The Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games have officially (and finally) started. The opening ceremonies were, as pretty much everything else regarding these games, full of restrictions and polemic, due to the on-going COVID19 pandemic, and particularly because of the rising infection rates in Japan. Last year, when the games were postponed, I could not help but think of the ill-fated 1940 Tokyo Olympic games, which were ultimately cancelled because of WWII, and then, exactly 80 years later, Tokyo again postponed the games, due to the current pandemic. I found it particularly strange because it just so happened that my mom left Mexico as a teenager, in February of 1940 to study in Japan, with Tokyo supposed to host the Olympic games that year, and did not happen due to a global crisis; then, one of my daughters left in February of 2020, almost exactly to the day, 80 years after her grandmother, to work in Japan, and the Tokyo Summer Olympics again did not happen that year, and also due to a global crisis. My daughter came back to Canada last spring, lucky to be missing the crisis in Japan right now; of course, my daughter is a young adult, and we have internet, as well as – somewhat – regular commercial planes, and all sorts of modern communication systems, but the similarities are still remarkable.
This is not the first time Tokyo has actually hosted the Olympic games. Held from October 10 to 24 of 1964, public opinion had initially been split, but by the time the games started, almost everyone had skittered to the supporting side. The games served as a way to show the world that Japan had recovered from the wartime destruction of WWII in less than twenty years, and that the nation’s progress was geared towards the development of a peaceful country. In spite of the heavy financial loses, as many other nations have faced after hosting the games, Tokyo 1964 is generally remembered as a positive event. My father got some souvenirs from one of his company’s Japanese customers, including this pin:
I remember the games in Mexico City, four years later. At the time, I was a very young girl, and did not comprehend what had happened just a few days before the opening ceremonies, on that fateful October 2, 1968, when there was a horrid massacre at a student protest in Tlatelolco. As a grownup now, it blows my mind that the games were inaugurated ten days later, and went on from October 12th to the 27th. Because of Mexico City’s high altitude (2,240 meters, or 7,350 ft) performances and records were somewhat affected, especially for track and field events. I remember watching the games on TV, and one of my aunts took us all kids to some of the venues that offered free admission during training sessions. We had all sorts of memorabilia from the games: stickers, pictures, calendars, etc., but the only one I have left is a scarf featuring the Olympic rings, shown as background at the top of this post, and the Mexico ’68 logo around the rim, as shown below:
I love the cool 1960s colours and vibe, and the design reminds me of the athletic track lanes. FUN FACT: Mexico was the first Latin American, and the first Spanish-speaking country to host the games, and these were the first Olympic games in which tartan track surfaces were used.
Official Olympic mascots appeared for the first time in the winter games that year (Grenoble 1968 offered Shuss, a little man on skis; his two-coloured head, which rested on a unique zig-zag flash-shaped foot, featured the Olympic rings). The first official mascot for summer games appeared in Munich 1972 with Waldi, a multi-coloured dachshund. In Montréal 1976, an unnamed black beaver with an Olympic rings detail in red was chosen; the symbolism came from its presence in Montréal’s coat of arms, as well as the idiom castor – beaver, because Kastōr and his brother Pollux, sons of Zeus, were the Greek gods of hospitality and athletes. I do not have any memorabilia from those games, but my sister was in Russia shortly after the Moscow 1980 games, and brought back several pins, like the two seen below:
Mikhail Potapych Toptygin, or Misha, as most of the world knew this brown bear, was the Russian mascot. It was the first time a communist country (The Soviet Union, at the time) hosted the games. Only eighty nations were represented at these games; led by the United States, sixty six countries boycotted the games entirely because of the Soviet–Afghan War.
In retaliation, fourteen communist countries (including the now gone Soviet Union and East Germany) rained on the USA’s parade four year later, boycotting the Los Angeles 1984 games, along with Iran and Libya (for other political reasons). I remember the competitions being somewhat boring at times, with two of the most powerful medal contenders absent. My sister was again working in Northern Mexico near the American border around that time, and brought me the pins shown below, some featuring Sam, the Olympic Eagle:
The Los Angeles 1984 games also marked a turning point in terms of sponsorship, having little public support and being the first games to be almost completely paid for with private money. Fast-forward to 2004, and my collection reflects that turn, with this clearly sponsored pin from Athens, that one of my husband’s aunts brought from a family visit in Cyprus and Greece that year:
Beijing 2008, London 2012 and Rio 2016 have passed (no souvenirs for me, sob), and my collection has gone full-circle, back to Tokyo. Since my daughter was actually there last year, she managed to score some souvenirs for me:
Miraitowa (ミライトワ) a blue robot-like character, is the official mascot of the 2020 Summer Olympics, and Someity (ソメイティ), the pink character shown above, is the counterpart for the 2020 Summer Paralympics; they both sport checkered details taken from the official logo (shown on the pin on the left). They are intended to represent old tradition, and innovation, as well as a “strong sense of justice.” I am going to keep the pins in their original wrapping; maybe they will keep better than the rest of my well-worn collection.
FUN FACT – Back in 1992, a friend who had been to Spain gave me a pin of a rainbow-coloured bird (photo below, left), saying that it was the mascot of the Barcelona 1992 Olympic Games. While putting together this post (29 years later!) I found out that the actual mascot for those games was not a bird, but a cubist canine named Cobi (photo below, right):
After a quick image search, the feathered character turned out to be Curro, the official mascot of the The Universal Exposition of Seville (Expo ’92), which took place from April 20 to October 12, 1992. From Wikipedia: “It has the shape of a big white bird with the legs of an elephant, whose long conical beak and crest had the colours of the rainbow. It was created by Czech designer Heinz Edelmann (who is best known for his work on the 1968 animated film, Yellow Submarine), who also gave it the name Curro, an Andalusian pet form of Spanish male name Francisco.”
I kind of like Curro better than Cobi, to be honest, so I will keep the pin in my collection, as an honorary piece (LOL). And to my friend, if you are reading this: Did you know all along, or was this an honest case of mistaken identity?