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Monday, July 6, 2020

Baron Pierre De Coubertin, Dr. Wernher von Braun, Sergei Korolev & The Space Olympics: Part 1.

The Revival of the Ancient Olympics

Baron Pierre De Coubertin was a French Educator. When De Coubertin announced in Paris, on a winter's evening in 1892, the forthcoming re-establishment of the ancient Olympic Games, he was applauded, but nobody at the time imagined the level of competition that was going to be demonstrated by the participants and their various nations over the decades that followed.

Baron Pierre De Coubertin - Father of the Modern Olympics 

The International Olympic Committee was created on 23 June 1894 and the first Olympic Games of the modern era opened in Athens on 6 April 1896. Until today, Baron Pierre De Coubertin is considered by many to be the “Father of the Modern Olympics”. He was also founder of the International Olympic Council (“IOC”) and its second President. He is remembered by this, the most famous of all his quotes: 

“The important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win, but to take part; the important thing in life is not triumph, but the struggle; the essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well.” 

I first heard about the Olympic Games in 1968, at the age of ten years. My father gifted me with my very first, “First Day Cover”. For those who may not know exactly what a First Day Cover is, I have included my first, First Day Cover, below. In words, it is a thematically decorated envelope, issued by a Post Office of a country, with the new stamps being issued on a particular date already stuck onto the envelope (cover) and the newly issued stamps being post-marked with the “first” date of issuance of these new stamps.

My first, First Day Cover (issued at the Post Office in Brickfields, Kuala Lumpur) - a gift from my father when I was 10 years old

The summer Olympics are normally held every four years but there have been exceptions. Since the opening of the first modern Olympic Games in 1896, the international sports competition has only been cancelled three times: once during World War I (1916) and twice during World War II (1940, 1944). This year, 2020, it has been postponed due to the Covid-19 pandemic but otherwise it has always been held. 

In 1936, the Olympic Games were held in Berlin. Reich Chancellor Adolf Hitler seized the opportunity of the Games to promote his style of government and ideals of racial supremacy. German Jews were barred from participating and most countries chose to side-line their Jewish athletes so as not to offend their Nazi hosts. These games were made famous by Jesse Owens who won four gold medals for the United States. It was also the last Olympics to be held for twelve years due to the onset of World War II. 

A stamp from Poland honouring the many Jews who died in Auschwitz during World War II, the subject of Adolf Hitler's style of government and ideals of racial supremacy

World War II devastated the World. It took much bloodshed, suffering, death and the use of two atomic weapons over Japan before it came to an end. 

The first atomic bomb ever deployed for military purposes exploded over the city of Hiroshima on 6th August 1945. A horrific number of people died that day (estimated at about 60,000 with another 60,000 to 80,000 in the months that followed from acute radiation sickness) and more were to die three days later, in Nagasaki, where a second bomb was dropped over the city.

First Day Cover: Japanese Atomic Bomb Memorial

In the carnage of the 6th of August, a Monday, a baby boy was born. His name: Yoshinori Sakai. He survived the nuclear holocaust and would play a role in the Olympics many years later. 

Once the war was over, the Olympic Games could continue but some other priorities also evolved that would give rise to a technological competition that would eventually result in that unforgettable landing of the first man onto the surface of the moon. 

It all started with “Operation Paperclip” and the “Eisenhower Doctrine”.

Operation Paperclip and the Start of the Cold War

Towards the end of World War II, London, mainly, was subject to the destructive and lethal bombardment of the German V-1 and V-2 rockets. Approximately 3000 of these rockets (the so-called “vengeance weapons” that represented a retaliatory measure for Allied bombing of German cities) were launched at the British capital city. The V-2 was the world’s first long-range guided ballistic missile and was also the first artificial object to travel into space when it crossed the Kármán line. The Kármán Line is a notional demarcation of space and the Earth’s atmosphere, and it is technically defined as an altitude of 100 km above the Earth’s mean sea level (the United States uses an altitude of 80 km). Whilst many people believe that the first man-made object in space was the Russian “Sputnik” spacecraft which was launched in 1957, this is factually not true. The first man-made object in space was a Nazi rocket of immense destructive and explosive power that induced terror in the hearts of the residents of the cities that were its targets. As an aside, the Sputnik spacecraft was in fact the first man-made object to orbit the Earth.

German V-1 and V-2 rockets that reigned terror on London towards the end of  World War II

The lead German scientist for the V-2 rocket program was Dr. Wernher von Braun. Brilliant, with a commanding presence, he had a single-minded desire to explore outer space. When the second World War broke out and the rockets he was forced to build successfully hit London, he was reported to have said to his colleagues, “The rocket worked perfectly except for landing on the wrong planet.” 

At the end of World War II, the Americans realized that they had no ballistic missile capability and hence, launched “Operation Paperclip”. This was a secret U.S. Army program created to scan Germany for its best aeronautics and atomic engineers and to offer them the opportunity to migrate to America, as a team, to further advance their work. 

Dr. Wernher von Braun and his team were the cream of the rocket research community in Germany. They were the first to breach the Kármán Line and it was this team which never stopped believing in satellites, voyages to the moon and inter-planetary travel. Operation Paperclip succeeded in relocating some of the best German scientific and engineering minds to America. 

It was not only the Americans who had such objectives. The Soviet Union was more aggressive, forcibly recruiting more than 2,200 German specialists (a total of more than 6,000 people including family members), under the code name “Operation Osoaviakhim” during the night of October 22, 1946. 

Even though both the Soviet Union and the United States had successfully collaborated militarily to defeat the Axis Powers (mainly the Germans and the Japanese), fundamental political and economic ideological differences existed between the two countries. In 1947, President Harry Truman proposed a foreign policy to the American Congress, "The Truman Doctrine", which established that the U.S. would provide military, political, diplomatic and economic assistance to all democratic nations that came under internal or external threat of authoritarian force. The key feature of his policy was that of “containment”. This was the policy of restricting the expansion of communism and in practical effect, it started the “Cold War” which was to last, on Earth, until the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989. In space however, the Cold War ended in July 1975. During the Cold War, there was a tremendous desire by both the United States and the Soviet Union to attain positions of global influence and this drove competition in other arenas such as sports events, propaganda campaigns and technological theatres. The most prominent of the sports events was the Modern Olympics and as far as technology was concerned, the ultimate demonstration of technological superiority was (what was later termed) “the Space Race”.

 Fort Bliss, 1946

Fort Bliss is a United States Army post in the states of New Mexico and Texas. This is the location where Dr. Wernher von Braun and his team of over 100 engineers and scientists found themselves as a result of Operation Paperclip. They arrived in February 1946 and their initial years were frustrating, almost directionless. The world was at peace and there was little motivation for federal funding to be directed towards the building of ballistic missiles and rockets. In later years, von Braun would recall that it was these initial years of minimal progress that would allow the Russians to dominate the early years of the Space Race. 

In early 1950, the fortunes of the Germans changed. American Army intelligence obtained confirmation of Soviet rocket development activity and in response, immediately established a rocket research center. Huntsville, in Alabama, became the new home for the crack rocket development team. In June 1950, there was further impetus. North Korea invaded an unprepared South Korea and the Truman Doctrine was being tested. 

In Alabama, von Braun and his team were asked once again to construct a weapon of war. Over the next few years, notable milestones were achieved. By 1956, a battlefield missile had been developed which evolved into a rocket that could breach an altitude of 600 miles and travel 3,000 miles at a speed of 16,000 miles per hour. It also re-entered into the Earth’s atmosphere without damaging the dummy warhead at its nose. On conclusion of the successful, first test flight of this rocket, von Braun was heard saying: “If we had just one more small rocket on top, we could have placed a satellite in orbit around the earth.” 

The performance of this rocket made von Braun realize that if he was so close to putting a satellite into orbit, then surely the Soviets could also be extremely close to doing the same. With support from the U.S. Army, von Braun asked the Pentagon for permission to add a single stage to the top of a back-up missile (Missile 29) and to attempt to launch it into orbit. He was ready to attempt to place a satellite into orbit and to be the first to achieve this breakthrough. 

At the time, there were reports that President Dwight Eisenhower and his aides wanted the world’s first satellite to be launched into orbit by an indigenous American scientific team and not by a group headed by expatriate Germans. Others claimed that von Braun was entrusted with delivering a top priority project with military objectives and attempting to compromise this goal with a space exploration agenda would be a needless distraction. The whole truth will never be known but sadly, Dr. von Braun, was denied funding and permission to execute his plan. Missile 29 was thus mothballed in a hangar and an opportunity to launch an object into orbit, sidelined, along with it. 

Another project, called “Project Vanguard”, that covered space exploration objectives exclusively, was being run in parallel by Milton Rosen. This project was established in 1955 by the United States to send into space, a research satellite during International Geophysical Year (1957 – 1958). The results being achieved by the Vanguard project team were disappointing. In the end, out of 11 Vanguard rockets launched between 1957 and 1959, only 3 managed to deliver satellites into orbit with some spectacular disasters being telecast, live on national television.

Melbourne, 1956

In 1952, the summer Olympic Games were held in Helsinki, Finland. Originally, Helsinki was due to host the 1940 Olympics but World War II caused its cancellation. At Helsinki, the United States won the highest number of medals (40 golds and 76 medals in total) and were the best performing team, with the Soviet Union coming in second with 22 gold medals and 71 medals in total. By 1956, the leadership position of the United States in the field of sports had changed. 

Stamps issued by Australia commemorating the 1956 Melbourne Olympics 

At the Melbourne Olympics of 1956, it was the Soviet Union that came out on top with more gold medals and more medals in aggregate than the United States (USSR: 37 golds and 98 medals in total and U.S.A.: 32 golds and 74 medals in total). Slowly, but surely, the winds of sport dominance were shifting but did it stop there?

Baikonur, Central Asia, 1955

Sergei Korolev was a simple, yet brilliant rocket engineer from the Soviet Union. In 1955, he moved to Baikonur, Central Asia together with a team comprising scientists, rocket engineers, technicians and all trades necessary to construct living quarters and working facilities in this remote location. Their objective was to develop and test rocket designs. 

A stamp issued by the Republic of Gabon honouring Sergei Korolev and the milestone of placing Sputnik 1 into Earth's orbit

On 4 October 1957, late in the evening, they gathered around a giant white rocket, bathed in floodlights. Consistent with the minimalism of everything in Baikonur, the rocket was simply called the R-7. A simple name for a momentous giant that was planned for an objective that had never been previously attempted. After final checks and a simple countdown, the R-7 lifted-off. Ahead of it, the vastness of space. Behind it, a stream of flames and hot smoke. Inside it, a man-made object, called “Sputnik” (meaning “fellow traveller”). Several minutes later, the R-7 was in outer-space. Like clockwork, each step of this carefully choreographed routine played out. Within the same hour of its’ launch, Sputnik was in orbit, circling the globe every 96 minutes. 

Whilst vodka flowed in the Moscow celebrations, there were reverberations in the Pentagon. Until this event, the United States prided itself as the world’s technological leader. Now, there was a realization that the Soviets were not trailing behind anymore. Even more worryingly, the Soviets now possessed missiles that could carry dangerous nuclear payloads across continents and oceans. From the perspective of the United States, American skies had been violated, as they had been once before, at Pearl Harbour.

Sputnik 2 and Laika

Some 30 days after the launch of Sputnik 1, a second satellite, Sputnik 2, was also successfully deployed. This satellite weighed an astonishing 1,120 pounds and it soared to a maximum altitude of 1,031 miles. It did not end there. Sputnik 2 carried life, a dog named Laika, on a one-way journey into space. Laika’s air supply lasted less than a week but this was a clear signal as to what would soon follow. How long would it be before a human was placed in orbit in outer space. What would be the consequences in the United States, from a public relations perspective, if this human was a Soviet? 

Sputnik 2 carried life, a dog named Laika, on a one-way journey into space

In Washington, things were clear, there would have to be an American response.

Juno 1, Explorer 1 and the Van Allen Belts

In response to the surprise launches of Sputnik 1 and then, Sputnik 2, the United States revisited and restarted the “Explorer” program. This had been previously proposed by the U.S. Army, supported by the work on von Braun. After two Soviet satellites and a dog had already successfully orbited space coupled with the televised failure of Vanguard TV-3 launch on 6 December 1957, there was hardly any confidence left with the American public. Indeed, Americans were in dismay and a success was badly required to restore confidence. 

On 31 January 1958, approximately a year after having been mothballed and parked in an unused hangar on orders of a President, Missile 29, was reactivated. It was rebranded as Juno 1 and successfully launched carrying the “Explorer 1” satellite. This would be the first American satellite to orbit Earth. When it was confirmed that Explorer 1 was placed successfully into orbit, Dr. Wernher von Braun delivered a press conference. He could not hide his joy as he said: “It is one of the greatest moments of my life, I only regret that we did not do it sooner.” 

Whilst von Braun had concentrated on the Juno 1 rocket, the Explorer 1 satellite carried some radiation-monitoring Geiger counter equipment, provided by Dr. James A. Van Allen of the University of Iowa, as part of its 31 pound payload. This piece of equipment fulfilled the important scientific objectives of the mission, discovering that Earth is surrounded by huge bands of high-energy radiation composed of particles trapped in our planet’s magnetic field. As a result, scientists honoured Van Allen by naming these newly discovered belts after him. 

Stamp from St. Vincent & Grenadines - an island nation in the Caribbean honouring American scientist  James A. Van Allen 

Some weeks later, on March 17, 1958, Vanguard 1, became the second artificial satellite successfully placed in Earth's orbit by the United States. It was just 6.0 inches in diameter and weighed only 3.1 pounds. Such was the rhetoric that Vanguard 1 was mockingly described by then-Soviet Premier, Nikita Khrushchev as "the grapefruit satellite" but the fact that the United States had catapulted itself into the space age did not escape him. Over the ensuing years, the competition for the dominance of the new frontier of space would be intense between the Americans and the Soviets. 

As for Dr. Wernher von Braun, his charisma won over the hearts of the American people. He was hailed as a scientist interested in the peaceful exploration of space. President Eisenhower summoned him to the White House, dined with him and conferred upon him the Distinguished Federal Civilian Service Award! From being a public relations risk, he was, overnight, an American hero. 

Whilst the cocktails flowed in the White House, Sergei Korolev continued to toil in the wastelands of Central Asia. He had another objective crystallizing in his brilliant mind. The wilderness and isolation of Central Asia allowed him to release his imagination as to what might be humanly possible. Unconstrained, he was able to develop his plan and the world would soon hear about it.

NASA, 1958

In the aftermath of the Sputnik successes, President Eisenhower signed the National Aeronautics and Space Act which established the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (“NASA”). NASA commenced operations on 1 October 1958. When it was formed, it absorbed several existing agencies including elements of the Army Ballistic Missile Agency which included significant technical contributions from the German rocket program led by Dr. Wernher von Braun and the earlier technical work of American rocket scientist Robert Goddard. 

Stamp from St. Vincent & Grenadines - an island nation in the Caribbean honouring American rocket scientist Robert Goddard

NASA’s role is to invest in the area and technologies of space exploration. One of the first critical activities undertaken by NASA was to identify humans who would be able to fly into space. Clearly, the sole objective of the period was to get a human into space and to observe the Earth in a manner never done before. By 1959, seven individuals had been selected and for the next two years they would be trained to be astronauts. They were hailed the "Mercury Seven" comprising; Scott Carpenter, Gordon Cooper, John Glenn, Gus Grissom, Wally Schirra, Alan Shepard and Deke Slayton. 

Stamps from Uganda honouring the Mercury Seven Astronauts 

Many of the Mercury Seven would become household names in the subsequent years.

Baikonur, 1958 – 1959

By 1959, the Soviets were planning even further ahead. Having orbited Earth with a satellite, Sergei Korolev turned his attention to the moon, the silent sentinel of Earth for approximately 4 billion years. It fascinated him as much as it had inspired poets and scientists alike. Its apparent changing shape and colours, a result of reflected light from the Sun, its regular orbit around Earth governing the tides and the timing of religious celebrations, all made the moon a focus for his spacecraft to explore. In 1958, he launched several “moonships” but they all failed technically. The Luna 1 mission on 2 January 1959 was intended to impact the lunar surface but missed its target by about 6,000 kilometres. Nevertheless, this probe became the first to achieve escape velocity and the first to go near the Moon. In addition, it became the first man-made object to enter the Sun's orbit. 

On 14th September 1959, Luna 2, successfully impacted the moon’s surface, giving the Soviets another first. One month later, an even greater success was recorded with Luna 3. It was launched only two years after Sputnik 1, but on 7 October 1959, it became the first spacecraft to photograph the far side of the Moon. This was an aspect of our Moon that the people of Earth had never-before observed. 

Whilst American astronauts trained in this newest of professions and engineers worked tirelessly to perfect the Mercury spacecraft that would fly the first American astronauts out of our world and safely bring them back again, and, whilst Korolev managed high profile projects with exotic targets such as the Moon and Mars, athletes around the world were also preparing for the Rome summer Olympics. These Games were scheduled to be held in 1960. Once again, the Cold War protagonists would meet head to head in the stadia and pools to determine the dominance of their nations in sport. The Soviets had topped the medals table in Melbourne and followed that with a “victory orbit” in space with their Sputnik 1 satellite. 

What would the Rome results foretell? What would the 1960s bring?

Rome, 1960

The 1960 Summer Olympics, officially known as the Games of the XVII Olympiad, was held from August 25 to September 11, 1960, in Rome, Italy. The city of Rome had previously been awarded the administration of the 1908 Summer Olympics but following the devastating eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 1906, Rome had little option but to decline hosting the 1908 Games and instead, passed the honour to London. 

Stamps issued by the nation of Cuba commemorating the Rome Olympics of 1960 

The Rome Games of 1960 introduced to the world a then-unknown American boxer named Cassius Clay, later to be known as Muhammad Ali. He won boxing's light-heavyweight gold medal for his country. As far as overall performance was concerned, it was the Soviet Union which excelled. They won 43 golds and secured a total of 103 medals. The United States trailed in second place, finishing with 34 golds and an aggregate of 71 medals.

Preparing for the Main Event of the Space Olympics 

To prepare, in general, for a manned flight into space requires a great deal of scientific studies, engineering preparation and testing. On 15 May 1960, an unmanned Soviet prototype of the Vostok 1 performed 64 orbits of the Earth, but it was plagued with technical issues as it tried to re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere. On 28 July 1960, two dogs, named Chaika and Lishichka, were launched into space, but the mission was unsuccessful when an explosion killed the dogs. Two weeks later, another two dogs were launched into space and on 19 August, the Soviet Union became the first nation to successfully recover living creatures back on Earth after a flight into space. The dogs, Belka and Strelka were successfully launched into space on a Vostok spacecraft and they completed eighteen orbits. Following this, the Soviet Union sent a further six dogs into space, two in pairs, and two paired with a dummy. Not all missions were successful. Not all the dogs returned alive, but progress was gradually being achieved. 

Soviet military intelligence gathered information that indicated that the Americans were also closing-in on sending a human into space. In fact, on 19 January 1961, NASA announced that Alan Shepard had been selected to be that first American. It was expected that he would also be the first human in space, but Sergei Korolev had other ideas.

Fine Margins, Calculated Risks and the Soviets are in Space

On 12 April 1961, at 6:07 am UTC, a Vostok 1 spacecraft was launched from Baikonur Cosmodrome. Aboard, was pilot and cosmonaut, Yuri Gagarin, who became the first human to travel into space. He used the radio call sign “Kedr”(translated: Siberian Pine or Cedar tree). 

Just prior to launch, Gagarin bade farewell to Sergei Korolev using the informal phrase “Poyekhali”. This later became a popular expression in the Eastern Bloc countries which was used to refer to the beginning of the Space Age. 

Vostok 1 performed as designed. In minutes, the spacecraft was in outer space. It remained in orbit for a total of 108 minutes. Sergei Korolev served as Capsule Co-ordinator and was able to speak to Gagarin who was inside the capsule. 

In the rush to beat the Americans and get the first human being into space, Soviet engineers had not yet perfected a braking system that would reduce the speed of the returning spacecraft sufficiently for a human to survive the impact of landing. Thus, they decided to eject the cosmonaut from his craft, after re-entry. Yuri Gagarin ejected at 23,000 feet and landed safely on Earth with a parachute. 

Stamps from Vietnam honouring Yuri Gagarin - first human in space 

Soviet engineers had not discussed this shortcoming with the Soviet authorities prior to the flight and their post flight reports also omitted this fact. This led everyone to believe that Gagarin had landed inside his spacecraft. It was not until four months later, when German Titov became the second Russian to orbit the Earth and the first person to spend a full day in space, that the controversy began to brew. Titov, too, owned up to ejecting out of his space capsule, prior to it crashing to the ground. 

Soviet First Day Cover commemorating the launch of Vostok - 1 on 12 April 1961 

Much to the consternation of the Americans, the result of the Rome Olympics had been repeated. The Soviets were not only first in sports they were first in space, once again, as Gagarin became the first human to orbit the Earth. They had carved themselves another significant place in history. The margins were fine but to be first also meant embracing the risks that came with breaching the new frontiers associated with these toughest of tasks and targets. 

On 5 May 1961, barely three weeks after Gagarin had made history, Alan Shepard piloted the Mercury – Redstone 3 mission and became the second human to travel into space. But his thunder had already been stolen by the Soviets. The U.S. had been beaten again. 

As is said many times after an Olympic final: “One does not win a silver. Instead, one loses the gold.”

John F. Kennedy’s Moon Speech – 25 May 1961

Gagarin had already orbited Earth and soon, another Russian, Titov, would follow. The Soviets were clearly ahead in a type of competition in which being second did not count for much. Determination, vision and strong leadership were required for the United States to make up ground that had been lost on the front of a Cold War that was being fought. On 25 May 1961, three weeks after Shepard’s “silver medal”, President John F. Kennedy declared to the American Congress his desire for the United States, "to commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth." 

Stamp from Paraguay: President John F. Kennedy and Dr. Wernher von Braun - look to the Moon - an objective set by the President, to be visited by America before the end of 1960s

The content of this seminal speech was important as it was a public commitment by the elected American leader towards a national objective and it immediately placed the Apollo moon landing program on a fast trajectory. In his speech, President Kennedy acknowledged that the Soviet Union was ahead in the Space Olympics but he set his nation a challenge. It was an inspiring speech and an uplifting moment. Most inspired and in awe was Dr. Wernher von Braun. This was his moment. This would be his time.

1962 to 1964

Whilst athletes of the world prepared for the Tokyo Olympics, Korolev was working on three projects concurrently and aggressively. His unmanned planetary missions to Mars and Venus were underway. His lunar objective was making good progress. Several rockets and spacecraft were dispatched and some of these programs have been previously covered in my post: “The Vikings were almost the first on Mars.” Suffice to say that this was a high stakes race of a scale not previously seen. In addition to all their previous successes, on 16 June 1963, the Soviet Union launched Vostok 6 which carried the first woman into space: Valentina Tereshkova .

Stamps from the Republic of Guinea honouring the first man and first woman in space 

To see which country was technically ahead was not always straightforward but the Olympics had previously provided a barometer to measure one form of success. On the horizon was the Olympics to be held in the Land of the Rising Sun.

The 1964 Tokyo Olympics

The 1964 Summer Olympics, officially known as the Games of the XVIII Olympiad was held in Tokyo from 10 to 24 October 1964. Tokyo had been originally awarded the organization of the 1940 Summer Olympic Games but this honour was subsequently withdrawn and the organization of the Games passed to Helsinki because of Japan's invasion of China. Eventually the 1940 Games was cancelled because of the onset of World War II. 

The 1964 Summer Games was the first Olympics held in Asia, and the first time South Africa was barred from taking part due to its practice of apartheid in sports. Interestingly, Zambia declared its independence on the day of the closing ceremony of the Tokyo Olympics, thereby becoming the first country ever to have entered an Olympic Games as one country and having departed it as another. 

Northern Rhodesia entered the 1964 Tokyo Olympics as a protectorate of the British Empire but received independence during the Games. The departed Tokyo as the Independent nation of Zambia

This was celebrated in the closing ceremony itself by the team using a board marked "Zambia" instead of the "Northern Rhodesia" placard which was used during the opening ceremony. To make the occasion meaningful, Zambia was the only team to use a placard in the closing ceremony. 

I wrote about Yoshinori Sakai earlier in this post. He was born in Hiroshima on that fateful Monday morning in August, 1945 when the world was introduced so devastatingly to the nuclear age. He survived, when many others perished. 

At the onset of the Tokyo Olympics Yoshinori Sakai ran the last few hundred metres, carrying a torch bearing a flame that had been lit in Greece some weeks earlier and had traversed the world. Using his torch, he ignited another fire in the stadium cauldron. This flame would illuminate the Tokyo night sky for the duration of the Games. Watching him, one could imagine that this was a man running away from the bombed rubble of the place where he was born, leaving behind the pain and despair of history and spiritedly carrying his message of hope - no more bombs, let's now give peace a chance. 

Yoshinori Sakai, himself, did not participate in the Olympics of 1964 but his golden moment in sport would come some years later. 

As far as winning the Games went, the Gods of Global Sport were seemingly unsure how to signal the future. The United States won 36 golds and collected 90 medals in total. The Soviets finished with 30 golds but overall, captured 96 medals. For the first time in many years, the United States was inching ahead in the sports arena. But could this performance be sustained in space? 

End of Part 1.

Part 2 to be posted around 14 July 2020.

All stamps and First Day Covers presented in this post are from my personal collection.



  1. Great write-up on an excellent collection. If I'm not mistaken, I think I have those Vietnam ones honouring Mr Gagarin in my kiddie collection album :-)

  2. Another superb piece by Ken. Only he can master the subtle skill of writing with such erudition on the Olympics to poyekhali, and simply mesmerise a reader with knowledge and wonderful details! I've always been fascinated by the rockets of the 2nd World War and to finally understand them - priceless!