The main head on the Tokyo newspaper Yomiuri blared IT COULDN'T HAVE BEEN A BETTER BEGINNING, and the Asahi Evening News proclaimed FESTIVE MOOD ENGULFS A JOYOUS NATION. For once, the Japanese headlines were moderate statements of fact. In a spasm of color and style, the athletes were off and running and jumping and throwing and swimming in the XVIII Olympics, the first ever to be held in Asia, the first ever to be timed by transistorized devices down to hundredths of a second, and the first ever opened to spooky electronic music, deep-throated gongs and F-86s drawing lazy Olympic circles in the sky.
For sheer magnitude and intensity of color, the opening ceremonies were overpowering—a painting done by tens of thousands of Orientalized Joan Mirós running wild across the landscape with giant palette knives. There were the outlandishly iridescent blue trousers of the Puerto Ricans, the flowing golden robes of the Ghanaians, the cherry-blossom pink of the British and German women, the grass-green blazers of the Aussies and the thousand other tones and shades of the athletes' uniforms, all set against an infield manicured like a putting green. There were 10,000 balloons and 8,000 doves and salvos of daytime firecrackers, black and silver swirls going off like ack-ack and star shells in the bright blue sky. And lending dignity and order to it all was the Emperor, 5 feet 3½ inches of unassailable decorum, bowing in gentle two-inch arcs about three times a minute as the athletes paraded before him and the 75,778 spectators. His entrance and his exit were accompanied by high-pitched electronic music set against a throbbing of gongs from sacred temples of Japan. "These sounds," it was explained, "are the symbols of the soul of the Japanese people, being transmitted to the world."
As the opening ceremonies went off without a whisper of a hitch, one could sense a massive sigh of relief breaking across Japan. For a year now, the Olympic Games have kept the Japanese on the edge of apoplexy. Asia's first Olympiad could be the maraschino cherry on top of Japan's postwar rise to dignity, or it could be a face-losing debacle that could only be matched this year in Philadelphia. The country put on its work clothes, its hard hats and its safety shoes, and no one was excused. The Emperor practiced for weeks in the Imperial Palace to perfect his timing for the opening ceremonies. Tokyo's workingmen were advised to cease and desist from their habit of lounging around the air-conditioned airport in their underwear, and it was trumpeted from Hokkaido to Okinawa that urinating in the streets was now considered gauche. Signs in taxis, those four-wheeled hearses operated by frustrated Kamikaze pilots, advised cabbies to "decorate the Olympics with proper traffic manners," and a truck driver who banged a Swiss cyclist right out of the Olympics was pictured in the newspapers performing a deep bow of apology to his hospitalized visitor. Kiyoshi Fujita, a laborer who likes his sake, was sentenced to 30 days in jail for roughing up a bed of amaranth flowers planted for the Olympic visitors in Nagoya, 150 miles from the site of the Games. A midnight curfew was clamped on Tokyo's night life, leading one columnist to bemoan that Tokyo "will become the world's dreariest tourist capital," and the young maidens of Tokyo were warned via posters and pamphlets to ask themselves one question while on dates with foreigners: "Is this man actually offering me an honorable proposition, or is he only interested in deceiving me so he can enjoy me as his Tokyo wife while he is here?" Some 270,000 policemen in all were to be on duty for the Games, and pickpockets were given fair warning that their pictures had been circularized and that their presence was earnestly unsolicited for the Games. The Tokyo Turkish baths, which used to provide all sorts of ancillary services at the drop of a yen, were cleaned up, to the total surprise of at least one athlete, who may not be identified even as to hemispheric affiliation. "I went to a Turkish bath in the Ginza the other night," he confided, "and what do you think happened?"
October 18, 1964
"They gave me a Turkish bath!" he said indignantly.
But in spite of all the meticulous planning, all the magnificent new stadiums and gymnasiums and pools, all the moral and physical scrubbing of Tokyo, there still were complaints and minor losses of face for the Japanese. Two big companies sent 650 bicycles to the Olympic Village for the free use of anyone, and the visiting athletes promptly set about demolishing them. A bulky Australian stepped on one and snapped the pedal off. French Swimmer Christine Caron got a flat tire, causing terrible Angst in the Japanese community. Weight lifters climbed on the bikes and subsided to the ground. By the end of a week of use and abuse, 100 bicycles were in for repair.
The free bamboo umbrellas proved inadequate in the heavy rains and wound up littered all over the Olympic Village, causing another outbreak of national shame. And table lamps in the living quarters had a tendency to snap in half as weary athletes, not knowing their own strength, yanked on the chains. The ultracourteous Japanese heaped all the blame on themselves, when in fact the fault lay as much with the high-spirited Olympians. As one Japanese commented laughingly: "We should have anticipated the strength of these barbarians!"
By the time the Games opened, the Rumanians had already won the Olympic gold medal for freestyle complaining. Their roof leaked. They were not provided with enough interpreters. The bikes were no good and one of their athletes fell from one and was injured. And what were those pictures of nude men doing on the walls of the Rumanian women's quarters? The Japanese explained that they were pictures of honored sumo champions performing the dohyo-iri ceremonies. Well, said the Rumanians, they would have to come down. A naked man was a naked man no matter what ceremony he was performing.
The manager of the Hungarian water polo team put in a beef, along with several other managers, about the depth of the pool. Karoly Laky complained that his shortest player, who was 5 feet 3, could stand on the bottom with his nose out of the water, proving that the pool was too shallow. The Yugoslav team, tallest of all, remained becomingly silent: they had found that they could shoot the ball from a standing position, an unholy advantage in water polo if you can get away with it. Julian Roosevelt, the blue-blooded manager of the U.S. yachting team, threatened to withdraw the U.S. boats after he read a posted warning that yachtsmen should beware of wind from press helicopters and wash from press boats. The warning, he said, deeply annoyed, was put to the wrong group: it should have been put to the press. L. B. Curnow, captain of the Australian equestrian team, filed a formal protest about the training facilities: "They must have been prepared by officials who know nothing of the preparations necessary to fit a horse for the most grueling test." The West Germans complained about the food. On their first day the German athletes were served fish, which is usually uncooked or barely cooked in Japan. On the second day they demanded steak, and this too was served almost raw. "We simply won't eat it, and we'll lose weight," said Sprinter Jutta Heine, who has a weight problem.
The Germans, who brought on their own troubles by eschewing the Village and living in Hakone, a watering spot south of Tokyo, found that they were sharing living quarters with rats domiciled in the double walls between rooms. "We could hear them scratch and tear down pieces of wood all night," said Friedrich Roderfeld. Another German, Heinz Schumann, was up from 3 to 7 one morning chasing rats with his slippers. None of this disturbed J√ºrgen Kalfelder, clearly a thriver on adversity. "Forget it," he told his teammates. "They are just mice." Mice or rats, they murdered sleep.
The Americans, for the most part, were rat-free, uncomplaining and relaxed. U.S. Track Coach Bob Giegengack of Yale had been advised in New York a year ago to train his team outside of Tokyo, and the farther outside the better. The advice had come from Soviet Coach Gabriel Korobkov. "He told me we'd find ourselves trampled to death in the Olympic Village in Tokyo," Giegengack recalled. "He said there was no place to throw the hammer, discus and javelin, and the track was no good. But it's been all right. It's a little crowded but we've divided our workouts into three different areas. It might as well be Newark as far as we're concerned."
The Soviet track team, at Korobkov's insistence, was training in Utsunomiya, 90 miles northwest of Tokyo, and it was either the most confident team at the Games or the bluffingest. Riding on the high-speed train from Tokyo, Tamara Press yawned and announced that she would win two gold medals. Her sister Irina said she would win the same number. Thus having awarded themselves four gold medals a priori without so much as hefting a discus or lacing on a track shoe, the two irrepressibles went about their business, which in Tamara's case consisted of falling asleep against High Jumper Valeri Brumel (who deftly wriggled free) and filling the railroad car with the sonorous beauty of her snores. She characterized the team: loose, happy, optimistic. Head Coach Korobkov, who, if he were an American, would have to be described bromidically as "a good Joe," explained that the poor Soviet showing at Los Angeles in July was simply a matter of season: the Russian track and field activity starts later than the American. "This time," he said, "we have no excuse and we only have to let the cream of our athletes sweep all possible gold medals." Broad Jumper Igor Ter-Ovanesyan said he would be able to handle Ralph Boston with no difficulty. Ter-O was more interested in finding out why U.S. officials had called off the spy case in New York.
Wherever one looked, the Soviet training grounds were full of frolics and gambols. A burly Russian finished some warmup exercises, then grabbed one of the girls by the waist and hoisted her high in the air to the accompaniment of giggles and laughs of delight. A Soviet hurdler challenged a female to a race, but both collapsed with laughter midway in the event. Another Russian found himself sprinting against a Japanese official, who gave out after 30 yards and complimented his adversary in an elaborate show of admiration. The cheery Ter-Ovanesyan grabbed a vaulter's pole, took a short run and lifted himself into a tree. Luckily he was not seen by Korobkov, who would have lost some of his good nature at such skylarking.
There was speculation, of course, that the Russians' esprit was strictly from Stanislavski, that it was all part of a plan to "psych out" the Americans, an ancient Olympic ploy. U.S. Shotputter Parry O'Brien, no cherubim himself at this fine art, said that the simple fact that the Russians were training so far away was in itself an attempt at cerebral warfare. "Just listen to all the wild rumors you hear about the Russians doing this and the Russians doing that and you'll know what I mean," he said. For his part, O'Brien was not being psyched out by anybody. One day a Polish shotputter strolled over to him and said, "You throw, me throw, we tape." The Pole's first put was over 62 feet. O'Brien, just back from weight training, was still stiff, and his first attempt fell far short. On the second try the Pole again bettered 62 feet. This time O'Brien figured he had had enough, and he let loose a heave in the neighborhood of 64 feet, a neighborhood his competitor had not yet visited. The Pole picked up his shot, put it in his bag and walked away with Chopinesque dignity.
On the other hand, U.S. Miler Tom O'Hara came away second best from another encounter of the same sort. He ran a workout half mile with New Zealand's Peter Snell and finished up visibly shaken. O'Hara's time was a commendable 1:48 plus. Snell rambled around in 1:47.1, leaving O'Hara, who normally looks like a pale junior-high-schooler, a study in white on white. "Tough," O'Hara mumbled. "He looks tough. He's so strong."
U.S. Men's Swimming Coach Jim Counsilman was singing the blues like Woody Hayes. With his swimmers picked to win just about everything, Counsilman sniffed disaster. "It's damned if you do and damned if you don't," he said. "It's like having to win a football game by 50 points. Why do we have to win everything? I just hope that the boys don't get too tensed up thinking about what they're expected to do." Counsilman said he had noticed that the American girl swimmers, most of them barely into adolescence, seemed jumpy and edgy. "They're not smiling the way they usually do," he said.
They may not have been, but plenty of other young ladies were, especially at night, when they assembled in the International Club of the Olympic Village and danced their pretty heads off. "When the American girls are dancing," said Sprinter Paul Drayton, a firm believer in happiness, "those are the nights, man." Joe Frazier, the heavyweight boxer, chimed in. "They do the crossfire, the pony, the hunt, the monkey. They're all dances, you know."
"You miss the American girls when they're not here," Drayton went on. "The other girls are willing, but they don't know the steps. Our girls were told by one of the coaches not to dance because it might tighten their legs. He didn't say not to dance. There was no ultimatum. He was just advising." Not many took his advice.
Now and then a few athletes wandered into Tokyo and enjoyed various mysterious encounters with the Orientals. America's Gerry Lindgren, the 18-year-old 10,000-meter specialist whose daily schedule calls for 30 miles of running, took a wrong turn and jogged into the sacrosanct park surrounding Emperor Hirohito's palace, where he soon found himself hemmed in by guards who did not speak English and who would not release him. A few attempts at sign language got him nowhere, but' then Lindgren lifted a shoe and showed the guards his spikes, whereupon he was permitted to go and sin no more.
The same day Hurdler Hayes Jones stood in front of an empty tray in the cafeteria and pronounced the only Japanese word he knew: "Hai," which means "yes."
"Hai!" said the Japanese attendant, failing to understand that Jones wanted the tray to be refilled.
Reaching back for a little extra linguistically, Jones said, "Hai! Hai!"
The Japanese responded immediately to this new American game. He laughed and said, "Hat! Hai!" The two stood there shouting hais at each other over the counter until Jones finally said, "Hey, man, come on. Give me some salad!" Instantly he was provided with enough lettuce and tomatoes for 10 men, which occasioned another round of hais, a few bows and a perplexed look on the part of the American.
One night a manufacturer of track equipment took U.S. Sprinters Paul Drayton, Ulis Williams and Henry Carr to a geisha house (a geisha house is not a home, but it is not a house, either), where another epicurean difference of opinion popped up. Talking about it the next day, the cheery Drayton was still in a state of euphoria. "Great!" he said. "Wonderful! Magnificent! They fed us. They actually sat there and fed us!"
"Yeah," said Carr, unimpressed. "They fed us seaweed."
More piquant times were enjoyed by those who visited the Japanese nightclubs whose hostesses are sort of Oriental B-girls. Giggling and grasping, they give the old come-on to the handsome and the ugly, the scintillating and the insipid with equal ebullience, so long as the customer keeps on swilling drinks and setting up drinks for the girls. It may be said without exaggeration that never before have so many officials, coaches, timers, journalists and athletes nibbled so many ears to so little avail, and at such high cost. One night a pair of Australian weight lifters had a happy time in a bar on the last night of liberty before their final training program. Hostesses came and went, merrily ordering drinks, and at the end the Aussies were presented with a bill for $80. They paid up and grabbed a policeman, who talked the manager into making a 50% refund. The Aussies accepted the money and then gave it back, in the interests of international accord.
But what East was doing to West was as nothing compared to what West was doing to East at the Japanese stores in the Olympic Village, where athletes could buy goods ranging from cheap gewgaws to $200 pearl necklaces. By the end of the first week of training, there was hardly a shop that had not taken a beating from shoplifters. One unscrupulous group of athletes entered a radio store, and while several of them engaged the clerks in conversation, others skipped with two transistor radios worth $11 and $22. "We are sorry we are off guard, believing all the athletes to be ladies and gentlemen representing their country," the manager said later. A watch store nearby was missing two $20 items. A jewelry shop took a spot inventory and found a pair of $125 pearl necklaces had been lifted, and doodad shops reported any number of stolen ballpoint pens, silk neckerchiefs and other mementoes of the Games.
The Japanese press underplayed this scandal, carrying out its motif of don't-rock-the-boat courtesy, but the consensus among old Japan hands was that a few more such larcenies would bring out another aspect of the Japanese character, and one not so palatable. Underneath their bowing, smiling exteriors, the Japanese retain a layer of hostility and hurt, a sort of riot complex compounded of the old warrior tradition, the memory of B-29s, and resentment of the unreasonable conviction of most gaijin, or foreigners, that all Japanese are patsies. Already there were Japanese who were as set against the Olympics as some New Yorkers were against the World's Fair, and one Tokyo paper went so far as to run a violent anti-Olympic diatribe on page one. A little fanning of that non-Olympic flame, plus a few more peccadilloes by the gaijin athletes, could produce some fancy confusions and disorders at such events as the marathon, an event which already troubles Japanese police, since they do not know if they will be able to contain the crowd along the full 26-mile course. There are rumors that disgruntled Indonesians and North Koreans will try to snarl some of the events in retaliation for the banning of some of their countrymen who took part in the 1963 Games of the New Emerging Forces at Jakarta.
So all was not necessarily peaceful beneath the exterior of flowers and ginkgo trees, Cio-cio Sans and Lieutenant Pinkertons, geishas and frug dancers assembled in Tokyo. One could only hope that the spectacular opening ceremonies and the first splashes of competition had served to revitalize the Olympic mystique, and the XVIII Olympiad, biggest ever, would become the most memorable. Clearly, the time had come to put away childish things. The time had come for grandeur.