1964 Tokyo Olympics: A man from Hiroshima lights the cauldron

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TOKYO (AP) — It was the year Cassius Clay won the heavyweight championship and became Muhammad Ali. When Roy Emerson of Australia and Maria Bueno of Brazil took the titles at Wimbledon, when Arnold Palmer claimed his fourth and final Masters, and when the Beatles arrived on a Pan Am flight from London to play their first concert in the United States.

It was 1964.

And it was later that same year in Tokyo when Yoshinori Sakai — born on Aug. 6, 1945, in Hiroshima, the day the atomic bomb was dropped on the city — ignited the cauldron in the national stadium to open the 18th Olympic Games.

Japan was back only 19 years after defeat in World War II, and nothing symbolized its rebirth more than the Olympics and the Shinkansen bullet trains that began running as the Games opened.

Japan’s women’s volleyball team — known as the “Witches of the Orient” — won gold in an impassioned final against the Soviet Union. American swimmer Don Schollander took four gold medals, Czechoslovakian gymnast Vera Caslavska won three, and Bob Hayes tied the 100m world record of 10.0 seconds, the last Olympics run on a cinder track.

“They were a beautifully done Olympics and the beginning of my Olympic odyssey,” said Bill Mallon, a former professional golfer, orthopedic surgeon and former president of the International Society of Olympic Historians. “I was 12 years old in 1964, and when I first became fascinated with the Olympics.”

They also grabbed Roy Tomizawa. His father Tom, a second-generation Japanese-American, was an editor working for the television network NBC at the Olympics in Tokyo — the first to be shown internationally using communication satellites.

The family connection and curiosity got Tomizawa looking for a history in English of those 1964 Games. He couldn’t find one, so he wrote his own. The English version came out last year, and the Japanese-language edition will be available in May.

“Any major book like this didn’t exist,” he said in an interview with The Associated Press. “There’s usually a book on every Olympics, but for some reason on the Tokyo Olympics there was nothing.”

The book is titled “1964 — The Greatest Year in the History of Japan: How the Tokyo Olympics Symbolized Japan’s Miraculous Rise from the Ashes.”

Tomizawa, who grew up in New York and has worked for 20 years in Japan, interviewed 70 Olympians from 16 nations. Some were famous at the time: Australian swimmer Dawn Fraser or American 10,000m gold medalist Billy Mills.

Some made other history, like Bulgarian teammates Nikolai Prodanov and Diana Yorgova, who were married in Tokyo during the Olympics. It was billed as the first Olympic wedding and featured a Shinto priest, sake, traditional Bulgarian dances, and an interpreter to explain what was happening.

“I think the Olympians tell more of the story of the Games themselves and their reaction to what they saw of Japan,” Tomizawa said. “Some had been to Japan in ’50s and ’60s. I think everyone was surprised and shocked when they arrived in Japan thinking it would be a backward economy.”

They were also taken aback by the nature of the Japanese.

“For the Canadians, the Australians, the Americans, the Brits — it was the brutal enemy,” Tomizawa said. “When they came they were welcomed and given such help and support and cheering. It was a surprise to all of them.”

Tomizawa said his most memorable interview was with Jerry Shipp, who was a shooting guard on the American gold-medal-winning basketball team coached by Hank Iba. It lasted for several hours with Shipp recounting a tough childhood growing up in an Oklahoma orphanage.

“His teachers told him he was stupid,” Tomizawa recounted. “He struggled with math and everything else. They told him: ‘You’re not going to amount to anything. You’ll probably end up in prison one day.’”

Tomizawa recalled Shipp explaining how, at the gold-medal ceremony when the television camera red light went on, he stared straight into the lens and told off a teacher by name, saying: “I hope you’re watching, ’cause I made something out of myself.”

Tomizawa said he sent the book to Shipp, and received a reply from his daughter.

“She didn’t know all these stories he had revealed to me,” Tomizawa said. “She sent me a picture of him with the book and I just felt very connected. In the interview he was remembering all the bile and what got him to that point of success.”

Shipp led the Americans in scoring ahead of Bill Bradley on a team that also included Larry Brown and Walt Hazzard. In addition to Shipp, Tomizawa also interviewed Jeff Mullins, Mel Counts and Luke Jackson.

Mallon, the historian, told the AP that Tokyo marked the beginning of the expansion of the Olympics, which had barely changed since World War I. Tokyo added judo and volleyball. It was also the beginning of soaring costs.

“In fact, Tokyo 1964 remained the most expensive Olympics ever, when corrected for inflation and on a per-athlete basis, until Beijing 2008,” Mallon said.

Tomizawa said the one-year postponement of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics because of the coronavirus was unlikely to dampen enthusiasm in Japan — if the pandemic is controlled by then. The Olympics in 2021 will be held up as a time to celebrate.

It also can’t hurt book sales.

“I’m not going to make a million dollars from my book, but I was just given another year and several months of marketing,” Tomizawa said. “I can’t complain.”

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

Oleksandr Abramenko
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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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Freestyle skiers in World Cup action on NBC Sports, Peacock

Ski Halfpipe
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Olympic gold medalists David Wise and Alex Hall headline World Cup freestyle skiing and snowboarding stops in the U.S. this weekend, airing on NBC Sports and Peacock.

Wise, who last Sunday won his fifth X Games Aspen ski halfpipe title, led the qualifiers into the final at the Mammoth Mountain Grand Prix in California.

He’s joined in the 10-man final by U.S. Olympic teammates Aaron Blunck and Birk Irving. The women’s ski halfpipe final includes the top three from last week’s X Games — Brit Zoe Atkin, Canadian Rachael Karker and American Svea Irving. Olympic champion Eileen Gu of China is out after suffering a knee injury in an X Games training crash.

The ski slopestyle finals include the reigning men’s and women’s Olympic gold medalists — Hall, plus Mathilde Gremaud of Switzerland.

The marquee snowboarders in Mammoth finals are Olympic big air silver medalist Julia Marino (slopestyle) and X Games silver medalist Maddie Mastro (halfpipe). Two-time Olympic champion Chloe Kim is taking the season off, and another double Olympic champion, Jamie Anderson, is pregnant.

Aerials and moguls skiers are competing in their lone U.S. World Cup stop in Park City, Utah.

The moguls fields including Olympic gold medalists Walter Wallberg of Sweden, Mikael Kingsbury of the U.S., Perrine Laffont of France and Jakara Anthony of Australia. Olympic silver medalist Jaelin Kauf is the standout American.

The aerials include every member of the U.S. team that took gold at last year’s Olympics — Ashley Caldwell, Chris Lillis and Justin Schoenefeld.

Freestyle Skiing and Snowboarding World Cup Broadcast Schedule

Day Event Time (ET) Platform
Saturday Moguls 11 a.m. CNBC, Peacock
Ski Halfpipe 3 p.m. NBC, Peacock
Sunday Ski Slopestyle 12 p.m. CNBC, Peacock
Sun., Feb. 12 Aerials, Dual Moguls 2 p.m. NBC, Peacock
Snowboard Halfpipe 2 p.m. CNBC, Peacock

All NBC and CNBC coverage also streams on NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app for subscribers.

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