Under a magnificent blue autumn sky, the Opening Ceremony of the Games of the XVIII Olympiad was filled with exciting moments, in particular when Japanese athlete Yoshinori Sakai, born on 6 August 1945 and nicknamed “Hiroshima Baby”, lit the Olympic cauldron in a symbolic gesture of peace and hope. At the end of the Ceremony, Japanese jet planes formed the Olympic rings in the sky.
In 1964, the Olympic Games were held in Asia for the very first time. This was a hugely important moment for Japan, a country that had risen from the ashes of the Second World War, which had ended only 19 years earlier, to become a major economic power. Reconstruction, peace and understanding between peoples were the core themes of the Games, from the Torch Relay onwards.
The flame was lit on 21 August in Olympia and set off on its journey to Japan two days later. It was met by enthusiastic crowds in Beirut, Tehran, Lahore, New Delhi, Calcutta, Rangoon, Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, Manila, Hong Kong and Chinese Taipei. Having arrived in Japan on the island of Okinawa on 7 September, the flame crossed the country via four different routes, one of which took it to Hiroshima, on 20 September, where it was welcomed by tens of thousands of people in front of the famous Genbaku Dome, the only structure left standing in the area where the atomic bomb was dropped on 6 August 1945. The Relay also went past the majestic Mount Fuji. On 9 October, the four flames were reunited in a Ceremony in front of the Imperial Palace in Tokyo, 24 hours before the Opening Ceremony.
Fourteen new delegations
The sports delegations began to arrive in Tokyo. Participation had increased significantly compared to the previous edition, with 14 nations making their first appearance. Most were from Africa – Algeria, Cameroon, Senegal, Chad, Côte d'Ivoire, Congo, Northern Rhodesia (which later became Zambia), Mali, Niger and Tanzania (competing as Tanganyika) – but there were also debut appearances for Mongolia, Nepal and the Dominican Republic. Germany, meanwhile, competed as a “United Team”, bringing together athletes from both the GDR and FRG.
“10 October dawned with cloudless autumn skies, without the least indication of the rain of the previous day,” reads the Official Report. “Preparations for the Ceremony were completed at 1.30 p.m. and the Olympic prelude commenced promptly at 1.50 with the hoisting of the Olympic flags and those of the participating nations, on the flagstaffs surrounding the stand of the Stadium.” It continued: “To the accompaniment of electronic music, His Majesty the Emperor arrived at the Stadium and proceeded to the Royal Box, standing briefly while the national anthem of Japan was played.”
Avery Brundage: “The Games belong to the entire world”
At 2 p.m. on the dot, in beautiful sunshine, the first delegation – Greece – came out onto the cinder track of the Olympic Stadium to the cheers of 83,000 spectators. Most of the athletes in the parade – without cameras or phones in their hands, unlike in modern-day ceremonies – were dressed in ordinary uniforms; the African delegations were wearing traditional dress, and the German, American and Soviet delegations were notable for their size, with the USA and USSR entering the Stadium one after the other (in alphabetical order). The Japanese delegation, clad entirely in red, came in last to thunderous applause. In total, some 5,700 athletes and officials lined up in groups on the grass in the centre of the Stadium.
Standing on a white podium opposite the official stand, Daigoro Yasukawa, President of the Tokyo 1964 Organising Committee, delivered a welcome address, highlighting that the International Olympic Committee was celebrating its 70th anniversary that year. Then IOC President Avery Brundage stepped up to give his address: “The Olympic Movement, with its 118 National Olympic Committees, has now bridged every ocean, and the Olympic Games at last are here in the Orient, proving that they belong to the entire world.” He concluded in Japanese: “I am honoured to invite His Imperial Majesty the Emperor of Japan to declare open the Games of the XVIII Olympiad,” and Emperor Hirohito officially opened the Games.
Born on 6 August 1945, Yoshinori Sakai serves as the final torchbearer
The Olympic Anthem was played as the iconic white flag with the five rings was carried into the Stadium by members of the Japanese Maritime Self-Defence Force. The flag was then raised aloft on a 15.21 metre pole. The Mayor of Rome – host city of the 1960 Games – stood in front of the podium with an embroidered Olympic flag before handing it to the Governor of Tokyo. A salute of canons was fired and thousands of multi-coloured balloons were released into the sky. Then the final torchbearer – Yoshinori Sakai, a Japanese athlete born on 6 August 1945 – entered the Stadium carrying the flame. The athletes, who had gathered on the grass, dispersed to form a guard of honour. Sakai ran up the 163 steps to the Olympic cauldron, which he lit, with a beaming smile, at 3 minutes and 3 seconds past 3 p.m.
Japanese artistic gymnastics star Takashi Ono, a 12-time Olympic medallist and four-time champion (at Helsinki 1952, Melbourne 1956 and Rome 1960), took the Olympic oath on behalf of all the athletes, after which 8,000 pigeons were released. The words “Citius, Altius, Fortius” were displayed on the state-of-the-art scoreboard that towered over the stands. The Ceremony culminated with five jet planes forming the Olympic rings in the autumn sky, high above the Stadium, and the delegations subsequently left the arena via the north and south gates. Two weeks of sporting exploits had begun.
Some of the athletes were back in the Stadium for their track and field competitions on 14 October. One such event was the 100m, which was dominated from start to finish by the USA’s Bob Hayes, who set a new world record of 9.9 seconds in the semi-final (a time that was not officially recognised due to the tailwind speed of 5.28 m/s), before breaking it again (officially, this time) in the final after clocking 10.0 seconds. But that is a whole other story…