Friday 4 May 2012

1968 Summer Olympics Mexico City: XIX Olympiad

On 18th October 1963 in Baden Baden, West Germany the IOC clearly voted for Mexico City to host the Games in 1968. Securing 30 votes in the first round was enough to defeat Detroit with 14, Lyon, France on 12 and Buenos Aires with 2. So for the first time the Games came to a Spanish speaking nation and for the first and only time took place largely at altitude.

In 1966 however the Mexican Government decided that due to difficulties the Paralympics which intended again to be run alongside the Olympics could not be held in Mexico City. The Israeli government offered to host them in Tel Aviv an offer that was accepted so they took place at Ramat Gan which housed the Israeli Sports Centre for the Disabled.

Ten days before the Games started a student and civil protest took place in the Tlateloclo area of the host city. Forty four people died after government forces claimed they had been fired upon, in 2000 when the papers were released if was clear that it was the Government snipers who started the shooting. The IOC President Avery Brundage decided that the Games would go ahead as scheduled.

Nations 112 (+19)
Competitors 5516 (+365)
Sports 18 (-1)
Events 172 (+9)

12 to 27 October, 1968 hosted by Mexico City, Mexico


III Paralympics

Nations 29 (+8)
Competitors 750 (+375)
Sports 10 (-9)
Events 181 (+37)

4 to 13 November, 1964 hosted by Tel Aviv, Israel

The games saw for the first time separate teams from East and West Germany. Also Barbados were competing for the first time as an independent state and Singapore returned after being part of the Malaysia team in Rome in 1964. But totally new to the Games were British Honduras (now Belize), Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, El Salvador, Guinea, Honduras, Kuwait, Nicaragua, Paraquay, Sierra Leonne and United State Virgin Islands.

Of the totally new nations none won medals. But in the battle for German supremacy the East Won with 9 golds, nine silver and 7 bronze to the West's superior count but inferior quality 5 gold, 11 silver and 10 bronze.

New Paralympic nations were Ethiopia, India, Jamaica, New Zealand, South Korea and Spain.

Equality in flame lighting

Women had been competing at the games since xxxx but it wasn't until 1968 that the honour of lighting the Olympic flame in the stadium was handed to a female athlete.

The honour went to Mexico's national 80m hurdle champion Norma Enriqueta Basilo de Silva. She went on to a career in politics and sport and carried the torch again when the Athens games of 2004 took the relay to all the host nations since the first Games when it returned to Mexico City

Changing jumping forever

In the 1968 high jump stood out from the crowd. Instead of rolling over the high jump bar facing it as was the predominant western roll technique. He went over it backwards.

However, he was also leading having cleared every height up to 2.22m at the first attempt at which point   the Soviet Union's Valentin Gavrilov's failure to complete the height meant the gold medal fight went to two Americans Ed Caruthers and Dick Frosbury.
Dick Fosbury winning with his then unique approach
in the high jump

Caruthers had cleared the height at the second attempt while the flopping technique used by Fosbury which had seen him clear so far meant that he would have to jump higher than the man from Oregon. It came down to the third attempts at 2.24m which only Fosbury cleared to secure the gold in a new Olympic and United States record.

The technique which we now know as the Fosbury Flop didn't take long to gain in popularity by the next games in 4 years 28 of the 40 high jump competitors were using his technique. It was certainly seen as the way to soar to the Altius part of the Olympic motto.

The protests

Everyone is aware of the Black Power salute given by Tommie Smith and John Carlos in the men's 200m medal ceremony. But there was another Olympian who did her own protest in one of the numerous medal ceremonies that she took part in at her third Games.

Čáslavská's protest was more dignified than the Black
Power salute, but no less significant
She may have been defending the title in the individual all-around, vault and beam but she only got approval to go to the games at the very last minute. Chezkoslovakian gymnast Věra Čáslavská like the Hungarians 12 years earlier had taken part in protests against the Soviet invasion in the spring and their communist style regime in Prague. She has signed Ludvik Vaculik's protest manifesto Two Thousand Words and like the Hungarian's 12 years earlier completed her training in a mountain hideaway in her case at Šumperk.

However, when she got to Mexico city there was still the shadow of the Soviet machine hanging over her. Having taken the overall title over Larisa Latynina in 1960 the USSR were not to please when the Czech looked set to clean sweep the individual titles. After it appeared that Čáslavská had won the floor performing to Jarabe tapatío there was a conference of the judges which adjusted the preliminary scores of  Larisa Petrik to make the gold effectively tied. But this had happened after another judging controversy in her defence of the beam handed that title to the USSR's Natalia Kuchinskaya. When the familiar strains of the Soviet Union's national anthem started up and the hammer and sickle flag started to rise above her Czech on Čáslavská turned her head away and down.

Despite this however Čáslavská had won the all-around title, plus gold in beam, uneven bars and floor (tied) plus the silver in the beam and her third team silver. The 0.075 points by which she lost the beam is the closest any female Gymnast has come to winning the five individual golds at the same Olympics.

She married her fiancé Josef Odložil after her competition but still during the Games in Mexico City, but while the Czech people loved her for standing up to the Soviets her national authority prevented her from taking part in competition either domestically or internationally upon her return forcing her retirement.

The IOC's war on drugs starts here

With the medal before it was
taken away
In 1967 the IOC first introduced drugs testing for use during the Games. In 1968 we saw the first disqualification in what would now been seen as a bizarre set of circumstances.

The athlete in question was Swedish modern pentathlete Hans-Gunnar Liljenwall who after his team had taken bronze in the team event was disqualified for having taken alcohol before the shooting element.

He had taken 2 pints of beer to relax himself, but this was enough to earn him the notoriety of being the first competitor in Olympic history to be caught by the doping authorities. This earned disqualification not only for him but for all of his team mates too.

The irony of his situation was that 14 of the other competitors in the modern pentathlon tested positive for tranquilizers at the shooting but as these were not then on the IOC list they were not affected.

Bowls make the Games

As someone how does play lawn bowls I am somewhat frustrated that the sport is not included in the Olympic programme. It is of course one of the Commonwealth Games. However, Tel Aviv saw the introduction of the game for the Paralympics.

The introduction was good news for Great Britain as the team had finalists in all of the four finals.

In the Women's singles Gwen Buck beat Soulek of the USA. For the pairs she teamed up with J. Laughton to beat the Americans this time in the shape of Rosalie Hixon and Woods.

The men's pairs saw more British success with Easton and Monoghan beating the South African pair of Erasmus and Germishuizen. But in the men's singles the South African Erasmus upped the colour of the medal to gold beating GB's John Britton.

Lawn bowls was to remain part of the Paralympics until 1996 and has not been part of the programme since. However, let me assure you some of the top players are very good and a real test from their chairs for even high quality players.

Swimming further for a Olympic first

Debbie Meyer on her way to three individual golds
The women swimmers were given a longer distance event to swim the 800m Freestyle. The result was that one 16-year-old became the first swimmer male or female to win three individual golds at the same Games.

From Annapolis, Maryland Debbie Meyer starting out with the 400m on the 19th and 20th. in the final she swan 11.5 seconds faster than the winner in 1964 for a new Olympic record that was 3.7 seconds faster than her team mate Linda Gustavson in silver.

The following two days say qualification and finals of the 200m, which was also a new event for both men and women. She swam the final of the 200m on the evening that she qualified for the final of the new long distance 800m. But she heading an American 1,2,3 in a time of 2:10.5 half a second ahead of 100m gold medallist Jan Henne and Jane Barkman.

Two days later she returned to the Francosco Márquez Pool for her last final. She destroyed the field and touched out in 9:24.0 a time that was 11.7 seconds better than her nearest rival and team mate Pam Kruse with local girl Maria Teresa Ramírez taken bronze, one of only two medals for the hosts in the pool: the other had gone to Felipe Muñoz in the mens 200m breaststroke.

Although she was only 16 at the time Meyer who suffered from asthma never took part in another Olympics and retired from competitive swimming in 1972.

Not sent 10,000 miles not to finish

Olympics tend to throw up unlikely heroes and in 1968 it was a Tanzanian marathon runner who stole the hearts of many.

John Stephen Akhwari tripped and fell while out on the marathon course he fell over badly cutting his knee and actually dislocating the joint. He carried on running the whole 26 miles and 385 yards. He finished over an hour after the winner and almost 20 minutes behind any other finisher in 3:35:17.

When interviewed after this heroic effort he said:

"My country did not send me 10,000 miles just to start the race; they sent me to finish the race."
In 1970 he showed what he was capable off with fully functioning leg joints when he finished 5th in the Commonwealth Games marathon in Edinburgh, in which England's Ron Hill became the first man to run under 2:10 for a Marathon.

The longest jump that so nearly never was

I could hardly write about the 1968 Games and ignore the leap that was to be the further man would leap for almost 23 years.

But what you may not know it how close Bob Beamon came to not being one of the final 16 jumpers. In the qualifying round which contained 42 jumpers Beamon failed with his first two attempts and only made the qualifying distance with his last attempt.

Maybe that near failure to get into the final meant that he wanted to put in a good jump with his first attempt in the final. That first attempt landed near the far end of the pit and actually went beyond the ability of the optical device that was being used to measure the jumps. So the officials had to resort to an old fashioned tape measure before they announced his distance.

Nearly a minute after he touched down in the pit it was finally announced that he had jumped 8.90m. A distance that meant nothing to the American who was used to feet, until it was pointed out that at 29 ft. 2½ in. he had jumped almost two feet further than anyone else in history. After the second round a rain storm came which meant that only 3 jumpers bettered their previous efforts, one had no jumped twice, one still failed to make the final eight and the other improved by just 1cm. 

The man who would finally jump further than Beamon was only the world's best for one round of competition as in the 1991 World Championships in Japan. Carl Lewis (USA) had in the third round jumped the longest legal jump at sea level going 8.85. Then in the fourth a wind assisted Lewis went 8.91, the longest ever at the time. Only in the next round to see Mike Powell (8.95) also of the USA jumped the longest two jumps at sea level in history. Powell as a result was credited with the World Record in succession to Beamon. Powells record still stands today making it the only record that has been held by only two men for the last 44 years.

See also my full list of posts about past Olympics

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