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Komazawa Olympic venues in 1964, from the book, The Games of the XVIII Olympiad Tokyo 1964

Are the Olympics a worthy investment? Does the investment create legacies for the host country?

The answer to those questions are often “no”, unfortunately, at least in terms of the billions spent on structures like stadiums and other various sports venues.

Many of the structures built for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics still exist, like the Nippon Budokan, the National Gymnasium and Annex, as well as the Komazawa Olympic Park venues. Not only that, they live and breathe. Click below on the video to see and hear what I did.

On Sunday, May 1, during the long break in Japan known as Golden Week, I took a short bicycle ride to Komazawa Olympic Park, and walk where 1964 Olympians walked. The Park is a collection of venues: Komazawa Gymnasium where Japan won 5 of 16 total gold medals just in wrestling, Komazawa Hockey Field where India beat Pakistan in a memorable finals between two field hockey blood rivals, Komazawa Stadium where soccer preliminary matches were played, and Komazawa Volleyball Courts where Japan’s famed women’s volleyball team mowed through the competition until they won gold at a different venue.

On that day, thousands of people were enjoying unseasonably warm weather under clear, blue skies. The tracks around the park were filled with runners. The gymnasium was hosting a local table tennis tournament, and the stadium was prepping for the third day of the four-day Tokyo U-14 International Youth Football Tournament.

Komazawa 3

In the plaza between the various Komazawa venues, hundreds were enjoying the weather with great food and drink. I was pleasantly surprised to find draft Seattle Pike IPA. While enjoying the cold beer on the hot day, surrounded by hundreds of people loving the day, I realized that Japan in the 1960s made great decisions in planning for the 1964 Olympics. I had a similar revelation earlier when I visited the National Gymnasium months earlier. So much of what was built for those Summer Games are a part of the everyday life of the Japanese.

Japan built a fantastic legacy for 1964. What legacy will Japan begin in 2020?

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Pauli Nevala throwing in Tokyo_Tokyo Olympiad Kyodo News Agency
Pauli Nevala throwing at the 1964 Olympics, from the book Tokyo Olympiad_Kyodo News Agency

Terje Pedersen was the golden boy of javelin throwing from Oslo, Norway. He was 193 cm tall, weighing 93 kilograms, blond and handsome, and was the first person ever to throw a spear over 90 meters, setting a world record at 91.72 meters only five weeks prior to the start of the Tokyo Olympics in 1964.

For the citizens of Norway, Nevala may have been expected to take home gold, joining three other Finnish throwers who had won gold in the javelin throw in prior Olympics. And yet, on that cold and wet day on October 14, 1964, Pedersen threw poorly, his best throw of 72.1 meters, nearly 20 meters off of his world record, fell .21 cm short of qualifying for the finals.

The golden boy was out. For desperate Finns, in walked an unlikely hero, or as Neil Allen, who chronicled the 1964 Games in his book, Olympic Diary Tokyo 1964, called Pauli Nevala, the “lucky” Olympic champion. There’s not much written in English about the javelin competition, but Allen mentioned that Nevala was not as popular as Pedersen, and that in fact, “his selection for the Finnish national team prompted several hundred letters to the athletics association saying he was not good enough to go to Tokyo.”

Terje Pedersen
Terje Pedersen

Was Nevala unliked for some personal reason? As Pedersen had just set the world record so convincingly, was there room for only one national hero in the emotional mindshare of Norwegians? I don’t know. But Nevala assumed the mantle regardless. Nevala was certainly a deserving javelin thrower, his personal best of 86.33 being very close to the world record at the time in July 1963, but in the qualifying round at the Tokyo Games, he was in the middle of the pack with throws in the low 70s.

 

In the final round, Nevala improved, throwing 76.42 meters and then 78.39 meters. In the fourth throw, he uncorked a throw of 82.66 meters to take the lead. Gergely Kulcsar of Hungary and Janis Lusis of the Soviet union tried desperately to hit that mark, but fell short as the long wet day dragged on. Nevala was the unexpected Finnish and Olympic champion. Below is footage of his winning throw.

In an AP report at the time, the javelin coach for Finland, Hans Oeverland, painted a bleak picture for his countrymen, saying the competition was “quite disappointing for us and disastrous for Pedersen. But we will make no excuses. The weather was bad but it was the same for all competitors. I guess it all was a question about nerves.”

Hmmm…but what of Finnish champion Nevala?

Gergely_Kulcsár,_Pauli_Nevala,_Jānis_Lūsis_1964 on medal stand (color)
Gergely Kulcsar, Pauli Nevala, Janis Lusis

 

Dawn Fraser in TokyoDawn Fraser was on top of the world, after winning gold and silver medals, adding to her haul of 8 medals over three Olympiads. She was honored with the task of carrying the Australian flag in the closing ceremony on Saturday, October 24.

But it was Friday, and the night was still young. And when you’re Dawn Fraser, you can’t help but let a bit of the larrikin out.

The competitions were over and the party was on at The Imperial Hotel. The Australian swim team had gone home already, but Fraser had the entire Australian hockey team to party with. As she described in her book, Below the Surface – Confessions of an Olympic Champion, “at one stage one of the Olympic officials was wearing a kimono while the owner of the kimono was dancing about in a large Australian dressing gown.”

Around 2:30 am, a little less than 12 hours prior to when Fraser was scheduled to march into the National Olympic Stadium carrying her country’s flag, a plan was being hatched. Fraser and her friends were going to embark on a shady tradition of sorts in the Olympics – pinching flags.

A friend of hers, whom she refers to as an official, tells her that he’s found an ideal place to “pick up some good flags.” Fraser, the official and a hockey player slip away from the party, and walk through the darkened Tokyo streets until they arrive at the Emperor’s Palace. Again, here’s how Fraser explains it in her autobiography, Below the Surface:

We followed the moat for a while, and suddenly we were in the middle of a large flutter of flags. The flagpoles were sprouting like exclamation marks all round us. We chose a fine big Olympic banner with the five circles on it, and one of my companions bunked himself up on the shoulders of the other. They swayed around a little, and they swore once or twice; but finally they pulled the flag loose. ‘Quick,’ said one of them. ‘Cop this.’ I took the flag. ‘Go for your life,’ said the other. ‘The demons are coming.’

The “demons” were the police. Fraser tried to hide in a large shrub, but the police found her and started beating on her feet with a baton, so she threw the flag away and ran again. She saw a bicycle and hopped on it to get her further from the police “yelping and whistling” behind her. After all, she was making her escape on a policeman’s bike. That’s when she saw the Palace moat, and thought she could disappear into its darkness. “I figured that no policeman would ever catch me once I hit the moat,” she wrote.

Dawn Fraser on a bicycle_The Olympic CEntury XVIII Olympiad
Australian swimmer Dawn Fraser on a bicycle, from the book The Olympic Century XVIII Olympiad

In the panic, she ran into a brick wall, jumped 8 feet down into the moat onto more concrete and badly twisted her ankle. That’s when the police caught her.

At the Marunouchi Police Station, to where she was taken, no one would believe that she was not only an Olympic athlete, but that she was the world-famous Dawn Fraser. She had no identification on her, so the best she could do in the middle of the night was to contact a friend to bring her identification, and vouch for her. This friend was Lee Robinson, who was filming a documentary about Dawn Fraser. He brought the ID and the

Stouder Fraser Ellis in Tokyo
Medallists in the 100 metres freestyle swimming event at the Tokyo Olympics, 15th October 1964. Left to right: silver medallist Sharon Stouder of the U.S.A., third time gold medallist Dawn Fraser of Australia and bronze medallist Kathleen Ellis, also of the U.S.A. Fraser is holding up her lucky kangaroo mascot. (Photo by Central Press/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

No woman had ever won gold in three successive Olympics in the same event, but Dawn Fraser of Balmain, Australia was gunning for it.

Fraser’s breakthrough was at the Melbourne Olympics in 1956 as she beat her fellow Australians in the 100-meter freestyle, becoming an overnight sensation. Then in Rome, the American swimming team was a rising power, but Fraser stared them down to win the 100 meters. In Tokyo, the Americans were expected to win everything. And they came close. But Fraser, at the age of 27, beat 15-year old Sharon Stouder, and 17-year old Kathy Ellis to assure her status as one of the Olympiad’s greatest heroes.

But heroes often must pass painful trials to complete their journey. 1964 proved to be an emotional roller coaster for Fraser, beginning with a disaster for Fraser only 8 months before the Tokyo Olympics.

In February, Fraser was peaking, setting the world record in the 100 yards, and winning the 220 yard title at the National Championships in Sydney. One evening shortly after those championships, she and her family were enjoying an evening out. She had a car and offered to drive her sister home, accompanied with her mother and her friend, Wendy Walters. Here is how she describes the fatal crash in her autobiography, “Below the Surface“, that ended her mother’s life:

I was driving about 40 miles an hour. I’d been driving for 10 years, and I knew that this was about my limit with my mother on board; she was nervous about speed. We were sweeping around a curve on a highway called General Holmes Drive when I saw what looked like the cabin of a truck dead ahead. At the same moment, Wendy, who was next to me in the front seat, called out, ‘Look out, Dawn.’ I remember pulling the wheel hard to the right, and I think I must have hit the brakes hard. I learned a long time later that the driver of the truck we hit had parked his vehicle while he went fishing nearby in the Cook’s River. But my recollections of the crash are vague: a gigantic close-up of the cabin in our headlights, a high screech of tires on bitumen, and a terrible crash.

Walters had injuries to her face, while Fraser and her brother Ken recovered from injuries after arriving at the hospital unconscious. Fraser’s mother, however, was killed in the accident.

Over my last few days in the hospital, I was trying to sort my life out again, trying to adjust to the idea that my mother wasn’t there anymore. I couldn’t believe that it had all happened. And I kept blaming myself, because I had been driving the car. My mother was 68, and I was completely devoted to her; I don’t think I really knew how close we were until the accident, and then it was too late. My family kept trying to talk me out of my depression, telling me that it was foolish to accept the blame.

Fraser had pretty much given up on going to Tokyo. She was depressed, feeling guilty. She was at the wheel. She was responsible. On top of that, she had to wear an uncomfortable steel brace for nine weeks that kept her neck and back immobile, forcing her to turn her whole body just to talk to someone to her side. But recover she did, returning to the water

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Mariana Jolly meets President Sukarno at the Asian Games in 1962, from the collection of Mariana Jolly

She was a 14-year old, and yet an artifact of colonial Asia – the daughter of British parents representing Singapore in The Asian Games. When Mariana Jolly was asked to join the national swimming team to represent Singapore at the Asian Games, she had no idea that she would catch the attention of the most powerful man in Indonesia.

“It was the Asian Games, but I was the only European there,” Jolly told me. “Sukarno organized a lot of these social events for the athletes, there were quite a few. And the first time, he took one look at me and came to me. He asked me if I was Dutch. I said ‘no’, and he smiled. I danced with him at a barbecue, and I sang to him in Malay at another party.”

Little did Jolly know that the Asian Games they joined ignited the heated feud between Indonesia and the IOC, resulting in the last-second decision by Indonesia and North Korea to boycott the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo.

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Dancing with Sukarno, from the collection of Mariana Jolly

Post-war, post-colonial Asia was a mess, a political vacuum, a time of economic experimentation that led to social upheaval. In the midst of those turbulent times, Malaysia emerged as a new nation in 1963, bringing together the British colonies of Malaya, Singapore, North Borneo and Sarawak.

Indonesia in the early 1960s was an emerging political power in Asia, led by that country’s first president, Sukarno. Leading the fight against the colonial rulers from the Netherlands, Sukarno was imprisoned by the Dutch rulers, freed by invading Japanese forces in 1942, and then appointed President of Indonesia when Japan surrendered to the United States and the allies at the end of World War II.

After decades of fighting Dutch colonial rule, Sukarno was anti-imperialist, and by extension, anti-West. While he did secure billions of dollars in aid from the United States and the Kennedy administration, Sukarno cultivated strong ties with the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and the Soviet Union.

And to reflect Indonesia’s growing power and influence, Sukarno won the rights to hold the Asian Games in Jakarta in 1962. The Asian Games is held every four years like the Olympics, and brings together the best athletes of Asia. In 1962, the participating countries included the PRC, which was boycotting the Olympic Games, as well as nations in the Middle East. Sukarno decided to make a statement – he would not invite athletes from Israel, which was the enemy of so many of Indonesia’s allies in the non-aligned world, nor athletes from Taiwan, which the PRC did not recognize.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC), led by then president, Avery Brundage, took umbrage, reiterating the importance to separate politics from sports, and indefinitely

Jeanne & Ken Tokyo 1
Ken and Jeanne in Tokyo, from the collection of Jeanne Collier

He was a 19-year-old university student from Illinois. She was an 18-year-old high school student from Arizona. They would go on to be diving’s power couple in Tokyo as Ken Sitzberger won gold in the men’s 3-meter springboard diving competition, and Jeanne Collier took silver in the women’s 3-meter springboard competition.

Collier told me that there was some resistance by the coaches to their dating during final preparations for the XVIII Olympiad in Tokyo, but she said there was never really anything to worry about regarding their readiness.

We met in 1962 at a Nationals. He was from Chicago and I was from Phoenix. We had a letter writing campaign. He went to Indiana. I was still in high school. We got to know each other. So as we prepared for Tokyo, he and I hung out together. The coaches didn’t like that. But it was harmless. At that time, we would have time off, talk at meals, but the focus had to be on training.

Ken & Jeanne Wedding
Ken and Jeanne on their wedding day, from the collection of Jeanne Collier

And the results spoke for themselves. Not only did Sitzberger and Collier win medals at the Tokyo Summer Games, they did so in dramatic, come-from-behind fashion.

In Sitzberger’s case, he was trailing USA teammate Frank Gorman going into the penultimate 9th dive of the competition. While Gorman had his worst dive of the competition, Sitzberger had his best, leapfrogging Gorman into the lead. Despite a strong final dive from Gorman, Sitzberger was able to hold on to win. As his coach, Jerry Darda, was quoted as saying, Sitzberger was a confident person, who a year before, despite winning bronze at the Pan American Games, told Darda that he would win gold in Tokyo.

“Kenny said right-out: ‘I’m going to win the gold medal.’  I didn’t want to ruin his confidence, but I asked him how he could be sure.  He had barely made the team and missed fourth by only five points.  But Kenny had analyzed the whole thing, the strengths and weaknesses of the other divers who were ranked one, two, three in the world – they were his competition – and he knew they’d all be going to training camp for a few weeks before the Olympics.  He told me ‘Those guys are going to see me in training camp and that’s going to help me.  They’re going to feel a lot of extra pressure after they see me dive every day.  They’re going to realize I just don’t miss.'”

In Collier’s case, she was trailing her teammate Patsy Willard as they entered the final optional dives, the three dives where the level of difficulty can send you crashing out of the race, or propel you to victory. The reigning Olympic champion, Ingrid Engel-Kramer of East Germany, led the competition from start to finish, and took gold for the second consecutive Olympics. Willard had a 3-point lead on Collier entering the optional dives, as well as the experience of battling the Olympic pressures in Rome four years before. On top of that, Collier did poorly on her first optional dive – “a forward 2 ½ somersault, which was horrible.” But she pulled herself together for a come-back.

“I had a talk with myself. I had the highest degree of difficulty. I had my two highest difficulty dives left and they were to be my best dives.” Collier snatched silver from her

 

rikidozan unleashed

Rikidozan was one of the most well-known people in Japan in the 1950s. Starting out as a sumo wrestler, Rikidozan made his mark taking on American wrestlers, and defeating them. This time is only a few years removed from the end of the American occupation, a psychologically disorienting time as Japanese swung from superior overlords in Asia to beaten and despairing at the end of the Pacific War. Taking on the Americans in the ring and knocking them into submission (even if they were to script), built up the morale of the Japanese, and made Rikidozan a national hero of unparalleled stature.

The picture below is a testament to Rikidozan’s pulling power. In the 1950s in Japan, black and white televisions were available, but were still too expensive for the common person. Movie theaters were booming, but they could not show live broadcasts. So when there was a major event broadcast live, the major Japanese networks like NHK and NTV would set up televisions at train stations, temples, shrines and parks and invite people to watch free of charge. And no one pulled in the crowds like Rikidozan.

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AP Photo/Max Desfor

One December evening in 1963, Rikidozan was at a night club called The New Latin Quarter in downtown Tokyo when he apparently bumped into another person as he was leaving the rest room. Rikidozan apparently demanded that the other person, a gangster named Katsushi Murata, to apologize. Murata did not, Rikidozan wrestled Murata to the ground, and Murata sent a knife blade into the wrestler’s abdomen. Rikidozan died a week later.

Ten months later, on October 23, on the second-to-last day of the Tokyo Olympics, Japan was again reminded of Rikidozan when they read the news that Murata had been sentenced to 8 years in prison.

The Tokyo Olympics lifted the spirits of Japanese throughout the country in those magical two weeks in October, 1964. Rikidozan, the Father of Japanese Pro Wrestling, had already been doing that for years.