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Road to Tokyo: A Memory

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As Patricia and I look forward to returning to Tokyo, Japan on July 28 through August 10, 2020 to watch the 32nd Olympic games of the Modern Era, we cannot help but reflect on the Olympic games in general and on our first experiences visiting Japan.

The site of the first Olympic games was Olympia, Greece; the year was 776 B.C. For over 1,200 years, the Olympic games continued uninterrupted every four years. The site of the 18th Olympic games was Tokyo, Japan.

The Opening Ceremonies took place on October 9, 1964 followed by 16 days of glory.

A Bumpy Start

I was a member of the 1964 USA Olympic team participating in the 10,000-meter run and the marathon. I arrived October 1, 1964 on a plane that carried most of the USA track and field team, as well as coaches and support staff. Patricia arrived a few days later. Her plane, carrying several spouses of the athletes and coaching staff, provided the first challenge and test of our nerves before the Olympics even began.

I was at the Tokyo airport with several athletes and coaches waiting for our spouses to arrive. We were informed that their plane had blown out a tire upon leaving Anchorage, Alaska for Tokyo! There was concern if the landing gear would lower and if there would be a problem landing with a blown out tire. Foam was being laid on the runway as a precaution.

As I watched the final approach, those on board experienced the pilot and the crew make a safe, heroic landing. Perhaps to the pilot it was a routine day at the office! Patricia never looked so beautiful as I watched her deplane, casually walking down the ramp. We embraced; we were together and I thought, “Yes, a prayer was answered.” Now together, we waited to see if dreams come true.

Yoshinoro Sakai and the Lighting of the Torch

As I settled into a routine, I relaxed and began learning about the beautiful country I was in. I learned about the young man who was chosen to light the Olympic torch. His name was Yoshinoro Sakai. He was a nineteen-year-old university student. Yoshinoro was born August 6, 1945, not far from Hiroshima, where the first atomic bomb fell on humanity. It was said he was born in the hour Hiroshima died. He embodied the new youth, the prayer for peace.

He was chosen to carry the flame of peace into the Olympic stadium and light the Olympic torch so the world would never forget. His story, along with a conversation I later had with the great Jesse Owens, altered my life and gave birth to my belief in global unity through the dignity, character and beauty of global diversity; not only the theme of the Olympics to me, but more importantly, the future of mankind.

The Gift of the Olympics

The 1964 Olympic games were considered by many the greatest Olympic games of the modern era, which began in 1896, because overshadowing the many world and Olympic records set was the ever present spirit in which the games were hosted.

What became known as the unofficial theme of the 18th Olympiad was “the World as One” and the moral and spiritual manner in which they were conducted truly did portray the world as one.

To me, this is the greatest gift any Olympic game has ever given to the world and, over time, it strengthened my spirit through the dignity, characters and beauty of global diversity.

See you next month!

Billy Mills (Oglala Lakota)

National Spokesperson and co-founder

Running Strong for American Indian Youth®

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