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History of the Olympic Games
 

1964

Site: Tokyo, Japan
Dates: October 10-24
Nations: 94
Total Athletes: 5,140
Sports: 19

Japan, which had been awarded the 1940 Olympics, but were forced to withdraw because of the Sino Japanese, brought the Olympics to Asia for the first time in 1964. Japan spent nearly $3 billion in city preparation, while a record $60 billion was budgeted for the Games overall.

Emperor Hirohito had designated 19-year old Yoshinori Sakaki, a resident of Hiroshima, as the person to light the Olympic torch. Sakaki had been born just 40 miles and just two hours after the bomb had been dropped on Hiroshima, which ultimately ended World War II.

Japan proved to be the perfect hosts and the Games were free of protests, boycotts and controversy.

These were the Games that spotlighted athletes like Australian swimmer Dawn Fraser, U.S. boxer Joe Frazier, U.S. sprinter Bob Hayes and Ethiopian marathon runner Abebe Bikilia. All of these athletes had to overcome insurmountable odds not only to appear, but also win gold medals in their respective events.

Many were shocked that Fraser even participated in the Games. Seven months earlier, Fraser had been involved in a car accident that took the life of her mother. In addition, Fraser had been in a neck brace for six weeks following the accident, thus limiting her training regimen. However, Fraser rebounded to win her third consecutive gold in the 100 meters.

Frazier, who would gain prominence in later years in his battles with 1960 Olympic champion Cassius Clay, had suffered a devastating defeat at the hands of Buster Mathis in the U.S. trials and only went to Tokyo as Mathis' sparring partner. When Mathis broke his index finger during a sparring session, Frazier took his place. Frazier would ultimately break his own finger in the semifinals against a Russian opponent, but refused x-rays. He was determined to fight for the gold, which he ultimately won. Frazier would be the heavyweight champion of the world just six years later.

Hayes suffered a leg injury just four months before the Games and left him in doubt for Japan. However, not only did he answer the question, but left an exclamation mark by tying the world record of 10 seconds flat in the 100 meters. He also ran an incredible 8.6 seconds in the anchor leg of the 4 x 100 meter relay and made up a three-meter deficit to lift the U.S. team to the gold medal in a world record time of 39 seconds flat. Hayes would go onto fame with as a wide receiver for the Dallas Cowboys.

Bikila, the barefoot winner of the Rome four years earlier, had to have an emergency appendectomy just 40 days prior to the Games. No one thought he would enter the Games, let alone establish a world record time of 2:12:11 and become the first back-to-back marathon champion in Olympic history.

One of the most incredible stories of these Games was that of the Japanese athletic organization, which gave its team a chance to win a gold in women's volleyball. Ten of the 12 members of the team had worked for the same company in Japan and practiced religiously for this opportunity six hours a day, seven days a week, 51 weeks a year under their coach Hirofumi Daimatsu. However, when North Korea's Olympic team was banned from the Olympics by the IOC for participating in non-sanctioned games in Indonesia the year before, this left the Olympic tournament with just five teams, one less than the minimum required by the Olympic charter. In a last ditch effort to preserve its team a chance for a medal after all its perseverance, Japan sent one million yen to South Korea to cover its expenses for fielding and outfitting a women's team and sending it to Tokyo. While South Korea did not win a single game, Japan breezed to the gold, ousting the Soviet Union in the championship game.

Judo made its debut in these Games. Japan naturally did well in this event, capturing numerous gold medals. There was one stirring upset in the unlimited class, Judo's most glamorous division, when 6-foot-6 Dutch giant Anton Geesink stunned the home crowd by defeating Japanese champion Akio Kaminaga.

Japan proved that bygones can be bygones and did a brilliant job in hosting the largest Olympiad in history. Ninety-three countries and some 5,000 plus athletes attended the games. Japan placed fourth in overall medal count behind the USSR, USA and the last combined East and West German team. Eleven world records were established during the tournament.


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