The Russians came fast in the final week to win the most medals, but the Americans had the most golds and the real victory. Then the Olympic Games ended—on a high note of fun and unforgettable ceremony
November 02, 1964

They had begun in warmth and sunlight, in a great barrage of natural color, and now, 14 days later, the Games of the XVIII Olympiad were ending in the ice-bucket coolness of a Japanese October, with skyrockets and Roman candles embroidering the black Tokyo sky with light as strikingly artificial as that of the opening day was real. In between, the lights had been brightest in the eyes of Western athletes, particularly the Americans, as they took in the sights and the majority of the gold medals. The noise of the Games had become the cluck-clucking of tongues over wild Western successes that seemed to beget success: Kansan Bill Morris, for example, a shotgun shooter of clay pigeons who had won a bronze medal in the afternoon, happened past an American slot machine that night in the Sanno Hotel, risked an American nickel and won $250.

Now, however, as in the beginning, the noises were from the electronic gongs the Japanese call kane and which sound like a hangover put to music, and from the eerie reeds one remembers from Charlie Chan movies. The closing ceremony was appropriately Far Eastern and when, at last, the athletes from 94 nations made the final swing out of Tokyo National Stadium, 75,000 people stood to applaud. The butane Olympic flame had been turned off and a blazing "SAYONARA" flashed on the scoreboard in capital letters. At that moment of opportunity, a maverick group of nine New Zealand athletes had a second thought. Grinning preposterously, they broke ranks and began loping around the track in one last ceremonious romp, pausing in their progress to dance impromptu jigs and to sing sudden songs. In front of the imperial box, they repeated their comic opera for Emperor Hirohito himself, bowing from the waist in an exaggerated series of jerks. Distance Runner Bill Baillie threw the Emperor a record-breaking kiss (of the numbers who had stood in his imperial presence, no one had ever done that before). Remarkably, nobody hurried to intervene. The Emperor smiled in spite of himself, and doffed his Western hat.

The Games now had had—and seen—about everything. There had been two weeks of holding together under severe outside influences—men rocketing into space, nuclear bombs going off, Communist blocks getting knocked off, capitalist scandals being exposed—and a steady stream of inside intrigue. In the last two days four Hungarians defected to the West, a Nationalist Chinese pistol shooter defected to Communist China—which hardly needs another gun—and two Bulgarian athletes got married at the Olympic Village in a language they did not understand.

For all that, the Games went on and then off with barely a wrinkle, and Tokyo survived. It survived them honorably, with dignity, having staged them with dispatch and with that extra little touch of precisioned grace that characterizes the Japanese. The Japanese had, as a poet once said of them, demonstrated "the skill to do more, with the will to refrain."

There was an eagerness and an awareness among the Japanese that was astounding. School kids recognized Avery Brundage, the president of the International Olympic Committee, on sight, and begged for his autograph. The Mainichi Daily News was so well up on athletic goings-on that it felt qualified to level a stiff editorial blast across 4,500 miles of ocean at America's National Collegiate Athletic Association for "meddling" in Amateur Athletic Union affairs. On the day Bikila Abebe, of the Ethiopian palace guard, pounded along the Koshu Highway on his way to becoming the first man to win two Olympic marathons, the crowds began gathering at sunup and during the race were five and six deep along the 26-mile route. A television station carried the entire race.

Of the 2.1 million tickets printed for the Games, 98% were sold, as compared with 46% in Rome in 1960. Some went on the black market at four times their face value. Happily, and significantly, in view of the Japanese regard for their young, every venue on every day had 20% of its seats put aside for black-uniformed school kids, their places in the stands guaranteed by the Minister of Education.

With that will to refrain, the Japanese averted their eyes from loud-talking restaurant guests and 3 a.m. hotel hallway strugglers, and steeled themselves to the Anglo-Saxon cries of "Down in front!" and, "Get that stupid ref a rule book!" and, "Hey, you!" Days after his defeat, Ranatunge Karunananda of Ceylon, who was lapped four times in the 10,000 meters and finished on a deserted track, still received gifts and letters from sympathetic Japanese. "I saw you on TV, running all alone," wrote one house-wife, "and I could not keep back my tears." American Wrestler Bobby Pickens found he could not pay for a drink in one Japanese bar, where his size—6 feet 4, 245 pounds—was the object of large quantities of admiration and the negotiable equivalent of any credit card. By sad contrast, one calloused restaurateur in the gaudy Akasaka district did not hesitate for a moneymaking second to let 17-and 18-year-old American swimmers, out on the town after their magnificent showing the week before, get their hot hands on cold beer, and even as late—or early—as two in the morning. Even pickpockets showed more class than that—of 194 arrested in two weeks, only four in the Olympic area had dipped a foreign wallet.

Japanese athletes wound up with 16 gold medals, only nine less than their total accumulation from 1896 through 1960, and in the final compilation third to the U.S. team, which led with 36, and Russia, with 30. The host country usually does well—the Italians were outstanding in 1960, the Australians in 1956—and the hosts in Tokyo took billowing pride in the five golds won in wrestling and the victory of their unbeatable and wondrously adept girls' volleyball team (SI, March 15). (There was one note for future reference: Mexico, which will hold the Games in 1968 and which had 105 athletes in Tokyo, won only one medal, a bronze in boxing.)

But in the end the Japanese needed to do some prodigious refraining to maintain their humble, good-natured front, because face was just as good as obliterated in what was, for the Japanese, the single most important match of the Games, the all-weights division of judo competition. In that national disaster, 265-pound Dutchman Anton Geesink pinned the Japanese champion, Akio Kaminaga, 45 pounds lighter, in nine minutes. Composed the next day, a Tokyo columnist gave Geesink "humble thanks" for his contributions toward making judo an international sport, though it will not be included in the 1968 Olympiad in Mexico City.

In the Olympic Village, sportswriters had recurrent visions of Soviet athletes popping over the back fence and dashing for the U.S. Embassy. One report got around that Broad Jumper Igor Ter-Ovanesyan was practically under house arrest. The truth was that if concern was rampant among Soviet worriers over life in post-Khrushchev Russia, there was no panic and defections were not likely. Ter-Ovanesyan seemed to have complete freedom of movement and freedom of speech—he even talked of his hopes of attending an American school sometime in the next two years on the exchange program—and on the Friday night before the Games ended he joined Valeri Brumel, the high jumper, and a couple of Australians, including Tony Sneazwell, another high juniper, in a relaxed, impromptu celebration of Brumel's victory.

Sneazwell had been eliminated early in the high jump at a height nearly five inches below the Tokyo National Stadium record of 7 feet 2‚Öù inches that he himself had set a year earlier, and he was reliving his mistakes. As the evening wore on and communication improved, Brumel, who had cleared 7 feet 1¾ inches in winning his gold medal (he tied John Thomas of the U.S. but won first place because he had had fewer misses along the way) said that he wished he could have jumped 7 feet 2‚Öù.

"If you had jumped 7 feet 2‚Öù," said Sneazwell cheerfully, "I would have punched you in the nose."

At 3 in the morning, still raging inside, Sneazwell went back to the Olympic Village, put on his sweat suit and ran 12 laps around the field—or three miles as the angry crow flies. In the morning he got out of bed, went back to the practice field again and tried to get Edward Czernik of Poland, another high-jumping star who failed badly, into a memo a memo contest. "The final," Sneazwell announced grandly, "of the losers."

Other losers had even worse moments. Gray Simons, the U.S. flyweight wrestler and a pre-Olympic favorite, was being consoled awkwardly by a U.S. official after his defeat. The official, trying hard but missing, said, "Well, you just weren't good enough." Miler Tom O'Hara, who had suffered from a virus and never got adjusted to the time change, ran with pains in his chest in his semifinal heat and did not even qualify for the final of the 1,500 meters, which Peter Snell won with a great display of speed and strength to add to his earlier win in the 800. Disconsolate, the boyish O'Hara went to his room and told Jerry Weiland, his coach from Loyola University, that he would never run again. Later, after the initial tremor had passed, O'Hara cut "never" down to a month.

The absorbing two-day, 10-event decathlon was played against a background that included a newly revised scoring table, some typically Teutonic thoroughness in preparation and the shockingly ineffective figure of C. K. Yang, the gaunt, broad-shouldered native of Taiwan who had been such a heavy favorite to bring China its first Olympic gold medal. The scoring table had been revised to bring the 10 decathlon events into better harmony with one another. (The introduction of the height-conquering fiber-glass pole had made the pole vault, in particular, worth a disproportionate number of points in decathlon competition.) The revised table was a blow to Yang, a 16-foot vaulter, but what affected him even more was the sharp competitive condition of the Germans, who had so concentrated on the decathlon that they finished first, third and sixth. The winner was Willi Holdorf, a 24-year-old university student from the tiny factory city of Leverkusen on the Rhine. Holdorf was the best of a cadre of Germans who worked for months under Friedl Schirmer, a tall, friendly West German who had been named national decathlon coach in 1960. Schirmer had boned up on Soviet and American training techniques and worked his charges hard in a series of biweekly training and competitive sessions. In Tokyo, Holdorf took an early lead and held it, though as the exhausting 1,500-meter run, the final event, began, three men were still close enough to beat him. Particularly dangerous were Russia's Rein Aun and America's Paul Herman, both of whom could run much faster 1,500s than the German. "I knew that I could win if I could stay within 60 meters of Aun and 100 meters of Herman," said Holdorf, a tall, balding blond who is built like a wedge of custard pie standing on its point. Aun took an immediate lead, with Herman in desperate pursuit and Holdorf gradually falling farther and farther behind. But at the finish Holdorf, tottering half-conscious over the line, was close enough to salvage victory from Aun by the narrow margin of 45 points.

Yang, below par in most events, did not even vault particularly well. "He's been injured," said Bob Mathias, Olympic decathlon champion in 1948 and 1952, "but he's been hurt just as much by too little competition at a high level." Ninth after the first day, Yang fought back gamely on the second day, but at the end he was a bitterly disappointed fifth, 237 points behind the victorious Holdorf. With no gold medal—with no medal at all—C.K. consoled his weeping wife and announced his retirement from competition.

Robbie Brightwell of Great Britain, who finished fourth in the 400 to miss a medal, saw his fiancée, Ann Packer, pick up a silver medal in the women's 400 and then a gold in the 800 and a world record to boot. "I ran well because Robbie had not won a medal," said the pert, clear-eyed Ann, who was to these games what Wilma Rudolph was to the Rome Olympics. "I was thinking about him and not about myself, and so I wasn't nervous."

Brightwell came back later with a magnificent anchor leg in the 1,600-meter relay to gain Britain a second place and himself a silver medal, but after his failure in the 400 he said, "If she had not been there when I lost, I think I would have leaped off a building."

"But what is it, really?" Ann said. "So many have won medals. I don't think it is better than doing anything else well. I won a gold medal because I ran twice around a track, that's all."

Brightwell looked at her. "I don't think you realize what you have won," he said. "It will take years, maybe, before you realize what it means to win an Olympic gold medal. But one day you will open a book and see that Jesse Owens won four gold medals in 1936, and you will see your name in the book, too, and then you will realize what you have done."

For the medal-heavy Americans the last week was an anticlimax, made even less exciting by persisting rain and fog that took the glow from Tokyo and made it flat by day and inconvenient by night. They had scored heavily in swimming the week before and by Monday had delivered the killing blows in track and field. By then the Russians could bury any revolutionary plans they might have had for a big breakthrough in the sport that is really what the Olympics is all about, track and field. The Americans won 12 gold medals (plus two more in women's events) to Russia's two (plus three in women's). On Wednesday the two American sprint champions—Bob Hayes and Henry Carr—provided a striking climax, running anchor legs in the two relays. First Hayes, winner of the gold at 100 meters and reportedly nine suits ahead in his wardrobe after a tailor-to-tailor dash around Tokyo with his mother, swept from fifth place to a devastating three-yard victory and a team world record in the 400-meter relay. He was unofficially clocked in 8.6 seconds for his running-start 100-meter leg and was easily the most exciting American trackman, running with a muscular determination that had the crowds roaring, in heats as well as finals. Carr, gold medalist at 200 meters, was almost as impressive. Coming off a blistering start in the last heat of the 1,600 meters, he let his rivals draw close to him, then pulled easily away to win by six yards in another world-record race.

"Hank could run 400 meters in 44 flat," said an amazed Mike Larrabee, the winner of the gold in that event and second man on the 1,600-meter relay team. "Trouble is he's lazy."

"Why should I run 400 meters?" Carr demanded. "I'm the world's best at 200. I'm not greedy."

By Friday someone had identified the hot horn in the stands that had been applying the finishing kick to the truncated Japanese version of The Star-Spangled Banner played after each American victory. Gallantly picking up on the downbeat side of "so gal-lant-ly streaming" with his solo trumpet was Uan Rasey, the lead horn for the M-G-M studio orchestra and a globe-trotting track nut. To blow his horn, Rasey stationed himself just below the torch at National Stadium, presumably to get maximum range for "And the rockets' red glare...." He was later joined by Bob Crosby and the Bobcats, who were appearing at a Tokyo nightclub and were equally concerned that Francis Scott Key was not being fully and internationally appreciated.

By Friday night the only thing left to be determined as far as the Americans were concerned was the validity of the claim of the Russian basketball coach, Aleksandr Gomelski, that "there will be a surprise for everyone" in the finals. "We are fed up with second," said Gomelski. While he never flat-out predicted a victory, this was interpreted to mean that the end of American dominance in the sport (every Olympic championship since basketball became part of the Games in 1936 and 46 victories in a row, including four straight over the Russians) might well be at hand and could be seen, provided you could latch on to a ticket for the final.

This was not so easy. The Japanese are not big on basketball and had built only a 4,000-seat bandbox for the competition—architecturally beautiful, even breathtaking—but a bandbox nevertheless. By game time, on a bleak, rainy night, black market tickets for the game were going for as much as $125, and there were few willing to part with them at that price. Paul Drayton, the fine U.S. sprinter who was second to Carr in the 200, found himself among the deprived, so he got in on Walt Hazzard's pass, laughing at his cleverness. "The Japanese think all us Negroes look alike," he grinned.

Drayton had spent the early afternoon with Hazzard, the marvelous playmaker guard from UCLA's national championship team. "Man, they're really psyched up. I showed Walt my gold medal [won as a member of America's victorious 400-meter relay team] and he drooled. 'I'm getting me one tonight,' he said."

Hazzard alone was a good enough reason for optimism, but it had been anticipated beforehand and evident in the tournament that this was not the power team the Americans fielded in 1960, when they averaged 101.9 points a game and walloped the Russians 81-57, with the formidable likes of Oscar Robertson, Jerry Lucas and Jerry West. This team, possibly as strong as the 1960 team underneath, lacked outside shooting. One who could have helped, Jeff Mullins of Duke, had a game knee, and Coach Hank Iba of Oklahoma State had to maneuver. Accordingly, Iba worked the team hard, as much as 80 hours in one two-week stretch. He himself was seldom out of the Olympic Village. The team took to Iba and his methods. "You can't imagine the things I've learned under that man." said Hazzard.

"We're not about to be the first to lose to the Russians," said Larry Brown, the 5-foot 10-inch North Carolina alumnus who had played with the Goodyear Wing-foots. Brown alternated as playmaker with Hazzard.

Lou Rossini of NYU, who coached the Puerto Rican basketball team in the Olympics, compared the Soviet and American teams and was not overly optimistic about U.S. chances. "The Russians have speed and good size." he said, "and I don't think the U.S. can win if it gets behind."

The U.S. did get behind, by 4-0 at the start, but it did not stay there long. The big difference between the teams is still finesse, and the marvelous mobility good American players develop early. On the other hand, Yan Kruminsh, the 7-foot 2-inch 260-pound Russian veteran of three Olympiads, a massive hulk of a man who might be expected on close inspection to have electrodes at either side of the neck, is still suckered by the most elementary pick. Typical of the entire Russian Olympic contingent, the basketball squad was aging. It averaged 27 years, compared with America's 23, and its old, tired blood was just the kind Pravda had spoken of without tenderness when it editorialized, before the end of the Games, on the poor showing the Soviets had made compared with 1960 in Rome, when they had 43 gold medals to 34 for the U.S. A basketball victory would have salvaged much of the lost prestige, but it was not to be.

With the Soviets still ahead 16-15, Bill Bradley of Princeton whipped a pass to the side to Hazzard, who quicker than that had it to Lucious Jackson, all alone underneath, and Jackson had it in the basket. Shortly afterward, Brown replaced Hazzard, drove in for a crossover layup, then fed to Joe Caldwell on another wide-open shot. Brown hit another from 20 feet, and at that point the Americans led 27-18 and it was as good as over. The Russians got louder as the game wore on, shouting frantic, detailed instructions up and down court—"I can't understand how they can speak Russian and play basketball, too," said an incredulous American fan—but neither talk nor a full-court press, which the U.S. tore apart with free-lance shooting, did any appreciable damage. The Americans won easily 73-59.

In the dressing room afterward Larry Brown stood looking at his medal for a long time. "It's worth $12, that's all." he said. "And you couldn't buy it from me if you had a million."

PHOTOA handful of New Zealanders races happily around the track after the closing ritual, singing and dancing and blowing kisses to Emperor Hirohito. PHOTOIn the imperial box, complete with portable TV, the Emperor's grandson, Prince Hiro, watches the festivities with his mother, Princess Michiko. PHOTOPolite Japanese spectators remove their shoes before crowding onto a curbside mat to watch Ethiopia's famed two-time marathon champion, Bikila Abebe, pad past a traditional torii gate. PHOTONew Zealand's incomparable Peter Snell glances back almost disdainfully as he sprints into the stretch on his way to an easy victory in the 1,500. PHOTOWinner of two medals, Britain's Ann Packer comforts her beaten fiancé, Robbie Brightwell. PHOTOTriumphant in U.S. team hat, grinning Bob Hayes was the personality boy of the Games. PHOTOAfter rigorous training under demanding Coach Daimatsu (foreground), Japanese girls who won the volleyball championship relax in gold medals and smiles. PHOTOIn a scene reminiscent of his defeat in Rome, C. K. Yang walks sadly past decathlon winner Willi Holdorf (left) and runner-up Rein Aun.