ONE of the consequences of the decisions to exclude spectators from the Olympics in Tokyo due to Covid will be a considerably muted opening ceremony on Friday, certainly compared to 1964 when the Games were last held there.

Scottish athlete David Stevenson from Langholm, a pole vaulter, was a member of the British team and recalled: “One of my abiding memories of the Games was walking into the packed National Stadium with all the teams for the opening ceremony and hearing the deafening roar of the crowd. It was a truly amazing experience.”

That also provided a vivid memory for another team member, long jumper Alix Jamieson from Glasgow, as did the scene at Tokyo airport after a lengthy flight involving six stopovers.

“Just seeing so many athletes arrive at the same time from countries all over the world was quite something. We then travelled along completely new roads which had all been built within a year, very impressive.”

Another enduring memory was the “wonderful music” of the catchy Games theme, “Tokyo Melody”, which still echoes in her head occasionally. Then going out together, she and David would marry a few years later, and are still happily so and living in Langholm.

HeraldScotland: David and Alix StevensonDavid and Alix Stevenson

David’s pole vaulting career had begun through playing around with a clothes pole and bar in his back garden as a youngster and it could be said he soared from there to the heights of Tokyo. After winning his first competition as a 14-year-old at Armathwaite Sports in the Lake District, he made rapid progress, winning junior and senior titles to becoming a British internationalist.

Alix’s sporting CV was impressive, having competed in athletics in the 1958 Empire/Commonwealth Games in Cardiff – “So young I was nearly not born!”, she laughed, although she was in fact 16.

She also represented Scotland at hockey which included playing at Wembley, while athletics national title wins followed leading to regular appearances on the international stage.

Both were delighted to be selected for Tokyo 1964, “the pinnacle” of their careers, although they would admit there was an element of fortune. David secured his spot after a cyclist had to withdraw due to injury, while Alix left it late to achieve the qualifying mark, doing so with only a week or so to spare.

Having made the team, events at a pre Games holding camp at Portsmouth looked at one stage as if they might jeopardise Tokyo. Robbie Brightwell, the leading 400 metre runner and captain of the men’s team, became an activist, according to David and challenged officials over alleged financial discrepancies, including athletes’ daily allowances’ entitlement, the Games of course then being amateur. This led to a stand off.



Fortunately following negotiations, matters were resolved. A warm-up competition was held in Portsmouth with Alix remembering how Mary Rand, the Tokyo long jump gold medallist, was anxious to avoid setting a world record as she wanted to do so at the Games, which she achieved.

Although the Second World War had finished only 19 years previously, neither of them was aware of the topic being mentioned at Portsmouth or any guidance given as to how to deal with the subject should it arise.

Japan was devastated by 1945 and their staging of the Games provided an incentive to re-establish the country as a peaceful member of the world community, while at the same time rebuild the country’s economy.

The 1964 Games were memorable for several reasons: they were the first to be held in Asia, the athletics were the last to be held on a cinders track, the first where fibre glass poles were used in the pole vault, the first to offer live TV coverage in colour and the first to involve extensive use of computers and state-of-the-art Japanese technology.


The young Japanese athlete chosen to light the flame at the opening ceremony, Yoshinori Sakai, was born on August 6, 1945 near Hiroshima, the day when the atomic bomb fell on the city, with his involvement representing homage to the victims and an appeal for world peace.

The hosts were friendly and hospitable, according to David and Alix, taking them out sightseeing to temples and to traditional restaurants offering local cuisine. Accommodation was adequate if not ideal, the male athletes in mini dormitories in former US forces’ accommodation and the women in high-rise apartment blocks surrounded by barbed wire and subject to a 10pm curfew. Otherwise all were relatively free to come and go.

David shared with a hammer thrower, Howard Payne, originally from Rhodesia, a discus thrower, Roy Hollingsworth, originally from Trinidad and a hurdler, Mike Parker, from an affluent background. The Scot was sometimes innocently caught in the crossfire of racist comments being traded back and forward, but overall harmony prevailed.

In her accommodation Alix recalled with affection fellow athlete Mary Peters, gold medallist in pentathlon at Munich 1972. “She was a great character who did much to make everyone feel comfortable. After Mary Rand won gold in the long jump when Sheila Parkin and I reached the final, she put up congratulatory messages in the accommodation using toilet paper and lipstick, ‘Well Done The Long Jumpers!’, as she had no pen or paper available.”

Alix required a cortisone injection because of a knee problem before the qualifying during which she approached her then best mark to progress, but by the time of the final it was wearing off and discomfort hampered her performance.

David narrowly missed out on qualifying for the final by one height and was disappointed not to progress having being so close. On reflection he felt he was overawed by the occasion, the realisation of “where you were and what you were doing”.

At the time he and Alix were only 22. Once their events finished, there was the opportunity to watch other athletes. They were keen to watch Bobby McGregor swim but were refused entry without pool tickets, despite loudly expressed pleas that “they had to see the Scotsman!”.

When it became clear entreaties were falling on deaf ears, they simply leapt the barriers and disappeared into the crowd, action that nowadays “would probably get us arrested”, laughed David. Both thought Tokyo ’64 was the last of the “Goodwill Olympics” with drugs becoming an issue at Mexico 1968, followed by the terrorist outrage in Munich in 1972.

In some respects there still lingered tinges of Corinthian spirit among the British team’s involvement and a smattering of laissez faire in its organisation. “The expectation then was you would do international athletics until about 23 or 24 when you would concentrate on a career and family life,” David recalled.

So, he went against the tide, continuing a successful athletics career with two further Commonwealth Games in 1966 and 1970, finishing fourth in the former, at the same height as the bronze medallist, while Alix also competed at both Games, securing fourth place at each. By 1970 David had launched what would become a highly successful business, Edinburgh Woollen Mill. Needless to say they will be watching Tokyo 2020 with particular interest.