Alastair Aitken
Alastair Aitken
Alastair Aitken's
Interviews and

Looking Back at Tokyo (January 2019)

Remember that song, they played on the radio, when the 1964 Olympic Games was on “Good Morning Tokyo!”
I recolect that in Tokyo there were attractively dressed geisha girls, who did traditional dances and also, bars where you can drink sake and eat sukiyaki, There were the inspiring and peaceful Japanese Gardens. I made trips on the high speed train. out to see impressive temples, at Kyoto & Nara and, I remember walking up most of Mount Fuji, which looks stunning ,as you approach it by train.. . .….…
Coming back to the athletics, the next Olympic Games, at the time of writing, will be in Tokyo in 2020.

For me the 1964 Olympic Games were interesting, as I spent 3½ months going around the World. I was 24 and, it was a romantic thing for me to do, particularly travelling on three P &O Liners. I spent extended time in California with visits to Yosemite National Park & Reno Nevada ‘termed as the biggest little city’.Plenty of. Gambolling.It was  a ‘Great’ experience. I saw Billy Eckstine sing there, in the middle of the night, paid for by the gambling dues......

After leaving San Francisco by boat I challenged someone, who was a bit flashy to a sprint race on the deck of the Iberia, justas we were about to approach Hawaii. The sun beating down. .Although I technically won the 2nd of the two races, my arm went through a glass hydrant protector at the finish and consequently I had 60 stitches put in my right arm, However, nothing was going to stop me doing interviews for Charlie Elliott’ the Editor of Athetics Arena magazine and like Mark Shearman MBE, we turned much more to contributing to Mel Watman’s Athletics Weekly in future years.

In the Tokyo Olympic Stadium
On the 15th of October, was the 100m men and the final, was won by a powerful ‘Bull Like’athlete, Bob Hayes of the USA, who powered out of hise cinder blocks, to win in 10.00 from Enrique Figuerola (Cuba) 10.2 and Harry Jerome (Canada) also 10.2.
The 200 was won by Henry Carr (USA) in a World leading 20.3, with USA Army man, Paul Drayton 2nd in 20.5; and 3rd  Edwin Roberts (Trinidad & Tobago) 20..6.
Several months before the Games Henry Carr had told me he would run the 200 and the 4 x 400 relay in Tokyo.
In the latter, as anchor man, he twice drew away from the opposition to win his relay gold for the ‘States’ but, two great athletes Wendell Mottley (T & T) and George Kerr were then overtaken by a valiant Robbie Brightwell for 2nd spot. Carr’s split time at 44.6 was the fastest of all and Robbie Brightwell’s 44.7 was the seond fastest of all the relay runners..
The 400 Final came up on the 17th of October and Mike Larrabee was the eventual winner by a short head from Wendell Mottley (T & T).
After the final, in the Olympic village Mike told me “It went exactly the way I had planned it. . . I knew Mottley would rocket away at the start of the race and continue to run hard through out” Amazing confidence Larrabee had, when he said to me about Mottley
“I knew he was going to die” That was considering he won by a short head in horse racing terms. The amusing thing, to my mind, was that Larrabee was reputed to have said, as they entered the final straight” ‘LETS GO!. Very unnerving for the rest. The Final:- 1 Michael D. Larrabee (USA) 45.1; 2 Wendell Mottley ( Trinidad &Tobago) 45.2; 3 Andre J Badenski (Poland) 45.6; 4 Robbie Brightwll (GB) 45.7; Ulis C Williams (USA) 46.0 ; 6 Timothy Graham (GB) 46.0; ) 7 Peter S Vassella (Australia) 46.3; Edwin Skinner ( (Trin-Tobago) 46.8.

Peter Snell of New Zealand, took both the 800 & 1500 titles 1:45.1/3:38.1.
The 5000m was a disaster for the favourite Michel Jazy of France (The 1960 1500 silver medallist behind Herb Elliott) who, the very next year ran a mile World record of 3:53.6.
Jazy was starting to make his move at the bell in the Tokyo Final and, opened up a lead on the back straight. The American Bob Shcul with Germany’s Harald Norpoth passed Jazy in the straight and, in fact Jazy fought hard but was caught on the tape by Bill Dellinger (USA), just catching Jazy, for third. The first 4 were Robert Schul (USA) 13:48.8; 2 Harald Norpoth (Germany) 13:49.6, 3 was Bill Dellinger (USA) 13:49.8 and in 4th place Michel Jazy (France) 13:49.8

The 400 hurdles Final came up on 16th of October. One had memories of the powerful double Olympic winner Glenn Davis (USA-58/60) and it was another American strong man Rex ‘Warren’ Cawley who was the favourite in Tokyo. From GB was Loughborough student, John Cooper but only rated 7th fastest in the World at the time.
The lane draw was 1 Vastly Anismove (URS), 2 Gary Knoke (Australia), 3 James Luck (USA); 4 John Cooper (GB) 5 Wilfred Geeroms (Belgium); 6 Rex Cawley , 7 Roberto Friniolli (Italy) and 8 Salvatore Morale (Italy). The result of the first 3 was Cawley 49.6; John Cooper 50.1; and Salvatore Morale 50.1

Rex Cawley spoke in the Olympiic village dining room  and, made an interesting observation about his training “I leaned how to start from Hayes Jones (the USA, 110 hurdle winner in 1964), how to finish by Lee Calhoun (The 1960 Rome 110 hurdles Champion.)
Between the three of them they have helped me win quite a few races.’

Regarding the race which played to his strengths
Cawley remarked ‘Morale & Frinolli are picture book hurdlers’ technically the best but neither has the speed or strength needed at this time. There is almost 50 yards of speed and brute-strength running after the last huddle, so this is where most 440/400m hurdle races are won or lost. – over the 7th  and after the tenth hurdle. Generally you will find that the field is fairly level at the 7th & 8th hurdles, then  the fastest  and strongest athlete wins (In this case Rex!)
 The late John Cooper of Great Britain, who was later unfortunately killed in a plane crash “ Frinolli went off very fast as I expected him to do. He went through the first semi final in 23.7 and I do not approach this to within half a second.  Which puts him about 3 metres up at the half way stage. I took the third hurdle on the wrong foot but purposefully. Having done this at a stage in both the heat and the semi-final, I knew I would have to do so in the final, thus I decided it should be at the third, to get it over with. Doing the even number of strides  brought me back to my right foot again, in fact.
I put in thirteen strides before the fourth and fifth hurdles needing a greater ‘stretch’  to the fifth. Then I stretched and cleared this hurdle. I thought ‘Here goes’ and I started to make a move. I wanted to catch Crawley, and at one time felt him coming back to me, but it was just too late to do it.”

One if not the, most captivating races of the Games was the 10,000m, (October 14th, cloudy 65f). A terrific field assembled in which 29 finished the race. Gerry Lindgren of the USA, Ron Clarke of Australia both had eyes on the title. There were previous Olympic Champions like Pytor  Bolotnikov Murray Halberg, a future gold medallist at the marathon Mamo Wolde and, the man one can never discount Mohammed Gammoudi.
A lap to go and it was between Sioux Indian, Billy Mills, the ‘Great’ Australian ‘Gentleman’, Ron Clarke and Mohammed Gammoudi with Wolde a bit further back. next. This was what the first three said to me about that race and the titanic last lap battle, as they were locked together in the back straight, before going round the curve into the final sprint for home.:-

Billy Mills USA “ I had high hopes of making the team in the first place and when training was going well in February last year, I thought then I could possibly win the 10,000-if I made the team but, a lot happened in the intervening months. Nevertheless I got to Tokyo.Afafter the actual race started I had made up my mind to go with the leaders. I was almost certain Clarke would be one of those and counted on Halberg being up there too. Once Clarke moved I was prepared to go with him. Even so I was not prepared for such fast first 5000 (14:04 but once everyone else dropped and I was still there, it was merely a matter of hanging on. I hung on for a couple of laps by the skin of my teeth then it started to become easy and I felt I was as much in control of the race as Clarke, even though he led most of the way.
‘I think Clarke finding himself boxed in as we were lapping a runner. He was at my shoulder, panicked momentarily. Leaving him one of three choices. 1 He could have stopped and come round. 2 He could have speeded up and pushed though. I would not let him go ahead. I had got him on my inside but I was not doing anything illegal); or 3 He could have pushed me out.  As I say’ I think he panicked momentarily and did push me out because, let’s face it, he must have been scared as I would have been in his position , he might lose the race then  and there.
 ‘I was bumped, but I am quite sure in my own mind that it was existential. Gammoudi must have been in a similar position as Clarke but seized the opportunity more readily, as, seeing the gap as Clarke bumped me wide, and just as I was in on Clarke again, Gammoudi with his momentum unimpeded, ,did the only thing he could do, other than stop dead ,an d flashed ahead between us.’

Ron Clarke said “I think the move that won the race when Billy Mills got knocked back behind. Straight away “He hit the trail on us. To my mind, someone who comes off the bend with  two blokes in front of him as Billy was knocked when he was going pretty hard for home and, I think it put him behind in what proved to be the most advantageous position.”
Mohamed Gammoudi “ I thought I would finish 5th or 6th I was very nervous and had not slept for three days before the event, where as in Mexico where I gained a bronze and a gold medal I felt stronger and more confident . In Mexico in the 5000 final            
At the bell I knew I was going to win, although it was a tough race to the last stride.”
First six 1 Billy Mills (USA) 28:24.4; 2 Mohamed Gammoudi (Tunisia); 3 Ron Clarke (Australia) 28:25.8; 4 Mamo Wolde (Ethiopia)28:31.8; 5 leonid Ivanov (USSR)28:53.2 and 6 Kokichi Tsuburaya (Iapan) 28:59,4.

The Olympic marathon:- Ron Clarke ran but he was only doing it as an afterthought as it was the track he had been concentrating on.  Bikila Abebe of Ethiopian Palace Guard, who won the previous Olympic marathon in Rome in bare feet in 1960 decided to where shoes for this one.
H ran away from the rest to gain victory, from 20,000metres and won, in an Olympic and world Best of  2:12:11,2. The others in the first six were 2 Basil Heeley (Great Britain) 2:16:19.2; 3 Kokichi Tsuburaya (Japan) 2:16:22.8; 4 Brian Kilby (Great Britain) 2:17:02.4; 5 Jozsef Suetoe (Hungary) 2:17:55.8 and 6 Buddy Edelen (YSA)  2:18:12.4. (58 finished the race).

Basil Heatley saw a lot of what went on in the race with his meritorious 2nd place and his description of the latter parts of the race are worth looking at
At 25,000m the order up front was.1 Bikila 1:16.40; 2 Jim Hogan 1:16.50; Ron Clarke 1:18:02; kokichi Tsuburaya Joseph Sutoe Mamo Wolde 18:44 Kenji Kimihara of Japan 1:19.21; Billy Mills 1:19.25; Brian Kilby & Basil Heatley on 1:19.35.
Basil Heatley “ We made the turn and, Brian (Kllby) was running with me. I was quite despondent and then we were either overtaking jogging runners or one’s who were sitting by the roadside at 18 miles. I thought somehow you have got it wrong!. Ron Clarke of course, could be excused as he was more of a novice than I was at the event.
Brian and I were gradually pulling everybody back. There was a japanese & Hungarian vest ahead of us. I knew Suto as he was a good 10k runner but as I knew he was not better than me at the distance. I focused on the two which took me away from Brain and I could see the worst scenario unfolding with Japan looking to their only medal of the games and that was, I was going to catch Tsuburaya in the Stadium near the finish.’
‘Coming through in the marathon like that, whether it either works for you or it doesn’t and, it was a help to have the experience of training and racing for 15 years”

Gaston Roelents, was the first man to break 9 minutes for the 3000 steeplechase so, he was naturally the favourite for the Final in Tokyo but, had come to the Games with injuries and here he talks to me in the village, after achieving his gold medal.
“At about eleven o’clock in the morning of the day before the final race I thought that I had broken my leg- or at least injured it badly and that I would be unable to compete in the final.  After I had been training for about 20 minutes or so, during which time I had warmed up very well, done four 100metres fairly fast followed up by some fast hurdling. Several times I hit my leg on the hurdles, in exactly the same place at each clearance, on the upper par of the leg below the knee. (The shin). Suddenly the pain became very bad when I hit it again, so I was sent to bed. - Where I remained for four hours- with the team coach and two doctors armed with ice packs and lineament. It was not until three O’clock that I was able to put my foot on the ground again, and leave the bed’

‘In the final I did not feel the pain at all and, just to make certain that I did not hit a hurdle in this race, I hurdled over them very high, and did not hit one.
I always like to go into the lead position in a race so I can see the distance between the hurdles, and in this case there were two reasons for leading the field-for the first kilometre, which was a slow 2.52 so I just went. “
First six of 10
1 Gaston Roelants (Belgium) 8:30.8, 2 Maurice Herriott (GB) 8:32.4 National record, 3 Ivan Beliaev (USSR) 8:33.8 national record; 4 Mauel Oliveira (Portugal  8:36.2, 5 George Young (USA) 8:38.2 and 6 GuyTexereau (France) 8:38.6.

Great Britain had success with their race walkers. Perhaps a ‘Golden era in the 60’s’ for the UK and, in Tokyo, the 1969 European Champion Paul Nihill, was 2nd in the 50k walk in 4:11.31.2 behind Abdon Pamich of Italy who did 4:12.4. Ken Mathews (GB) won the 20k walk in 1:29:34. from Germany’s Dieter Linder 1:31,13.2; and Vladimir Golubnichy (USSR) 1:31.59.4.
Ken Mathews talked to me in the stadium afterwards. “I started race walking when I was 18, having been persuaded to by my Father. I certainly picked the right spoor.’ He added ‘It feels just great to have won that gold medal; it has made up for everything that happened to me in Rome (1960) and lots more besides.    

’Two outstanding ladies for the UK were noted, not just for their looks but, as ‘Great’ competitors in the Tokyo Olympics. Mary Rand’ The golden girl’ who won the long jump with 22’2¼/16.76 a new World record. She was 2nd in the pentathlon with 5035 (Irena Press of USSR was 1st with 5246). Ann Packer was 2nd to Betty Cuthbert the ‘Great Australian’ in the 400 (52.20 to Betty’s 52.00. Anne surprisede many by winning the 800 Gold in 2:01.1.

LYNN DAVIES, coached by Ron Pickering, . Known in Wales as ‘Lynn the Leap’ comments conclude my article like they did with the Mexico Olympics but in very different circumstances.
“ In Toyo I hoped to take the bronze’ remarked Lynn.’ I could not beat either Boston or Igor, it was just not on the cards... Ralph had averaged 26’11 in the Olympic trials and Ter-Vanesyan was the Co-World record holder, when I had jumped 26’4 before going out there. So I reckoned I had an outside chance of a third place, if things went my way. As at Mexico 4 years later, it took me three jumps to qualify.  On the day of the final, the rain started to come down. I could see during the competition that both Ralph and Igor were badly affected by the weather. This was my opportunity, so I grabbed it with both hands. I was better prepared and able to adapt to the conditions better than they were. Of course I was beginning my career then and was not particular what I trained on, now unless it is tartan—we are spoilt, and longer you compete in different countries, the more you see. But in Tokyo, a really a good cinder track is a luxsury, as was the privilege of living  in the Olympic Village for six weeks. Boston had seen all this before, so the novelty had warn off for him. Both he and Igor were less excsited  by the glamour of it and therefore less happy to adapt to the wet conditions.
On the 18th of October, Lynn’s final series was 7.45; 7.59, 8.07 and 7.74. Boston’s best jump was 8.03 and Ter-Oveneysyan 7.99. On Lynn’s  return to Nantymoel, the entire populateon of 3000 gave him a hero’s welcome home, with the LORD mayor’s car from Cardiff threading through a route lined with people waving flags.

Alastair Aitken

Back to Reports Index

Back to Archive index