Philip Barker

Three hundred and sixty-four days after it was originally to have been carried there, the arrival of the Olympic flame at Tokyo’s Olympic Stadium on July 23 is set to be one of the sporting highlights of this new year, providing everything goes to plan.

It might come as a surprise to learn that this is not the first time a major multi-sport Opening Ceremony in Tokyo has been postponed. It happened in 1967, albeit only for 24 hours, when the Summer Universiade in Tokyo was hit by a fierce storm.

"After the 1964 Olympics, we have made every possible effort preparing for your visit this time," Minister of Education Toshiro Kennoki told a gathering of the International University Sports Federation (FISU). The one thing they could not prepare for was the weather.

There had already been a political storm of sorts. North Korea became embroiled in a dispute over naming protocols, a problem also for Olympic officials at the time. The nation withdrew from the Games and some other Communist bloc nations pulled out insympathy. Yet a real storm was on the horizon.

The opening was scheduled for Saturday August 26 in 1967. By mid-afternoon, teams had already departed from the Athletes’ Village. Spectators and guests had already taken their seats, less than an hour before the start.

The Japan Times newspaper reported that "from about 4.30pm, the sky turned dark with thick clouds and thunder." A few days earlier, Tropical Storm Louise had passed through the region.

The rain briefly stopped and musicians from the All Japan University Band Federation emerged to entertain the crowd. The rains returned. Organisers described it as a "severe thunderstorm".

A large gymnastics display featured as part of the 1967 Summer Universiade Opening Ceremony ©FISU
A large gymnastics display featured as part of the 1967 Summer Universiade Opening Ceremony ©FISU

Groups of small children who had come to watch were terrified. "They began to cry because of the unexpected weather", said newspaper reports.

This pressure was now on Professor Yoshihiko Kurimoto, in charge of the ceremony.

"Soon it began to downpour accompanied by peals of thunder. To cope with the situation, a conference was held with Dr Kurimoto the central figure. At 17.16pm it was decided to call off the day’s function and hold the opening ceremony at the same hour the following day."

Reports came in later of lightning strikes at 25 locations in the nearby area. Services on train lines around Tokyo were interrupted and there was flooding in some areas.

"This news showed that the postponement of the opening ceremony was an appropriate step", said the official report.

To the relief of all, the next afternoon proved "an ideal day for the occasion".

Fireworks signalled the start of the formal Opening Ceremony. The 34 teams came in according to the Japanese alphabet, just as they are expected to in seven months' time at the Olympics.

Around 1,000 actually took part in the Opening Ceremony.

The Japan Women's College of Physical Education carried name placards and whilst some students welcomed the teams carrying the banners of their own universities, others formed the letter "U" for Universiade.

"In preparing for this world festival of sports, the motto was 'for the world of tomorrow'," said Organising Committee President Nobumoto Ohama.

"I am sure the student competitors gathered here with the pen in one hand and the spiked shoes in the other will abide by the spirit of University sports."

FISU President Primo Nebiolo said: "We know that the Japanese Organising Committee and all those interested in the University Games have toiled long and hard for the success of this great event."

Akinori Nakayama went on to win six Olympic gold medals ©Getty Images
Akinori Nakayama went on to win six Olympic gold medals ©Getty Images

Crown Prince Akihito then rose to open the Games.

"I declare the Tokyo Universiade open expecting the success of the meet. It is my great pleasure to welcome the 1967 Universiade to Tokyo together with all of you, students and athletes from all over the world."

The oath was taken by gymnast Akinori Nakayama in "emphatic tone" and some 2,000 college gymnasts gave a mass display in the arena with the theme "Sakura ni yosete" -  a variation on the cherry blossom.

The Flame had been brought from a cauldron at the Universiade Athletes’ Village by a relay of eight runners. It was lit by distance runner Keisuke Sawaki, a graduate of Juntendo University and 5,000m gold medallist at the 1965 Universiade in Budapest. He was to win double gold over 5,000m and 10,000m in Tokyo.

Organisers had admitted "needless to say, experiences of the Olympics, the Asian Games and other international Games held in Japan were utilized."

The distinctive cauldron lit for the Universiade had been used for the previous ceremonies held in the stadium, completed in 1958 for the Asian Games.

The Japan Times newspaper proclaimed: "For sports loving and festival loving Japanese, it will be the best thing that’s come along since anyone can remember."

Unlike most modern ceremonies, it took place in daylight.

Happily there were no thunderstorms, but high winds greeted the 34 teams, led by Afghanistan.

The Philippines included swimmer Jocelyn von Giese, 100m freestyle champion in 1954, and her sisters Sandra, Silvia and Sonia all marched in the same row.

They "looked like an army battalion" said the Times of India.

The Singaporeans provided light relief as they lost their hats in the wind. Young Japanese boy scouts scrambled across the arena to try and retrieve them.

Watching stood Emperor Hirohito and Crown Prince Akihito, patron of the Games. Among his guests were the Shah of Iran and International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Avery Brundage .

The Emperor opened the Games, the first time many of his subjects had heard him speak.

"I extend my hearty welcome to the delegates that are taking part. I wish the success of the Games and on this occasion, I expect earnestly that the goodwill and friendship amongst the member nations will be further enhanced."

At the 1964 Olympics, the Olympic Caudron was lit by Yoshinori Sakai, who had been born on the day the atom bomb fell on Hiroshima in 1945 ©Getty Images
At the 1964 Olympics, the Olympic Caudron was lit by Yoshinori Sakai, who had been born on the day the atom bomb fell on Hiroshima in 1945 ©Getty Images

There was a 21-gun salute and some 5,000 pigeons were released.

The Flame had been lit in 1954 host city Manila. On Japanese soil it was carried by 1,018 runners before 53-year-old Mikio Oda lit the cauldron. Thirty years before, he had won Japan’s first Olympic gold medal as a triple jumper in Amsterdam.

The Japan Times reported: "Foreign residents and visiting athletes had high praise for the impressive ceremony." Within a year, Tokyo had won the right to stage the 1964 Olympics.

These took place in October, but opened on a day of clear blue skies. Electronic music greeted the arrival of the imperial family on this occasion but in Olympic terms, it was a very much simpler ceremony than would be seen today.

Hurdler George Marcellos, the first Torchbearer at the lighting ceremony in Ancient Olympia, was also the Greek flagbearer.

The Cubans entered waving tiny Japanese flags as they passed the imperial box, and marathon champion Abebe Bikila carried the Ethiopian flag.

The women from Germany and Great Britain wore outfits in identical pink.

The Japanese were the last of the 93 teams to enter the stadium.

IOC President Brundage then told the crowd:

"The Olympic Movement, with its 118 National Olympic Committees, has now bridged every ocean, and the Olympic Games at last are here in the Orient, proving that they belong to the entire world."

The Olympic Caudron was lit by Yoshinori Sakai, born in 1945 on the day the atom bomb fell on Hiroshima.

The Olympic rings were written in the sky by the Blue Impulse aerobatic team in a spectacular finale which found echoes when the Olympic flame touched down on Japanese soil earlier this year.

The Opening Ceremony for Tokyo 2020 will take place on the same site close to the Meiji Shrine but not in the same stadium. Demolition of the old building was completed in 2015 and a new structure has risen in its place.

The entry of the Japanese team at the 1967 Universiade, as depicted on a magazine cover ©FISU
The entry of the Japanese team at the 1967 Universiade, as depicted on a magazine cover ©FISU

The postponement left Games organisers scurrying to try and make savings, but last month Kyodo News reported a ¥3.5 billion (£25.5 million/$33.7 million/€27.7 million) increase in ceremony budgets.

IOC President Thomas Bach also insisted that the curtain-raiser should not be subject to any cost-cutting measures.

"What is important is that we should not touch, will not touch on the athletes’ experience," Bach insisted.

"The Opening Ceremony is the showcase for the host country to show its culture, to show its perception of the Olympic Games and of the Olympic values. It is also the opportunity for the athletes to march in the Olympic ceremony belonging to their Olympic teams."

Bach noted that the Opening Ceremony is normally watched by more than a billion people around the world.

"All these reasons led to the joint decision with the Organising Committee that we should maintain the format of the Opening Ceremony may be adjusted one way or another."

Bach’s words were an echo of those of another IOC President, Baron Pierre de Coubertin.

"The Olympiads are par excellence, celebrations of youth beauty and strength.

"The issue of the ceremonies is understandably one of the most important to address. It is through them that the Olympiad is distinguished from a mere series of World Championships."