Tokyo, Feb 24 (IANS) Yoshinori Sakai was born in the most painful conditions imaginable: in Hiroshima, the same day the atomic bomb was dropped. Nineteen years later, Sakai symbolised Japan''s recovery after World War II by lighting the 1964 Tokyo Olympics flame.
The final relay of the torch by Sakai was one of the biggest moments of the games'' opening ceremony, which lifted the collective self-esteem of the country after years of hardship and which now serves as a landmark for Tokyo 2020.
"If you think what Japan was like in 1945 and then you think in 1964, the first Asian nation pulling off arguably the most challenging logistical exercise in the world at that time, the Olympics. It was an amazing accomplishment," Roy Tomizawa, author of ''1964 - The greatest year in the History of Japan''," told Efe news in an interview.
Tomizawa said that after the war the West portrayed the Japanese as suicidal and fanatical soldiers, but in 1964 they discovered an open and modern Tokyo that had skyscrapers, a country that broadcast the Olympic Games globally for the first time in colour, and inaugurated the first high-speed railway line in the world.
"It was a major feeling of accomplishment for the Japanese. They felt perhaps that they were welcomed back to the global community," the author added, and said that Sakai lighting the Olympic flame was seen as a very powerful moment.
Even Emperor Naruhito, who at that time was only 4 years old, said during a press conference on his 60th birthday that those games was his first encounter with the world and during which - due to the atmosphere and cooperation among the sportspersons of different countries - became a foundation for his sense of global peace.
The title of the best Olympics of all times is disputed. Former International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Juan Antonio Samaranch awarded it to Barcelona 1992, but then did the same with Sydney 2000. Decades before, American magazine "Life" had already given the honours to Tokyo 1964.
"What''s the definition of greatest Olympics ever? It''s unfair to compare Olympics, but there is no doubt that the 1964 Tokyo Olympics was great," Tomizawa said.
On the sports field, during the Tokyo 1964 games, Ethiopia''s Abebe Bikila was crowned the men''s marathon champion for the second time, and American Bob Hayes won gold in the 100-metre race after levelling the then record of 10.0 seconds.
Former Soviet artistic gymnast Larisa Latynina, who had been successful in the two previous games, claimed two gold, two silver and two bronze medals and became the first Olympian to win 18 medals, a record which was broken 48 years later by swimmer Michael Phelps.
Japan managed an exceptional third place in the medals table after the United States and the Soviet Union. One of its most outstanding sporting moments was the gold medal win by the Japanese female volleyball team in defeating the Soviet team, leading to euphoria in the host country.
Some of the venues built for the 1964 events, such as the iconic Yoyogi National Gymnasium, designed by architect Kenzo Tange, will be used in this coming Summer Olympics in the so called "heritage zone," set apart form the new constructions in the Tokyo Bay area.
The newly built National Stadium was constructed on the same location as the original venue that hosted the opening and closing ceremonies in 1964, the legacy of which is symbolized in a replica of the Olympic torch placed at the front of the facade, next to Japan''s Olympic Museum.
For Roy Tomizawa, Tokyo 2020 cannot imitate the context or environment of the 1964 games as these Olympics are "different" and this time they do not seek to recover from difficulties but about "rebranding the nation" and "telling the rest of the world - if they were not aware - that Japan is a wonderful country," Tomizawa said.
During the 2013 selection process of the Olympics 2020 venue, Japan opted to present the games as the recovery from the devastating 2011 earthquake and tsunami.
The Olympic torch will begin its journey on Japanese territory from Fukushima prefecture - slammed by the 2011 nuclear disaster - but Tomizawa feels that the concept of the Olympics as a rebound event is no longer emphasized as there is no need. Other stratum of the Japanese society believe that Tokyo 2020 could be a symbol of the opening up of a homogeneous society towards different races and sexual identities.
"These are fantastic opportunities to educate Japanese people and to show them that what they think is normal can be a narrow example of what the rest of the world thinks is normal," said Tomizawa, who was born in New York City as a third-generation Japanese-American immigrant.
Irrespective of what Tokyo 2020 means for Japanese society, the 1964 games left a legacy of overcoming difficult times and, according to Tomizawa "the desire to be included in the global community as friends and allies," which regarded the event as an example of "Japan at its very best."