Site: Tokyo, Japan
Dates: October 10-24
Total Athletes: 5,140
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.