in his own eyes, but he does his best to stand straight and keep them from falling.
Lelisa feels that tears will demonstrate weakness, for he does not want the government to believe that he is succumbing to the pressure.
Lelisa is not weak. He is stronger. But he is not happy.
“It is much better now, with my wife and children,” Lilesa says. “But if you put this on a scale of 1 to 100, I am only at 15 percent happiness. I am in exile, not for myself first and foremost but for my people. And my people are suffering. Going through hell. The situation has gotten worse. I have told you that right now I do not want to cry. The day I will cry is when my people win justice and freedom. That day, I cry nonstop, out of joy.”
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).
The Autumn sky was not clear and blue, but cloudy and gray. Most of the athletes were dressed up smartly, some in normal track suits. When the athletes marched into the National Stadium, there appeared to be huge gaps within and between teams, as opposed to the immensely dense succession of national teams usually expected on their heroic march at the commencement of an Olympic Games. And in this case, they marched past the Crown Prince, not the Emperor of Japan. The jets maneuvered and etched out the five rings of the Olympic emblem, but the circles weren’t quite right.
No one carried a torch into the stadium and lit an Olympic cauldron.
In fact, you couldn’t even see the word Olympics anywhere. This was not a sporting event sanctioned by the International Olympic Committee (IOC), so no one could officially use the label “pre-Olympics”, which were what most people were calling the event.
But that was just fine. After all, this was not the opening ceremony of the 1964 Tokyo Olympiad, it was the opening ceremony of the Tokyo International Sports Week in 1963, exactly one year before the start of the actual Olympics.
Demonstrating the wisdom and extraordinary planning capability of the Tokyo Olympic Organizing Committee (OOC) in the early 1960s, they committed to running a dress rehearsal of the Olympics a year in advance. At a budget of USD1 million, the OOC organized a competition for 20 different sports, invited about 4,000 athletes from 35 different countries, including over a dozen world-record holders.
There were, of course, issues, according to the Mainichi Daily News.
At the yachting events in Hayama, the Thai team (led by a Prince Bira of Thailand) were regaled by the Costa Rican flag at the venue, which employs the same pattern and colors, but the colored stripes are in different orders.
The canoeing venue at Lake Sagami was too far away, the 4-hour bus ride a headache.
The shotput balls, which were manufactured in Japan, were apparently too small.
The high jumpers found the soft rubber clumps in their landing area to be unsafe, particularly after the world’s best female high jumper, Iolanda Balas, sprained her ankle in it after a jump.
The walls that provided back drop at the shooting site were brown, which caused eye strain, as opposed to yellow or gray which the shooters were more accustomed to.
Taxis were hard to get a hold of at the stadium.
And most prominently, the interpreters on site were not effective.
All of which proves why it was so important to have a rehearsal, so that the organizers could note potential issues when the real Games come to town. Perhaps more significant, a major objective of the Tokyo International Sports Week was to infuse confidence in the organizers, the IOC and probably the entire nation of Japan – after all, there was some doubt that Japan could pull off the first Olympic Games in Asia.
After the completion of the dress rehearsal, any doubt disappeared. The 7-day Tokyo International Sports Week was a success.
According to Sports Illustrated, over 20,000 police and over 1,200 firemen were mobilized by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government during the Sports Week. And when the 68,000 spectators spilled out of the National Stadium at the end of the Opening Ceremony on October 11, 1963, it reportedly took only 18 minutes to do so (which is mindboggling), and about 50 minutes to restore traffic to normal conditions around the National Stadium on a Friday afternoon.
Here’s how the Mainichi Daily News put it:
The criticisms from the foreign and Japanese delegations and press, in fact, came as a “blessing” to the Tokyo Olympic organizers, who had intended the TISW “actually and truly as a rehearsal or trial” and nothing more. The lessons they learned are to their advantage in preparing for next year’s Olympics. Reflecting and weighing the evaluations, good and bad, the OOC is rolling up its sleeves to remedy these flaws and to improve, whatever possible, on the countless details that need to be perfected by Olympic time next year. Many of the suggestions have already been accounted for. The Japanese have demonstrated that they have the ability to stage a big-scale sports festival by their splendid organization of the spectacularly successful Third Asian Games in Tokyo five years ago. And they can do it again. The world can be confident that the Japanese with their ingenuity and determined efforts and favored by experiences in the TISW will clear all hurdles successfully to realize their hopes and dreams to make Asia’s first Olympic Games the greatest ever held.
He wobbles. He quivers. He rolls. He shakes. He is a dripping mass of flesh, a monument to fat. He is 6 feet 3 and weighs 295 pounds. His waist is 44, his chest is 52, but sometimes in the heat of action the measurements seem the other way around. Sitting in the corner, he looks like a melting chocolate sundae.
That’s how Sports Illustrated described heavyweight boxer Buster Mathis in an article on the results of the US Olympic team boxing trials, held in May, 1964. Mathis, despite his bulk, was surprisingly athletic. There are pictures of him playing basketball, flitting about on roller skates and dancing. And his ability to move deftly around the ring, weaving and bobbing, led one reporter to say that Mathis “floats like a baby elephant and stings like a bee.”
In the finals of the heavyweight division at the Trials, Mathis took on another promising heavyweight named Joe Frazier. Frazier, the butcher from Philadelphia who would go on to be heavyweight champion of the world in the glory days of Ali and Foreman, was no match for Mathis. Here’s how SI described Frazier’s futile attempt to go inside.
Frazier was a solid 195, but Buster still had a 100-pound pulling the weights. And he had his speed. Instead of hunting for the head, Frazier moved in to pound Buster’s belly, which shook and glinted under the lights. Buster managed to keep Frazier at bay with a whistling left hook (each one thrown with a loud grunt, “uuuuunnnnhhh!”), and even when Frazier did manage to get inside, his punches were smothered by flab. As Pappy (Gault) says, “Buster’s got an extra layer of fat on that stomach that stops the punches.”
Mathis, not Frazier was heading to Tokyo. Until he wasn’t. On September 19, just three weeks before the opening ceremony of the Toyo Olympics, it was announced that Mathis had a broken bone in his hand – some say it was a finger, others a thumb. It didn’t matter – Frazier was asked to go in Mathis’ place. Ironically, it is said that Mathis broke the bone in his fight with Frazier, learning the unfortunate lesson that winning isn’t everything.
After the 1964 Olympics, both Frazier and Mathis turned professional, and began winning streaks. When Muhammad Ali refused to be drafted into the American armed forces, in the midst of the war with Vietnam, he was stripped of his titles and his license to box in the US revoked. Suddenly, the heavyweight title was up for grabs.
On March 4, 1968, Buster Mathis with a record of 23-0, took on old amateur rival Joe Frazier, with a record of 19-0. Mathis had beaten Frazier not once, but twice preceding the Tokyo Olympics. And when the bell had rung ending the sixth round of the 12-round title fight, Mathis was ahead on points. But Mathis had never gone so deep in a fight with the ferocious and determined Frazier. While Frazier’s patented body blows had little effect over short fights, over a longer period of time, Frazier’s blows began to wear Mathis down. And then suddenly, towards the end of the 11th round, a lightning left-hook by Frazier crumpled Mathis.
Hard-luck Buster Mathis could not win. He lost his biggest shot at the title against Frazier in 1968. And in 1964, he beat Frazier in the Olympic Trials, and still loses his shot at the Olympic glory. If not for Frazier, he coulda been a champ. Twice.
The Masters are an international multi-sport event, held every four years much like the Olympics, except for people aged 30 and older. And “older” could mean well past the century mark. Hidekichi Miyazaki, at the age of 105, is the world record holder for the 100-meter sprint in his age group, with a time at 42.22 seconds.
With advances in health sciences, medicine, diet, people are living longer, more active lives than ever before, particularly in the economically mature nations. And if you were a competitive person in your twenties, it’s likely you are a competitive person in your fifties, sixties and seventies. The Masters have provided that outlet for the high-performance athlete who thinks she’s never too old.
On July 18, Dan O’Brien turned 50. The still youngish looking O’Brien from Portland Oregon was crowned World’s Greatest Athlete when he won gold in the decathlon at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. Today, O’Brien still stays in shape, and along with Dr Vonda Wright, think you – the 50-, 60-something – can definitely get in shape. You just need to stop telling yourself you can’t. Go to this Sports Illustrated article to see why these myths are just myths:
MYTH #1: It’s all downhill after 50
MYTH #2: Older athletes should avoid vigorous exercise