Sunday, July 22, 2012

Olympic Gold

Billy Mills, 1964
The news this week is full of the worst in human nature. Just yesterday two murders in nearby Bridgeport brought the city's total to 13 so far this year. This statistic pales in comparison to the incredible massacre in Colorado in a packed midnight showing of the new Batman movie. The bombings and violence in the Middle East have become so normal these days that they hardly even qualify for the front pages.

At least the Olympic games slated to start next Friday might give us a brief respite from such sad news and allow us to focus on what our nature is capable of achieving. I'm not a pollyanna and I know that the Olympics are not free the effects of human depravity. Hopefully, the London games will be free of violence and the athletes will be able to do their best. I'm sure there will be the usual allegations of doping and cheating. I'm sure there will also be outrageous displays of self-centeredness and crass commercialism.

One of the worst things about the reporting of past Olympics has been the tendency on the part of the TV networks to write their stories even before the events have taken place. Their focus will be on the stars and the favorites in each event. They will be interviewed and profiled ad nauseam while every other participant goes unnoticed. I've noticed often in the past that even when the favorite fails to win and is beaten by some unknown, the TV analysts still interview the beaten hero. Why can't they just focus on the event itself?

One of the greatest and most dramatic upsets in Olympic history was the victory of Billy Mills, a Native American from Kansas, in the 10000 meter race at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. Not only did Mills win the race in dramatic fashion but he beat his personal best in the event by an incredible 46 seconds.

Fortunately, the race became one of the highlights of famed Japanese film director Kon Ichikawa's coverage of the games. His film, Tokyo Olympiad, is one of the two great tributes to the Olympic games, ranking right up there with Leni Riefenstahl's coverage of the 1936 Berlin games. The 1964 Olympics marked Japan's recovery from its terrible defeat in WWII. Ichikawa's film is more than that. It is also a paean to peace and human brotherhood.

Below is the video of Ichikawa's coverage of the 10000 meters. You will notice that in 1964 the Olympics were a little less organized, Qualifying times were not required to participate, and lapped runners did not have to get out of the way.###

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