1964 Tokyo, Japan

The 1964 Summer Olympics, officially known as the Games of the XVIII Olympiad, was held in Tokyo, Japan in 1964. Tokyo had been awarded the organization of the 1940 Summer Olympics, but this honor was subsequently passed to Helsinki because of Japan’s invasion of China, before ultimately being canceled because of World War II.

The 1964 Summer Games were the first Olympics held in Asia, and the first time South Africa was barred from taking part due to its apartheid system in sports (South Africa was, however, allowed to compete at the 1964 Summer Paralympics, also held in Tokyo, where it made its Paralympic Games début.) These games were also the first to be telecast internationally. The games were telecast to the United States using Syncom 3, the first geostationary communication satellite, and from there to Europe using Relay 1.

Highlights of the Tokyo Olympics

ñYūji Koseki composed the theme song of the opening ceremony.

ñYoshinori Sakai, who lit the Olympic Flame, was born in Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, the day an atomic bomb was dropped on that city.

ñJudo and women’s volleyball, both popular sports in Japan, were introduced to the Olympics. Japan won gold medals in three judo events, but Dutchman Anton Geesink won the Open category. The Japanese women’s volleyball team won the gold medal, with the final being broadcast live.

ñThe women’s pentathlon (shot put, high jump, hurdling, sprint and long jump) was introduced to the athletics events.

ñReigning world champion Osamu Watanabe capped off his career with a gold medal for Japan in freestyle wrestling, surrendering no points and retiring from competition as the only undefeated Olympic champion to date at 189–0.

ñSoviet gymnast Larisa Latynina won two gold medals (both for the third time in a row in Team Competition and Floor Exercise events), a silver medal and two bronze medals. She ended her Olympic career and holds the record for most Olympic medals at 18 (9 gold, 5 silver, 4 bronze) since then.

ñAustralian swimmer Dawn Fraser won the 100 m freestyle event for the third time in a row, a feat matched by Vyacheslav Ivanov in rowing’s single scull event.

ñDon Schollander (USA) won four gold medals in swimming.

ñAbebe Bikila became the first person to win the Olympic marathon twice.

ñNew Zealand’s Peter Snell won a gold medal in both the 800 m and 1500 m.

ñAmerican Billy Mills, a little-known distance runner, shocked everyone when he won the gold in the men’s 10,000 m. No American had won it before and no American has won it since.

ñBob Hayes won the 100 m title in a time of 10.0 seconds, equaling the world record. He had run the distance in 9.9 seconds in the semifinal but this was not recognized as a world record as it was wind assisted. He went on to win a Super Bowl ring as a wide receiver for the Dallas Cowboys and was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

ñJoe Frazier, future heavyweight champion of the world, won a gold medal for the USA in heavyweight boxing.

ñThis was the last Summer Olympics to use a cinder running track for athletic events, and the first to use fiberglass poles for pole vaulting.

ñUnfortunately for Japan, several big international events also took attention during the Olympics, including the sudden removal of Nikita Khrushchev and the first nuclear test in China.

ñThe nation of Malaysia, which had formed the previous year by a union of Malaya, British North Borneo and Singapore, competed for the first time in the Games.

ñThe US men’s swimming team won all but three gold medals (7 out of 10)

A total of 94 nations were represented at the 1964 Games. Sixteen nations made their first Olympic appearance in Tokyo: Algeria, Cameroon, Chad, Congo, Côte d’Ivoire (as Ivory Coast), Dominican Republic, Libya, Madagascar, Malaysia, Mali, Mongolia, Nepal, Niger, Northern Rhodesia (which achieved full independence as Zambia on the same day as the closing ceremony), Senegal, and Tanzania (as Tanganyika).

Athletes from Libya withdrew from competition after the Opening Ceremony, so a total of 93 nations actually competed. Athletes fromEast Germany and West Germany competed together as the United Team of Germany from 1956–1964.

The Effects of the Tokyo Olympics

The 1964 Summer Olympics in Tokyo celebrated Japan’s progress and reemergence on the world stage. The new Japan was no longer a wartime enemy, but a peaceful country that threatened no one, and this transformation was accomplished in less than 20 years.

To accomplish this, Tokyo’s infrastructure needed to be modernized in time for large numbers of expected tourists. Multiple train and subway lines, a large highway building project, and the Tokaido Shinkansen, the fastest train in the world, were completed. Haneda International Airport and the Port of Tokyo were modernized. International satellite broadcasting was initiated, and Japan was now connected to the world with a new undersea communications cable. The YS-11, a commercial turboprop plane developed in Japan, was used to transport the Olympic Flame within Japan.

For swimming, a new timing system started the clock by the sound of the starter gun and stopped it with touchpads. The photo finish using a photograph with lines on it was introduced to determine the results of sprints. All of this demonstrated that Japan was now part of the first world and a technological leader, and at the same time demonstrated how other countries might modernize.

Although public opinion about the Olympics in Japan had initially been split, by the time the games started almost everyone was behind them. The broadcast of the opening ceremony was watched by over 70% of the viewing public, and the women’s volleyball team’s gold medal match was watched by over 80%.

The Cary Grant film ‘Walk, Don’t Run’ was filmed during the Tokyo Olympics, and set in Tokyo during the Olympics. A message at the beginning of the film thanks the Japanese Government and Tokyo Police for putting up with them filming in crowded Tokyo.

Tokyo has attempted to bring the Olympic Games back to the city. They recently bid for the 2016 Summer Olympics but lost to Rio de Janeiro. Tokyo is currently bidding for the 2020 Summer Olympics.