Tokyo Olympics

22 July 2021

At long last the Summer Olympics will be held in Tokyo, Japan from July 23 to August 8, 2021. Due to health concerns, it will be held without spectators. This is not the first time Tokyo was chosen as the host city for the summer Olympics, and certainly not the first to deal with “glitches”.

By Wada Sanzō – The Organizing Committee of the XIIth Olympiad, Report of the Organizing Committee on its Work for the XIIth Olympic Games of 1940 in Tokyo until the Relinquishment, Tokio 1940, p. 114., Public Domain,

The first time Tokyo was selected to host the summer Olympics was in 1940, four years after the 1936 Berlin games where Jesse Owens infuriated the Fuhrer by winning four gold medals. After Japan’s invasion of China, the honor was transferred to Helsinki and then the games were suspended because of World War II and not resumed until 1948, so Tokyo missed its big chance.

In 1964 the summer Olympics were held in Tokyo but were actually held in the autumn. They were moved to mid October to avoid the summer heat and the September monsoon season. Some of the “firsts” for that Olympics include:

  • First international transmission without flying tape recordings to other countries.
  • First color transmissions.
  • Debut of the Paralympics competition.
  • Women’s pentathlon premiered, as well as judo and volleyball.
  • First to use fiberglass poles for the pole vaulting events.

Some surprises included the exclusion of South Africa for its support of apartheid and its refusal to integrate its teams. Also Zambia declared its independence at the closing ceremonies of the event, making it the first country to begin the games as one country (Northern Rhodesia) and finish as another.

If you are interested in more of this piece of history, check out the documentary Tokyo Olympiad. This film focuses more on the humanity than the strict recounting of events. There are other documentaries available like the silent film The Games of the V Olympiad Stockholm, 1912. Turner Classic Movies did a day of these films on July 19 and you can probably catch up through a streaming service.

Returning our sights to the current millennium, the opening ceremonies are scheduled to be broadcast live and then an edited version in prime time on NBC.

Typically events are rotated in and out from one Olympiad to another. This year we will see the return of softball and baseball to the competition, last seen in 2008. Surfing was introduced in 1920 and was dominated by Duke Kahanamoku.

Brand new to the agenda is sports climbing. This is where competitors go head to head ascending a 15 meter wall that is set at a 95% angle. Just don’t blink because the men’s speed is expected to be five or six seconds and women not much slower at seven or eight seconds.

Another first-time event will be skateboarding with four medals at stake, two for the men and two for women in each of Park and Street.

There will be lots of opportunities for you to watch through network stations, and Peacock, the streaming service. Pick your favorite sport, or indulge in something a little more obscure. This only happens every four (or five) years, so make the most of your time in front of a screen.

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