My Opinion – The Games, Then & Now

As the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics approach, here's a look at Games of the past and now

As we put the final touches on this issue of SPORTS ’N SPOKES (S’NS) in early June, it looks like the Summer Paralympics set for Aug. 24–Sept. 5 in Tokyo will happen.

I’ll stop way short of saying the Games will take place as normal. I believe the uncertainty of changes due to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic will not be fully understood until after the Games have concluded.

If you’re an athlete competing in Tokyo and have competed at previous Paralympics, I would love to hear from you after you return to get your take on how the virus protocols impacted the Games.   

Even without the COVID-19 protocols, things at this year’s Games will be vastly different from 1960 in Rome, when the ninth annual Stoke Mandeville Games became known as the first official Paralympics.

PN magazine, the sister publication of S’NS, was one of the few media sources to cover the event, as it had covered all the previous Stoke Mandeville Games since their creation by Ludwig Guttman, MD, in 1948.

People far more qualified than myself have written numerous articles and books on the Paralympics’ history. So, if you’re looking for an accurate historical exposé, I suggest a quick internet search to find that type of detailed information.

Now, when it comes to finding commentary from the participants at those early Games, the pages of PN provide a one-of-a-kind glimpse into history. Some of the stories explain how different things were between those first Games and now.

I’m certain the athletes will find their Paralympic accommodations in Tokyo more wheelchair-friendly than the athletes did in 1960 in Rome. U.S. team coach Charles Ryder recounted their “uplifting” experience in The 1960 Paralympics for the November 1960 issue of PN:

“We arrived in Rome at about noon on Friday, September 16th and were met at the Ciampino Airport by a battery of newsmen and photographers. Embarking the plane was effected by fork-lift truck. From the airport we went by bus to the Olympic Village, here we ran into our first obstacle. The Village is built on concrete piles, and all the rooms were up two flights of stairs. The Italians had built ramps over the stairs but failed to consider the angle of the steps themselves: Needless to say, the ramps were useless. We removed them, and the escorts working in pairs carried the boys up and down for the first three days. Native help arrived then and carried on from there.” 

Fast forward to the 1964 Paralympics in Tokyo. PN magazine had complete coverage of the Games in the January 1965 issue, including some interesting insights in Tokyo And Back by sports columnist and Paralympian Steve Florescu:

“Eighteen years ago, I sailed from my 6th Division Army post in Pusan, Korea, to Japan for a week of temporary duty. Recently, it has been my fortune to revisit Tokyo as a quadriplegic competitor on the 1964 U.S. Paralympic team. In Tokyo, we were saluted and carried off the planes by a spit-and-polish company of Japanese paratroopers. First to disembark was all-American Junius Kellogg, borne aloft like a 7-foot serving tray by a half-dozen troopers. Although it was said that these same Japanese Self-Defense Forces had practiced among themselves in simulated positions, Lieutenant Siramoto Matuishi’s men looked somewhat ‘shook’ when our spasms began occurring in the most inopportune moments.”

I guess they didn’t have forklifts in Tokyo like they had in Rome, and I wasn’t able to find accounts of the accommodations there.

One other thing Florescu shared in his article is something I’m confident this year’s competitors will echo: “My impressions of Japan can well be summed up in the words of our team director, Mr. Ben Lipton, ‘The overwhelming hospitality of the Japanese people was astounding.’”

Good luck to all the competitors, and please share your stories with me upon your return. I’ll be surprised if any stories include being forklifted off airplanes or being physically carried up and down flights of stairs.

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