British athletes celebrate 50th anniversary of Tokyo 1964

28 October 2014 / 10:05

The Tokyo 1964 Olympics celebrated its 50th anniversary this month and a delegation British of athletes who competed at the Games were invited to Japan as part of the celebrations.

The seven strong party travelled back to Japan to revisit the city and venues as well as meet other Olympians who had competed with them 50 years ago.

Tokyo 1964 was the first ever Games to be held in Asia and saw Great Britain return home with a total of 18 medals, including four gold, 12 silver and two bronze.

Brendan McKeown, a reserve in the cycling squad for Tokyo, led the group - which included two silver medal winners in Basil Heatley (men’s marathon) and John James (men’s rowing coxless fours).

McKeown, who went on to compete in the 1968 Games in Mexico, relished the opportunity to return to Tokyo half a century after being there with the team.

“The Games were all over in a blur at the time so it was great to have a chance to go back and take it all in again and explore the city some more”, said McKeown.

“I remember the stadium like it was yesterday. It’s so iconic and spectacular.

“I was a travelling reserve both for the velodrome, which were my events, and for the 120 mile road race. As a track cyclist I remember hoping that no one would pull out of the gruelling road race leaving me to have to fill their spot!”

(Madeleine Cobb, who competed in the women's 100m in 1964 was part of the British delegation in Tokyo)

The visit included a party celebrating the 50th Anniversary and a Memorial March at the Komazawa Olympic Park where 1,964 people helped reproduce the Opening Ceremony from the 1964 Games.

In total 63 Olympians from 11 countries attended the event, including Australian swimmer Dawn Fraser, who won 100m freestyle gold for the third time in a row in Tokyo, and Vera Caslavska, who shone in the gymnastics arena with three gold medals in the all-around, balance beam and vault.

Ann Packer was the surprise package from a British gold medallist perspective, taking the 800m title in world record time despite never before running the distance at international level.

Britain’s three other golds were won by Ken Matthews in the men’s 20km walk and Lynn Davies and Mary Rand in the men’s and women’s long jump respectively.

Rand came away from Tokyo with three medals in total having also won a silver in the women’s pentathlon and a bronze in the 4x100m relay.

McKeown, who was also joined in Japan by Madeleine Cobb (athletics), Howard Davis (hockey), Linda Ludgrove-Lillo (swimming) and Tony Sweeney (judo) said the opportunity to meet fellow Olympians from around the world was the trip’s true highlight.

(From left Tony Sweeney - judo, Howard Davis - hockey, Basil Heatley - marathon silver, Linda Ludgrove - swimming, Brendan McKeown - cycling, Madeleine Cobb - athletics, John James - rowing silver)

“Being around the stadium was good and it was fantastic to visit Tokyo again but the best thing was being amongst all the other athletes,” added the 70-year-old.

“It was great to meet them, especially the gold medallists. There weren’t any barriers between us – we were all Olympians and just swapped stories and names from the Games.

“There was a lot of nostalgia and reminiscing, which was great. The Japanese were fantastic hosts throughout and injected a great atmosphere into everything.”