World Athletics Heritage will stage several special events in 2021 during the Games of the XXXII Olympiad, Tokyo 2020, to celebrate the history of Olympic track and field athletics. Among the VIP guests taking part will be 1964 Olympic champions Billy Mills and Ann Packer.
Heritage’s plans, originally set for this year, were at an advance stage when the Covid-19 pandemic hit the world and, like the Games themselves, have been postponed to 2021.
These activities include making possible the return to the site, if not the actual stadium, of their Olympic victories for USA’s Mills, the men’s 10,000m champion, and Packer, later Brightwell, the women’s 800m champion.
Mills and Packer were surprise gold medallists in 1964. Ron Clarke was the favourite in the 10,000m while Packer, certainly favoured for the 400m, wasn’t fancied for the victory over two laps. She had only raced five times over the 800m distance but entered the race after finishing a disappointed second to Betty Cuthbert in the 400m.
Mills speeding past Clarke with 50 metres to go in the 10,000, and Packer gliding ahead of France’s Maryvonne Dupureur 30 metres before the finish in the 800, crossing in a world record, were two of the standout moments of Tokyo 1964.
Mills and Packer and their spouses, the latter’s is Robbie Brightwell who was fourth in the 400m and silver medallist in the 4x400m relay, will be the guests of World Athletics Heritage for the start of the athletics schedule in Tokyo. They will be sat in the new Olympic stadium to watch the 10,000m and 800m finals.
Guests of honour
The eve before the Olympic athletics competition programme begins has historically been a special moment for the sport and World Athletics. At the official dinner held that night at each Olympic Games, successive presidents of the Olympics’ No.1 summer sport have declared that ‘tomorrow the Games really begins’ in their welcoming address.
World Athletics Heritage will ensure that evening is extra special in 2021, aiming to have every table at the dinner hosted by an Olympic champion. That means more than 20 Olympic gold medallists in attendance, including Mills and Packer. Cultural performances celebrating the 1964 Tokyo Games and 1991 World Championships will also be included on the programme.
Olympic heritage display
A World Athletics Heritage Olympic Athletics Display will also be staged in Tokyo during the Games which will include a spectacular array of competition clothing, shoes, equipment, trophies, and medals associated with athletes who have won Olympic track and field titles during their careers. Thanks to a generous loan from the private collection of Roberto Gesta de Melo, a medal from each Olympic Games since 1896 will also be on display.
The display of artefacts will be split into two. Part of the collection will be on view in the lobby of World Athletics’ official hotel and will be open to the public throughout the fortnight of the Olympic Games. The rest of the collection will be displayed in the World Athletics hospitality area (by invitation only) in the Olympic stadium during the nine days of athletics competition.
To ensure as much of the collection as possible can be enjoyed by the public, there will be a rotation of items with a featured exhibit presented each day in the hotel display.
Chris Turner for World Athletics Heritage