Canadians reflect on competing at 1964 Tokyo Summer Games

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TORONTO —
While Tokyo is welcoming the world this week, many still vividly remember the last time the Summer Games were there in 1964.

That includes 80-year-old Bill Crothers, a two-time Olympian who has a school named after him in Markham, Ont.

That’s where his 1964 silver medal is kept, which he won in the 800 metre race.

“You really feel proud — you feel proud as a Canadian, you feel proud as an athlete,” he told CTV News.

The ’64 Games were the first ever to be held in Asia. Japan was coming out of economic recovery, nearly 20 years after the Second World War.

It was the first time the Olympics had been broadcast live on TV around the world. And the young man who lit the cauldron with the Olympic flame had been born in Hiroshima Prefecture on the very same day that an atomic bomb destroyed the city.

“This was their coming out to the world,” said Crothers. “And the Japanese people were so proud of hosting the Games.”

The team that Canada sent was small by today’s standards. In 1964, Canada sent 118 athletes, versus the 370 who will be in Tokyo this week.

Canada won just four medals back in 1964. Doug Rogers, who died last year, won a silver in judo, while the late Harry Jerome got the bronze in the 100 metre race.

And then there was the rowing pair who surprised everyone.

“We were doing our own thing,” George Hungerford said. “Nobody was paying any attention to us.”

Hungerford and Roger Jackson started training together for the Games just six weeks before, after a teammate was injured and they got paired up.

Given how low their chances of winning were, most Canadian officials and journalists weren’t even at the event — so they weren’t there to see it when the pair won gold.

“It turned out to be the only gold medal of the Games,” Jackson said.

The moment was immortalized in a painting. And Jackson still has that prized medal that he earned 57 years ago.

This summer, with Canada is sending its biggest rowing team in a generation to Tokyo, Jackson has high hopes.

“There are a lot of Canadian rowing entries and we’re all hoping that a lot of boats get to the finals,” he said.

As for Crothers, he’ll be watching the Games with excitement as well for this new generation of athletes. Six alums from the school that is named after him will be competing in Tokyo. He’ll be cheering them on from home.

With files from Alexandra Mae Jones

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