Tokyo’s 1964 Olympics echo through 2020 Games

Yoshinori Kasai
AP
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TOKYO (AP) — Mariko Nagai walked outside Yoyogi National Stadium — the late-architect Kenzo Tange‘s masterpiece from Tokyo’s 1964 Olympics — and pictured the city in that era.

She was a university student from northern Japan who landed a job as an interpreter at the dazzling swimming venue, where American Don Schollander would win four gold medals.

“I wouldn’t say Japanese people were confident about the ability to become one of the advanced nations,” Nagai said. “But we wanted to show how much recovery we had made.”

Tange’s jewel, with a soaring roofline that still defines modern architecture, symbolized Japan’s revival just 19 years after the ravages of World War II. A centerpiece in ’64, it will host handball in Tokyo’s 2020 Olympics, a link between the now-and-then in the Japanese capital.

Tuesday will mark two years before the Opening Ceremony of the 2020 Games. A new National Stadium is rising on the site of the demolished one that hosted the opening in 1964. Tokyo organizers, though, chose to re-use several older buildings, partly to cut costs. They include the Nippon Budokan, the spiritual home of Japanese judo and other martial arts that became a well-known rock concert venue in the ensuing decades.

For Nagai, the theme of recovery also links now and then

. She grew up in Sendai, a city near the northeast coast that was devastated by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami. The 9.0 quake destroyed the house where she lived until she was 18. No one was living there at the time, but family treasures were lost or destroyed.

“Again, this is an opportunity to showcase to the world how much recovery we have made,” she said.

Nagai still has her blue Olympic blazer, now faded and minus a pocket patch that she removed after the games — and has since lost, possibly in the earthquake rubble. The embroidered emblem featured Japan’s rising sun, the Olympic rings and “TOKYO 1964” etched across the bottom.

Few foreigners walked Tokyo’s streets back then, unlike in today’s tourism boom. Japan had 29 million foreign visitors last year and expects 40 million in 2020.

“A lot of ordinary people who were not used to seeing foreigners felt extraordinary that they could be surrounded by so many non-Japanese,” Nagai said. “It was something very extraordinary, very special.”

She was an exception more than 50 years ago, having picked up English as a high-school exchange student in Dallas.

“In 1964, you could say almost nobody was able to speak English,” she said. “So the organizing committee had a very hard time recruiting interpreters.”

She laughs about it now. The job didn’t even involve interpreting.

“The text would be handed to me in English. All I had to do was read it aloud. I remember that announcing the names was very difficult,” she said, still able to recall the tricky pronunciations of some Swedish swimmers.

Her part-time job as a 21-year-old announcer turned into a career at Simul International as one of Japan’s best-known interpreters. She has worked with American presidents, British royals and Japanese prime ministers, from Masayoshi Ohira four decades ago to current leader Shinzo Abe.

Japan has joined the ranks of the world’s rich nations, but the Yoyogi stadium fits into 21st-century Tokyo, just as it did in the 1960s and much in the way a 500-year-old European cathedral remains timeless.

“That’s the beauty of a classic building,” said American-born architect James Lambiasi, who has worked in Tokyo for 25 years. “It does not age. It’s always wonderful. Remember, Tokyo was a wooden city recovering from the war, and these new technologies of steel and concrete gave the city its rebirth.”

The stadium’s sweeping roof is anchored to earth by steel cables, like a suspension bridge, and mixes the modern with traditional forms found in Japanese temples and shrines.

Lambiasi, who teaches design at Shibaura University and the Japan campus of Temple University, described the stadium as “the pinnacle of modern architecture.”

He minced few words when talking about its importance and that of its designer, Tange, whose tools were slide rules and his imagination.

“The building is a technological wonder,” Lambiasi said. “And you have to keep in mind he did it before any type of computer graphics, any computer modeling.”

Cutting costs for host cities has become a priority for the International Olympic Committee, which has been criticized for pressuring them to overspend on new venues in the past.

John Coates, who heads the IOC’s planning for Tokyo and was heavily involved in organizing the Sydney 2000 Olympics, acknowledged that avoiding “white-elephant” venues is a high priority after the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro, which produced a half-dozen without tenants.

“These days we are pushing this, and it seems like (Tokyo) have had the good sense to go that way,” Coates told The Associated Press.

Masa Takaya, a spokesman for Tokyo 2020, said using the older “venues will tell the worldwide audiences a fantastic story.”

Besides the Yoyogi stadium, the Nippon Budokan is the most well-known venue being used from ’64. A series of Beatles’ concerts in 1966 gave the building its world fame, probably more so than the Olympics.

“If you have a favorite band or an album, I’m sure you have one that’s says ‘Live at the Budokan,'” Lambiasi said.

Architects have criticized Japan’s construction and real-estate industry for tearing down older buildings, often using updated earthquake regulations as the reason to raze and rebuild. The Yoyogi and the Budokan have bucked the trend.

“As an architect, it’s painful so see so many of these iconic buildings being destroyed,” Lambiasi said. “I’m so happy to know that, rather than being torn down, these building are being reused.”

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Snowboarders sue coach, USOPC in assault, harassment case

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Olympic bronze medalist Rosey Fletcher has filed a lawsuit accusing former snowboard coach Peter Foley of sexually assaulting, harassing and intimidating members of his team for years, while the organizations overseeing the team did nothing to stop it.

Fletcher is a plaintiff in one of two lawsuits filed in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles on Thursday. One names Foley, the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee, the U.S. Ski & Snowboard team and its former CEO, Tiger Shaw, as defendants. Another, filed by a former employee of USSS, names Foley, Shaw and the ski federation as defendants.

One of the lawsuits, which also accuse the defendants of sex trafficking, harassment, and covering up repeated acts of sexual assault and misconduct, allege Foley snuck into bed and sexually assaulted Fletcher, then shortly after she won her bronze medal at the 2006 Olympics, approached her “and said he still remembered ‘how she was breathing,’ referring to the first time he assaulted her.”

The lawsuits describe Foley as fostering a depraved travel squad of snowboarders, in which male coaches shared beds with female athletes, crude jokes about sexual conquests were frequently shared and coaches frequently commented to the female athletes about their weight and body types.

“Male coaches, including Foley, would slap female athletes’ butts when they finished their races, even though the coaches would not similarly slap the butts of male athletes,” the lawsuit said. “Physical assault did not stop with slapping butts. Notably, a female athlete once spilled barbeque sauce on her chest while eating and a male coach approached her and licked it off her chest without warning or her consent.”

The USOPC and USSS knew of Foley’s behavior but did nothing to stop it, the lawsuit said. It depicted Foley as an all-powerful coach who could make and break athletes’ careers on the basis of how they got along off the mountain.

Foley’s attorney, Howard Jacobs, did not immediately return requests for comment from The Associated Press. Jacobs has previously said allegations of sexual misconduct against Foley are false.

In a statement, the USOPC said it had not seen the complaint and couldn’t comment on specific details but that “we take every allegation of abuse very seriously.”

“The USOPC is committed to ensuring the safety and wellbeing of Team USA athletes, and we are taking every step to identify, report, and eliminate abuse in our community,” the statement said.

It wasn’t until the Olympics in Beijing last year that allegations about Foley’s behavior and the culture on the snowboarding team started to emerge.

Allegations posted on Instagram by former team member Callan Chythlook-Sifsof — who, along with former team member Erin O’Malley, is a plaintiff along with Fletcher — led to Foley’s removal from the team, which he was still coaching when the games began.

That posting triggered more allegations in reporting by ESPN and spawned an AP report about how the case was handled between USSS and the U.S. Center for SafeSport, which is ultimately responsible for investigating cases involving sex abuse in Olympic sports. The center has had Foley on temporary suspension since March 18, 2022.

The AP typically does not identify alleged victims of sexual assault unless they have granted permission or spoken publicly, as Fletcher, Chythlook-Sifsof and O’Malley have done through a lawyer.

USSS said it was made aware of the allegations against Foley on Feb 6, 2022, and reported them to the SafeSport center.

“We are aware of the lawsuits that were filed,” USSS said in a statement. “U.S. Ski & Snowboard has not yet been served with the complaint nor has had an opportunity to fully review it. U.S. Ski & Snowboard is and will remain an organization that prioritizes the safety, health and well-being of its athletes and staff.”

The lawsuits seek unspecified damages to be determined in a jury trial.

Oleksandr Abramenko, Ukraine’s top Winter Olympian, tears knee, career in question

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Aerials skier Oleksandr Abramenko, who won both of Ukraine’s medals over the last two Winter Olympics, is out for the season after a knee ligament tear and said he might not return to competition at all, according to Ukrainian media.

Abramenko, 34, won gold at the 2018 Olympics — Ukraine’s second-ever individual Winter Olympic title after figure skater Oksana Baiul in 1994 — and silver last year.

He competed once this season, placing 10th at a World Cup in Finland on Dec. 4, and then flew with the Ukrainian national team to stay in Utah ahead of World Cups in Canada in January and at the 2002 Olympic venue in Park City this weekend. The area also hosted many Ukraine winter sports athletes this past summer.

Abramenko missed the competition in Canada two weeks ago due to injury and then wasn’t on the start list for today’s aerials event in Park City. He is set to miss the world championships later this month in Georgia (the country, not the state).

Abramenko said he needs surgery, followed by a nine-month rehabilitation process, similar to an operation on his other knee six years ago, according to Ukraine’s public broadcaster. He said he will see how the recovery goes and determine whether to return to the sport at age 35, according to the report.

Abramenko is already the oldest Olympic men’s aerials medalist and come the 2026 Milan-Cortina Winter Games will be older than all but one male aerialist in Olympic history, according to Olympedia.org.

At last year’s Olympics, Abramenko, Ukraine’s flag bearer at the Opening Ceremony, was hugged after the aerials final by Russian Ilya Burov, who finished one spot behind Abramenko for a bronze medal. A week later, Russia invaded Ukraine.

A week after that, Abramenko posed for a photo sitting on a mattress in a Kyiv parking garage with his wife and 2-year-old son published by The New York Times.

“We spend the night in the underground parking in the car, because the air attack siren is constantly on,” Abramenko texted, according to the newspaper. “It’s scary to sleep in the apartment, I myself saw from the window how the air defense systems worked on enemy missiles, and strong explosions were heard.”

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