TOKYO – It was the year Cassius Clay won the heavyweight championship and became Muhammad Ali. When Roy Emerson of Australia and Maria Bueno of Brazil took the titles at Wimbledon, when Arnold Palmer claimed his fourth and final Masters, and when the Beatles arrived on a Pan Am flight from London to play their first concert in the United States.
It was 1964.
And it was later that same year in Tokyo when Yoshinori Sakai — born on Aug. 6, 1945, in Hiroshima, the day the atomic bomb was dropped on the city — ignited the cauldron in the national stadium to open the 18th Olympic Games.
Japan was back only 19 years after defeat in World War II, and nothing symbolized its rebirth more than the Olympics and the Shinkansen bullet trains that began running as the games opened.
Japan's women's volleyball team — known as the “Witches of the Orient” — won gold in an impassioned final against the Soviet Union. American swimmer Don Schollander took four gold medals, Czechoslovakian gymnast Vera Caslavska won three, and Bob Hayes tied the 100-meter world record of 10.0 seconds, the last Olympics run on a cinder track.
“They were a beautifully done Olympics and the beginning of my Olympic odyssey," said Bill Mallon, a former professional golfer, orthopedic surgeon and former president of the International Society of Olympic Historians. “I was 12 years old in 1964, and when I first became fascinated with the Olympics.”
They also grabbed Roy Tomizawa. His father Tom, a second-generation Japanese-American, was an editor working for the television network NBC at the Olympics in Tokyo — the first to be shown internationally using communication satellites.
The family connection and curiosity got Tomizawa looking for a history in English of those 1964 Games. He couldn't find one, so he wrote his own. The English version came out last year, and the Japanese-language edition will be available in May.