Tokyo 1964

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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NBC’s first Olympic broadcast at 1964 Tokyo Games marks 55th anniversary

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Thursday marked the 55th anniversary of NBC’s debut Olympic broadcast — the first live telecast of an Opening Ceremony. Fittingly, it was of the Tokyo Games.

The Olympics return to Tokyo in July.

Coverage was far different back in 1964. NBC obtained the TV rights for $1.5 million (first time an Olympics surpassed the $1 million barrier) and aired 14 total hours of coverage over 15 days.

In 2014, the IOC awarded NBC Universal the Olympic broadcast rights from 2021 through 2032 — valued at $7.65 billion, plus a $100 million signing bonus for the promotion of Olympism and Olympic values between 2015 and 2020.

In Rio, NBC Universal aired a record 6,755 Olympic programming hours, including live streaming of every Olympic sport on NBCOlympics.com.

The 1964 Tokyo Games were highlighted by Czechoslovakian gymnast Vera Caslavska, who earned three gold medals, including the first of back-to-back all-around titles.

Swimmer Don Schollander won four gold medals, most for an American in any sport since Jesse Owens in Berlin in 1936.

Ethiopian Abebe Bikila became the first repeat Olympic marathon champion, four years after running barefoot through the streets of Rome.

Future Dallas Cowboys Super Bowl champion wide receiver Bob Hayes equaled the 100m world record of 10.06 seconds. And Billy Mills pulled off one of the most memorable upsets in Olympic history, becoming the first (and so far only) American to win the 10,000m.

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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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