1964 TOKYO OLYMPICS: NIGERIA’S FIRST OLYMPIC MEDAL

The 1964 Summer Olympics, officially known as the Games of the XVIII Olympiad, was an international multi-sports event held in Tokyo, Japan, from October 10 to 24, 1964. Tokyo had been awarded the hosting right of the 1940 Summer Olympics, but this honour was subsequently passed to Helsinki because of Japan’s invasion of China, before it was ultimately cancelled because of World War II. The 1964 Summer Games were the first Olympic Games held in Asia, and the first time South Africa was barred from taking part due to its apartheid system in sports. It was also the first Olympic outing that Nigeria received her first medal. Not a gold medal though.

The Games of the 18th Olympiad were staged in Tokyo for over 15 days, from 10 to 24 October, 1964. Tokyo was chosen to host the 1964 Olympics in 1959, just 14 years after the end of the Second World War. Japan was passionate about hosting the Olympics in Tokyo, and that passion fueled the success of the games.

Tokyo never ceases to be cutting edge’s when it comes to technology and spectacles. The 1964 games were no exception, including the first opening ceremony to have a theme song, balloons, skywriting (see the airborne rings above), and even electronic music. To celebrate the introduction of the emperor, the Olympic orchestra performed an electronic song using IBM computers, an extremely modern performance at such a formal event.

In 1964, Tokyo more than got the ball rolling, with fireworks, balloons and sky-written Olympic rings, among other innovations. Arguably more important, though, was that the Tokyo Games were the first to use fireworks at the opening ceremony, an act that now seems wholly connected to large-scale public exhibition. Japan literally shot for the stars, and changed what we expect from events of this magnitude.

But perhaps the most memorable moment of these ceremonies was the lighting of the Torch. The person who lit it was not a movie star, a musician or a star athlete. To symbolize Japan’s recovery from the Second World War, the Olympic Torch was carried by Yoshinori Sakai, who was born in Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, the day that city was leveled by an atomic bomb. His lighting of the Torch was perhaps the ultimate symbol of Japan’s survival and perseverance after almost 20 years of post-Armageddon rebuilding. Emotion dominated the opening as Hirohito lit the Olympic flame with a torch handed to him by Yoshinori Sakai and then raised the Olympic flag to the top of a flagpole that was 15.21 metres high – the distance that won triple jumper, Miklo Oda, Japan’s first ever-gold medal in the 1928 Games.

Over 5,000 athletes battled for medals, urged on by thousands of enthusiastic Japanese fans enjoying some of the best facilities ever seen at the Olympics. A total of 5,151 athletes (4,473 men and 678 women) from 93 countries and regions took part in 163 events in 20 sports, with judo and volleyball introduced for the first time. Thirty venues, including newly constructed, renovated and temporary facilities were used in the Tokyo metropolitan and four other prefectures (Saitama, Kanagawa, Nagano and Chiba).

South Africa was suspended because of its government’s racist policies of apartheid- a ban that would last for 28 years, Indonesia and North Korea boycotted the event but it did not reduced the feel good factor surrounding these Games. Indonesia and North Korea had voluntarily withdrawn their teams from the competition when several of their contestants were disqualified (those athletes who had participated in the New Emerging Forces Games in Jakarta in 1963, were not allowed to participate in the Olympic Games).

Tokyo had spent over £2 billion on new facilities and infrastructure for these Olympic Games, and it proved to be money well spent. Among the many infrastructure timed to coincide with the event was the Shinkansen bullet train. The service between Osaka and Tokyo began nine days before the Games kicked off on Oct. 10, a date that is now a national holiday. Haneda Airport was modernized and numerous highways, expressways and subway lines built.

From the moment Emperor Hirohito opened the Games on 10th October to the closing ceremony on 24th October, the competition was a resounding success and helped re-establish Japan as part of the international community after World War Two. Significantly, the 1964 Olympic Games debuted the first use of computers to keep results.

Nigeria’s name was first registered on Olympic medals’ table with Nojeem Maiyegun’s boxing bronze medal at the 1964 Tokyo, Japan Games. It seemed to mark the birth of the newly independent country in global sporting achievement. And rightly so, we got our independence in 1960 and at the first Olympics that we attended as an independent country, we at least left a mark for things to come.

Boxing has gone down the annals of Nigeria’s history as the sport that gave her its first ever Olympic medal. Nojeem Maiyegun won a bronze medal in the light middleweight category. With 18 athletes (2 females and 16 males) who participated in two sports; boxing and athletics, Maiyegun Nojeem won a bronze medal in 67 -71kg (light-middleweight). The youngest among the Nigerian athletes, Anthony Andeh, was 19 while Jimmy Omagbemi, 33, was the oldest.

Nojim Maiyegun

 

Nojeem Maiyegun results were:

Round of 16 – Defeated Bill Robinson (Great Britain) KO 1

Quarterfinal – Defeated Tom Bogs (Denmark) KO 1

Semifinal – Lost to Jo Gonzales (France) 2:3

Maiyegun had won his two fights before the semi-finals in outstanding fashion. He had a bye in the first round but in the second round he faced Great Britain ’s William Robinson. The one-sided bout lasted one minute 59 seconds before the referee stopped the contest.

The quarter-finals round was even more dramatic. Famed Danish boxer, Tom Bogs was virtually rescued by the referee 58 seconds into the contest when Maiyegun would not stop battering him.

The semi-final fight with Gonzales was one of Maiyegun’s best contests. He believed he could steamroll the Frenchman but Gonzales returned every punch with equally devastating ones. In the end, two of the five judges favoured Maiyegun as Gonzales won the fight on points to advance to the finals.

Boris Lagutin of the Soviet Union won the gold at that event while France’s Joseph Gonzales won the silver. Maiyegun and Poland’s Józef Grzesiak settled for the bronze. That was how he made his name and became Nigeria’s legend.

On a rainy 14th October, with a temperature of 16.3° and humidity of 94.0°, David Ejoke, who was the athlete for men’s 100m, was absent and therefore did not participate in the first round of the game. Invariably, Nigeria was out of men’s 100m relay. He took part in the first round of 200m under Heat F. He came third (tallied with Grajales Escobar, P. A. of Colombia) with 21.4 points) but was absent at the second round.

Clarice Ahanotu was only able to reach the second round in 100m women’s relay but was absent at the women’s 200m relay.

In the first round of 4x100m relay for men under group A, Sydney Asiodu, Jimmy Omagbemi, Folu Erinle and Abdul Amu came 5th and this qualified them for the semi-finals where Clarence Okorafor replaced Abdul Amu for the relay. However, they could not make it to the finals as they took the 6th position in their group. The first four winners in semi-finals groups 1&2 proceeded to finals.

Folu Erinle came 4th in the men’s 100m hurdle in the first round, but it was Edward Akika who represented the country at the 2nd round and came 7thin his group and this also made it impossible for Nigeria to proceed to the semi-finals.

In the long jump, Wariboko West nearly made a bronze medal as he came 4th with a 4.60m jump. It was a close win.

Sikiru Alimi and Anthony Andeh were knocked out at the second series in welterweight and feather weight boxing respectively.

Karimu Young won the first and the second series in batam weight, but was knocked out at the series No.3 by Rodriguez Washington of Uruguay.

23rd October 1964: Avery Brundage, the chairman of the IOC (International Olympic Committee), shaking hands with the US team, winners of the 4X100 relay at the Tokyo Olympics. The team are O Paul Drayton, Gerald Ashworth, Richard Stebbins and Robert Hayes. (Photo by Keystone/Getty Images)

The following were the 18 athletes that competed for Nigeria in 1964:

Nojeem Maiyegun    Male     23         Boxing

Clarice Ahanotu        Female 25         Athletics

Edward Akika           Male     23         Athletics

Sunday Akpata         Male     27         Athletics

Sikiru Alimi              Male     22         Boxing

Abdul Karim Amu     Male     30         Athletics

Anthony Andeh        Male     19         Boxing

Sydney Asiodu         Male     20         Athletics

David Ejoke              Male     24         Athletics

Folu Erinle               Male     24         Athletics

Samuel Igun             Male     26         Athletics

George Ogan            Male     26         Athletics

Christian Ohiri          Male     26         Athletics

Emelia Okoli             Female 23         Athletics

Lawrence Okoroafor Male     25         Athletics

Jimmy Omagbemi    Male     33         Athletics

An aerial view of the Yoyogi National Gymnasium, circa 1965. Designed by Kenzo Tange to house the swimming and diving events in the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, it is now a major venue for basketball and ice hockey. (Photo by Three Lions/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

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