- Participating nations: 93
- Number of athletes: 5,140 (4,457 men - 683 women)
- Time of year: October 10 - October 24
- Number of events: 163
The first thing worth noting about the Swedish preparations for the Games in Tokyo is that this is the first time the SOC issued grants that came from its own funds. The money came mainly from a number of different lotteries. This is also the first time the Games are held in Asia. Plans of letting Tokyo host the Games twenty years earlier were stopped by the war.
The number of participating nations this time increased to 93. These countries were represented by 7,152 athletes and team officials. 826 of these were women.
The Swedish team consisted of 18 women and 76 men. The team took a total of two gold, two silver and four bronze medals. These results were a little better than in Rome in 1960, but Sweden was only able to take 14th place in the nation ranking-list, its worst result since the Games in Paris in1900!
The Games in Tokyo have gone down in history as the “perfect Olympic Games". The well known Japanese organizational skills were put to the test, and the host nation managed to organize the Games with no problems at all. The Eastern culture, the kindness and the ever present Japanese smile made the Games an interesting learning experience for both participants and tourists. The opening ceremony had also changed. The somewhat exaggerated pompous style of earlier Games had changed into a simpler and more playful one.
Hard To Reach Peak PerformanceThe Games were in October, which made it hard, once again, for the athletes to be in top shape at the right time. Many of the athletes normally used that time of the year to either recover from a hard season or start training for the next one.
Sweden´s period as a great power in the world of sports had definitely ended. Our place as 13th nation in the overall ranking in Rome had not been a coincidence. Sweden took no medals in the two traditionally largest fields, athletics and swimming.
The canoeists were responsible for the two gold medals. Gert Fredriksson had abdicated from the throne, but was now on location as head of the canoeing team, a role in which he was immediately successful.
In the 1,000 m K1, Sweden was expecting great things from the 20-year-old Halmstad native Rolf Peterson. In the qualifying and middle-level heats, Rolf gave no clues as to whether he was in gold-medal shape or not. In the final, however, Rolf made a move after 600 meter, taking the lead ahead of the Hungarian Hesz. It looked like a safe lead, three meters, but the closer Rolf came to the finish line, the closer the Hungarian came to him. The race ended in a sensational spurt and finally Rolf was able to take home the gold, only one decimeter ahead of his competitor.
In the 1,000 m K2, Sweden had a title to defend and Sven-Ove Sjödelius and Gunnar Utterberg made sure that the gold, once again, went to Sweden. But halfway into the race it didn´t look too good. The Swedes started out slow and were only in fourth place at that point. But, slowly and steadily, they gained speed and were in the lead after 950 meters. Once they had made it to the lead they switched into an even higher gear which the others were unable to match.
In the Swedish team, the name Pettersson seemed like the ticket to success. First out was Rolf in canoeing, later there were the three brothers Gösta, Sture and Erik who, together with Sven Hamrin, took the bronze in the cycling team pursuit. In the individual competition, Gösta stood for the best performance by taking 7th place.
In the 50-kilometer walk, Ingvar Petterson took the bronze and Stig “Stickan" Pettersson came in fourth place in the high jump in his third Olympic Games. Stickan was close to taking a medal in all of the Olympic high jump competitions he entered, but he never quite made it. The positions 4-5-4 make “Stickan" one of our best Olympians in athletics ever.
In the yachting, Pelle Pettersson and Holger Sundström, took bronze in the star class.
The yachting yielded yet another medal in the 5.5 through the trio Lasse Thörn, Sture Stork and Arne Karlsson.
There were “only" two medals in the wrestling - both of them in the Graeco-Roman style. In the light heavyweight, Pelle Svensson took silver while Bertil Nyström took the bronze in the light welterweight.
Harsh CriticismThe Swedish team received quite a bit of criticism, not being able to produce any medals in the swimming and the athletics events.
The hardest critic of them all was probably the vice president of the SOC, Bo Ekelund, who wrote the following in the “Olympic book":
“The mission of the SOC is to send the best possible representatives to the Olympic Games. By this is not meant a team of fit, but average, athletes who are barely noticed - or worse - become the laughing-stock of the Olympic audience. The SOC should send Swedish representatives who are capable of winning. This must mean specialization. The goal for a great athlete shouldn´t be to make it to the Olympics - the goal should be to win. Let us put our efforts toward future champions. But let us continue our work on a broad range, in all sports. Sooner or later - in every sport - comes along a physical prime example, someone with a theoretical possibility of Olympic triumph."
If the Games in Tokyo lacked memorable performances from a Swedish perspective, things were not much better from an international perspective.
Few Memorable AthletesBut there are a few names that have found their way into the history books. Peter Snell, New Zealand, Don Schollander, the United States, Abebe Bikela, Ethiopia, Bob Hayes, the United States and Dawn Fraser, Australia.
This time Peter Snell was the favorite on the 800 meters - a title he was defending from the Games in Rome. In Rome, Snell´s victory was a sensation and he won by a narrow margin, but here, in Tokyo, he dominated the field and outran his opponents with great ease. On the 1,500 m, the gold medal, once again, went to the phenomenon from Auckland. With only a lap to go, Snell picked up the pace and it was clear that none of the others stood a chance.
The United States totally dominated the swimming, and the king of swimming was, without a doubt, Don Schollander. The 18-year-old won four gold medals, and it would have been five if the head of the team had not, for some reason, taken him off the medley team. The king of swimming was inconsolable after the decision. But all the tears in the world couldn´t help him and he was thus denied the chance to become historic by being the first person to take five gold medals during the same Olympic Games.
In Rome, Abebe Bikela surprised everyone by winning the marathon after running barefoot for 42 kilometers. In Tokyo, Bikela ran wearing shoes and was as exceptional as he had been in Rome. Bikela ran in 2:12.11 which is still today considered to be a very good time. He won by over four minutes! This is an even greater feat if you consider the fact that he had had his appendix removed only seven weeks earlier.
Great Performance by HayesBob Hayes´s phenomenal performance, especially in the short relay, has gone down in history. Unofficial, and relatively reliable clocks measured his anchoring run to 8.7 seconds. In the semi-finals on the 100 meters, Hayes had run the distance in 9,9 seconds according to the electric timers. It was not registered as a world record because the wind was too strong. But the time was sensational since electronic time-taking had made its definite entrance in the athletics arenas and these times were generally worse than the ones taken manually.
In the final, Hayes managed to touch the world record despite a bad start. He got the time 10.0 seconds and took an unchallenged victory from his inner lane.
The Australian Dawn Fraser, from Sydney, the host city of the 2000 Olympic Games, took her third straight gold medal on the 100-meter freestyle swimming. It was a unique accomplishment. She was so happy about her gold medal that her celebration afterwards got her arrested by the Japanese police. The mistake was cleared up and she was carried out of custody in a golden chair by the very same police officers who had arrested her!
The struggle for the position as best nation was, of course, an affair for the two great powers, the United States and the Soviet Union. The United States won, if you count only medal points, but the Soviet Union won if you count the points given to the first six positions. In the two big sports, athletics and swimming, the United States was the superior nation whereas the Soviet Union totally dominated gymnastics. The Soviet Union took 118 points in gymnastics compared to the zero points taken by the United States!
The African countries made their first entrance on the athletics arena. Kenya took the silver on 800 meters and had a team of 15 on location in Tokyo.
After the silver medal, a jubilant Kenyan official said:
“The Olympic spirit has taken a hold on our people. It is like a flame traveling across our entire nation. This time we came with 15 athletes, in Mexico we might bring 150!".
Well, he was right about that. The African dominance on the running tracks in Olympic Games to come was born in Tokyo.