"There was only one thing that moved me in Rome, and that was at the closing ceremony. I felt that everyone in that stadium, when all the lights went out and people lit torches, I felt, for two minutes, as though everyone in that stadium was human. In other words, that the blacks, the yellows, the oranges and the whiles were one. And I had a sort of feeling that here I was, all of us were witnesses before our time of an inevitable world society. All of us felt in that split second what a load of bloody nonsense it was to go around chopping each other up and arguing and fighting."
Captain, 1964 British Olympic track and field team; contestant, 1960 Olympics.
On October 10 a 19-year-old Japanese boy named Yoshinori Sakai will put the Olympic flame, two months and 10,000 miles removed from its lighting at the ruins of ancient Olympia, into a cradle on the upper rim of the rebuilt Tokyo Stadium and the 1964 Olympic Games will begin. The boy was selected because he was born near Hiroshima the day an atomic bomb was dropped through the open bomb bay of an American B-29. No one alive today was born in Hiroshima that day. The exact symbolism is vague, but the torch that the boy carries is an Olympic expression of eternal brotherhood and friendly competition. The ceremony of the torch was restored to the modern Olympic pageant in 1936 by Nazi Germany, whose exercises in brotherhood will not soon be forgotten.
This is the first Olympics to be held in the Orient. Tokyo would have had the 1940 Olympic Games except that the Imperial Japanese government was at that time busy with the kind of competition that ultimately made Hiroshima possible. This is the Roman numeral XVIII Olympiad, but that is a phantom designation. Three Olympics never happened: VI (scheduled for 1916) and XII and XIII (1940 and 1944) were canceled while the world chopped itself up. "It used to be [in ancient Greece] they stopped fighting to stage the Games," said Avery Brundage, the International Olympic Committee president. "Now we stop the Games to have a war."
Twenty years ago the way for an American to see Tokyo was through his periscope or his bombsight. Now he marries Japanese girls at a rate of 2,000 a year, and has learned that the best massage is the patter of tiny Oriental feet up and down the spine. The Japanese—New Democratic Japan—have spent $1.9 billion to dress up ugly old Tokyo for the tidal wave of Olympians and tourists that is coming or has already come. There are 26,753 cab drivers ready to solve the insanities of the Tokyo address system for English-speaking visitors—house No. 14 might be next to house No. 13, but it also might be next to house No. 36. Twenty of the 26,753 cab drivers can speak English.
How much have they grown, these modern Olympic Games? The first, in 1896, in Athens, had 285 athletes from 13 nations, and the winner of the marathon, a Marousian named Spyros Loues, was guaranteed his boots blacked for life while women tore things from their clothing to give him. The next two, in Paris and St. Louis, were sideshows for trade expositions. But things got better. In Rome in 1960, 5,400 athletes from 84 nations competed, and most of them would have run five rings around Spyros Loues. In Tokyo some 6,600 athletes will be housed at the Olympic Village, which cost more to build and renovate—it was a U.S. military housing compound before—than was spent on the first nine Olympics together. The 6,600 will represent 99 nations and, most likely, every ideology, every religion, every philosophical concept known to disturb the mind of man. Five hundred miles from the Japanese coast, looking across the East China Sea, are 800 million Chinese who will not be represented.
What have we learned in 68 years? That the Olympic Games are at once the most wonderful and the most wretched of sporting events. They reflect all that is right with man and all that he cannot make right. They represent more than they should and do less than they can. They are the resolution of many schisms and the solution to hardly anything (some of the best Olympics were made memorable by the fights that went on around them).
They are the quintessence of amateur athletic prowess, though you must be up on your grammar to know that amateur, where the Olympics are concerned, is a relative noun. The Games are so couched in nationalistic pride and ideological chest-thumping that a gold medal weighing 2 ounces and worth $7 across the counter takes on such proportions that a man can scarcely hang it around his neck without feeling weighted down. A recent public-opinion sampling in Hong Kong indicated that its people are tired of showing a small-nation complex to the world, that just participation in the Olympics is not enough. "It's not important that we merely compete," said Australia's Percy Cerutty. "It's important that we excel." The chance to send star runner George Kerr and, coincidentally, the rest of the Jamaican team to Tokyo may cost the Jamaican government, beset with school, road and water-supply woes, $45,000—but it will spend the money, and Jamaicans do not object. The East and West Germanys will compete under one flag, as one team, and they both object. Avery Brundage once called the combined East-West German team "my greatest Olympic success." East Germany now says there should be three German teams, including West Berlin.
The modern Olympic Games were the inspiration of a young French nobleman, Baron Pierre de Coubertin, whose intentions were as honorable as his motive was ulterior—to help his country recover from one of its crushing defeats, the war of 1870. Baron de Coubertin is responsible for the Olympic Creed, which assures the Olympian that "the important thing is not winning but taking part." For all the baron's sound advice, the Olympics never really turned out that way. Winning is unimportant? Winning is everything. And it is not always enough to win by yourself. The group is also important. Michel Jazy, the French distance runner, could see medals practically pouring from heaven as he explained his enthusiastic endorsement of a proposal that a European juggernaut be formed from countries in the Common Market, ostensibly to challenge Russia and the U.S. for team points—points that are unofficial and contrary to the best Olympic intentions. "A European team," said Jazy, "would be world-beaters!"
Political significance? It takes a heap of naivet� to be naive enough to take the Olympics for the unencumbered sport they are supposed to be. A U.S. Senator tried to have the Russians banned from the Games in 1956. Russian victories in 1960 were not examples of individual excellence, but of the viability of a new, all-encompassing athletic system. The U.S. Army wanted to know what it could do to improve American expectations in 1964 and 1968. Recently Russian periodicals have been frantically reminding the 1964 Soviet team of the importance of "winning for the forces of socialism," that the Russian people "do not want tourists on our Olympic team" and that any falloff in performance "is difficult to explain to the population." There is some concern now, expressed by Sovyetski Sport, that the apparent collapse of the Russian team in the July dual meet with the U.S. at Los Angeles was due to the growth of such "vices" as "individualism, conceit, self-seeking, greed and a passion for Western ways of life."
The American man in the street might not know Ralph Boston from Laurel, Miss., but he finds out in a hurry if Ralph Boston somehow lets down the good old American team at Tokyo. Whatever has he been up to? Beer, do you suppose? Sometimes this perspective, though poor to begin with, gets completely fogged in and genuine harm is done. John Thomas, a nervous teen-ager, and Ray Norton, a nervous young adult, failed to win as they were expected to in Rome. They suffered a prolonged and totally unfair agony of criticism and scrutiny. It was not enough that they had been third, fourth or even sixth best in the world; they had not won.