The International Olympic Committee ruled today that the Iraq Olympic team will not be able to participate because of the Iraqi government’s interference in Iraq’s national Olympic Committee. Athletes were seen crying as their dreams crumbled like the ruins of the nation (CNN).
The Olympics are now seen as a major commercial event, but they are the stuff made out of dreams and fairy tales. Most people in the US remember the 1972 Munich Olympics as the one that resulted in the massacre of the Israeli team. As a teenager in Japan, I was witnessing something completely different.
The Japanese Men’s Volleyball team was always considered to be the junior varsity compared with the women’s team that had dominated volleyball since the Tokyo Olympics of 1964. Nicknamed “Toyo no Majo” or “Witches of the Far East,” they were favored to win the gold again at Munich. The men’s team, on the other hand, won a bronze in 1964, and rose to secure a silver medal in the Mexico Olympics in 1968.
The national media loved the story of the coach of Japan, Mr. Matsudaira. They created an animated series that featured the men’s teams quest for the golf medal. On the team, there was a very special athlete by the name of Jun Morita. Morita formed the big three of the Japanese team’s front which had power hitters Yokota (who represented Matsushita in league play) and Oko (who represented Nippon Kokkan, the monster steel company). Morita was Oko’s team mate, but lacked the power, but he had quickness and creativity. He invented the “drive serve” (called the Jump Serve these days), and by accident, created the one-man fake attack.
Matsudaira’s Japan team had already been the innovator in the game, trying to overcome the height and brute strength advantage enjoyed by the East European nations (Soviets, East Germany, Romania, Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Bulgaria; sorry, the US was non-existent back in 1972). They devised plays that added the dimension of time, in addition to height and spacing. They learned and re-engineered the quick sets to attack before the blockers were ready to jump. The time delayed attack called for an attacker jumping near the setter to cause the blockers to leap in the air, and opening the real attacker to hit where the blockers weren’t.
During practice, Jungo Morita was going to jump for an attack when the setter missed the toss, causing Morita to fake a jump. This threw off the blockers, and when Morita recovered to spike the ball, the blockers were in no position to jump. This was the start of his one-man time delayed fake attack.
I watched the cartoon series every Sunday night without fail, and dreamed that the Japanese men’s team would go all the way to win the golf. Japan breezed through the round-robin without dropping a set, coming in first in Group B, with East Germany in second. As expected, the Soviets won Group A, and Bulgaria surprised many by coming in second.
On September 8th, 1972, Japan and Bulgaria faced off. And in a stunning sequence, Bulgaria jumped up to a 2-0 (13-15, 9-15) lead, threatening to end the dreams of the Japanese team. What followed was one of the most remarkable comebacks in volleyball history, and perhaps in Japanese sports histories. Any Japanese citizen who is fifty or sixty-something will tell you that they remember how their heroes won the last three sets, and to make it more impressive, coming back in the fifth and final set to beat the Bulgarians in what the nation called “The Miracle at Munich.” (15-9, 15-9, 15-12 over the last 3 sets)
And to make the story complete, they dropped the first set (11-15) to the East Germans who shocked the Soviets in the semis, and then stormed back to grab the gold (15-2, 15-10, 15-10) in a 3-1 victory. A week later, the women's team were defeated by the Soviets in the gold medal match, ending their reign as Olympic champions.
That was thirty-six years ago, and I still remember the thrill that ran through my heart as I desperately cheered for my home team.
It is unfortunate that for millions of those living in Iraq, they are denied the thrill, the hope, and the dreams that come from cheering for their own. If there ever were a nation that deserved a break after the last five years, this has got to be one. Hopefully, the IOC will give the people back their dreams.
For those who read Japanese, relive the moment from this Wikipedia link.
And this link from Nippon Sports Science University (Nittaidai)