It was going to be a very different Olympics: Face masks, testing, and most important for us North Dakotans–no foreign spectators. It seemed that Tim was doomed to never get to Tokyo for an Olympics: in 1964 he refused to go because I couldn't (Tim insists that I note that he would've used the word wouldn't not couldn't) go with him–either as competitor or spectator. Now, in 2021 neither of us would be going because no foreign spectators would be allowed in the country due to COVID-19.
The folks at Fred's Sports, led by Perry and Andy, were bitterly disappointed that they couldn't host their usual Olympic party, but it was not to be. They got together with the university and set up a huge TV screen in the field house for all the Grand Forks community to watch the Games together. This was accompanied by free food and soft drinks for thousands–it probably cost as much as sending 200 or so to Tokyo and feeding and housing them. Perry didn't care; Fred's Sports did the Olympic Games right!
But our athletes did go to Tokyo. All were vaccinated against COVID-19 and weren't worried about getting the disease. However, they were aware that vaccinated people could get the disease, almost always symptomless or a very mild case, but it did mean that they could spread the disease. So they didn't complain about the wearing of masks and other precautions.
Who were they? You met them in the last episode. Here they are:
Tyler in the 100-meter freestyle.
Marilyn Reed in the 100-meter butterfly.
June in the 200-meter backstroke.
Myra in the 200-meter individual medley and in platform diving.
Carolyn Reed in springboard diving.
Taylor in springboard diving.
Liam Carson and Woody Cramer in platform diving.
John Smith on the trampoline.
Dink Ringgold in the marathon (a shoo-in).
Johnny Lord in foil (a squeaker).
Cynthia Robb in sabre (one of four new athletes from NTAC at the Trials).
Karen Wells in archery (one of two women and two men from NTAC that made the Trials).
Dag Nilsen in gymnastics, all events (Senior Caver).
Bill Green in all-around, high bar, and pommel horse (from the Cave).
Mark Samson in vault and rings (from the Cave).
Harriet Stover in uneven parallel bars (from the Cave).
Michelle Arkle in all-around, balance beam, and vault (from the Cave).
A total of eighteen–an extraordinary number from a small state like North Dakota. Only California and New York did better, and we won't even think about comparing their sizes!
Perry and Andy did their best to provide the love and support that we usually showed to Olympic athletes in person, but couldn't in 2021. They arranged for them to fly as a group in two journey legs: first from Fargo to Honolulu where they would stay for three nights and two days of relaxation and jet lag avoidance; second from Honolulu to Tokyo's Haneda Airport where they would be met by a deluxe bus and taken directly to the Olympic Village. It wasn't possible to put them in a first class hotel for a few days prior to going to the village–our usual practice–because of the COVID restrictions that applied to all of the Olympic athletes.
With our large number of gymnasts and swimmers/divers we were able to get Marty and Willie listed as official coaches for their respective teams. They would be Perry and Andy's eyes, ears, and hands in Tokyo. Other than the frustrating COVID restrictions on movement, tests, and mask-wearing our athletes encountered no difficulties. As far as love and support were concerned, we would just have to see how love and support expressed in advance and at long distance worked!
The university set up two viewing rooms on campus: one in the field house which filled up only when a North Dakotan was in an important race or match. The other was in the student union and showed Olympic coverage from the cable 24/7. TVs also showed the NBC regular network coverage in all of the dormitories. We could've easily provided the 24/7 coverage in the dorms, but thought that it would be best if at least a little studying got done in the two weeks of the Olympics.
It was frustrating not to be able to sit poolside, or "matside", or along the marathon route, but we had to be content with the television. It was quite a two weeks, and I'll report sport by sport, rather than in the order of the events, which with prelims, finals, men's and women's events all on different days would be difficult to do.
First, the Opening Ceremony. I wasn't there, damn. It's the first one either Tim or I've missed since Moscow. (Tim, Jimmy Carter is an old man, and has done a lot of good in the world. It's time to forgive and forget. Forgive, maybe. Forget, never!) Well, the fact is that if you were watching on TV you saw exactly what I saw. If you weren't watching it on TV, then you probably don't want to read about it either. However, I will take note of one thing: less than a third of the U.S. athletes actually marched in the Opening Ceremony, because of fear of COVID and the simple fact that there was, essentially no audience (only V.I.P.s), and much of the proceedings were prerecorded for the television audience. However, Marty and Willie knew exactly what Tim (and others) would think of skipping the Opening Ceremony, and all eighteen of the North Dakotans marched. All reported that, screwed up or not, the Opening Ceremony was a thrill, and for those for whom this was their only Olympics, it was the thrill of a lifetime.
So on with the sports, in the order of their first events.
The 2020 Olympics archery competition provided for sixty-four men's slots and a similar number of women's. Those archers competed in a ranking round that took place on Friday, July 23, 2021, the same day as the Opening Ceremony. The women competed in the morning, the men in the afternoon, and then they were off to the Opening Ceremony in the evening. The ranking round doesn't eliminate anyone, it seeds them for paired competition in the following days, with number 1 paired with number 64 etc., in hopes that the best archers will be competing against each other in the finals. All shooting is at seventy meters and the ranking round required seventy-two arrows for each archer.
Then it's paired competition, with each match-up consisting of the best-of-five sets, with three arrows per set. The winner of each set receives two points, and if the scores in the set are tied then each archer receives one point. If at the end of five sets the score is tied at 5–5, a single arrow shoot-off is held and the closest to the center is declared the winner. Tim says that I should keep my ranting and raving to minimum, but I have to say that's a Hell of a way to run a railroad, and certainly does not provide a format that makes it likely that the best archer will get the gold medal. I'm glad that I competed when I did. Just one bad shot against a weaker opponent who doesn't slip for the fifteen arrows of each paired competition can eliminate the top archer, just that quick. Too much luck is involved. OK, Tim, I'll quit.
At least the ranking round involves enough arrows that the seeding is quite fair; and is very important. Karen Wells did a little better than expected, coming in as the 41st seed. That means she would first be paired against the 24th seed. If she won, and she did!, she would be up against either the 9th seed or the 56th seed, depending on which of those two women won. Just to prove that seeding isn't always what it's cracked up to be: the 56th seed beat the 9th seed, on a tiebreaking arrow. (Charlie here: That's the randomness that this format introduces. In a standard FITA round, 56 does not beat 9.) She would now be up against the 25th seed and if she won that pairing, and she did!, she would be up against the top seed in the semifinals. Karen simply couldn't believe the position she found herself in. She was a little known American archer that barely squeaked onto the team, and she found herself in the semifinals, guaranteed at least fourth place.
Let's be very clear. The ranking round does bring the top archers to the top, and Karen was now up against number 1. She did her best, and managed to tie the second and third of the five sets, with a final score of 1 (for the ties) against 8 (three wins and two ties). She would be in the elimination round against the loser of the other semifinal. That side of the bracket hadn't been quite so random and the semifinal featured the 2nd seed against the 6th. The 2nd seed won, setting up what the organizers hoped for, number 1 against number 2 in the finals. But the elimination round for the bronze medal with number 6 against number 41 was not as they expected.
That pairing turned out to be one of the more exciting matches of the whole event. Karen and her opponent tied the first set, both getting three bull's-eyes. Then Karen slipped a little getting an eight on her first arrow. Her opponent got a ten. Karen then got two tens, but her opponent got a nine and a ten, winning the second set. They each got two tens and a nine in the third set. for another tie. Her opponent seemed to collapse in the fourth set shooting a nine, eight and seven allowing Karen to easily win. Now the whole match depended on the next three arrows. Karen shot a ten, nine, ten. Her opponent shot a nine, ten, ten, setting up a one arrow tiebreaker. To settle it in one arrow, you can't just use the point value of the shot, it would easily produce another tie. So the rule was that the winner was the arrow closest to the center of the target, measured if necessary.
Both shot their arrows near the middle of the bull's-eye and measurement was necessary. Talk about a moment of high tension. There were three judges with rulers gathered around the targets. Finally they called out, "The red arrow (the left target) is the closest." The red arrow belonged to.... Karen! She 'd moved from 41st seed to 3rd! She is the first to say that it was the randomness of the format that put her ahead, but she wouldn't give up the bronze medal for anything!
Next up was swimming. How did our young North Dakotans do after their fairly quick introduction to the true meaning of love and support as interpreted by Tim, many others, and the team of Liam and Woody? I'll let you decide.
First up, the first day, July 24, 2020, was Marilyn in the 100-meter butterfly. Marilyn won her first heat, made it to the semifinals which were the next day, and on into the finals the following day, where she came in sixth. It was wildly beyond her expectations, and the Victory Diploma would become one of her prized possessions.
Next was Myra in the 200-meter medley, with her preliminary heat on July 26, the day of Marilyn's final race. (The exciting events, gymnastics, swimming, and diving finals were held in the morning to allow live TV coverage in the United States; this having been negotiated with NBC which was paying a fortune for the TV rights). Myra progressed to the finals, and Wille ate dinner with her, as he had with Marilyn, attempting to take Tim's place at this crucial moment. I guess he succeeded, though the credit for getting a silver medal has to go to Myra much more than Willie!
Next up was Tyler in the 100-meter freestyle, with preliminary heats beginning on Tuesday, the 27th of July. His swimming started the same day that Myra was swimming her semifinals. It was all in one pool, so spectators (coaches, Japanese that weren't afraid of getting COVID, and the television audience around the world) didn't miss anything. Tyler easily made it to his semifinals, but squeaked by into eighth place in the finals. His future didn't seem to include a medal. Willie refused to accept that, and his dinner with Tyler the night before the race went beyond Tim's usual, "We love you regardless," speech. Willie thought it important that Tyler not give up before he started, and he told him so. He was glad to hear Tyler talking about what it would take to get a medal, and seriously wanting to discuss strategy with Willie. It ended with, "We love you regardless."
The next day in the finals Tyler accomplished the impossible. He swam his heart out, and his lungs, arms, legs, and muscles. At the end he could hardly get out of the pool, but once out he was hugged by Wille as he prepared to march the to the lowest podium and receive his bronze medal. The five outstanding swimmers that had faster times than him in the semifinals agreed that it was a spectacular performance and provided sincere congratulations. The move from eighth to third was virtually unheard of.
June wasn't so fortunate. She made it into the semifinals in the 200-meter backstroke, but failed to make the finals. We were glad that she made it to the semifinals and wasn't eliminated in her preliminary heat. Willie assured her that getting as far as she did, and going home a proud Olympian, was truly spectacular; for the rest of her life she would be an Olympian.
Willie asked Tim later, "I told all of the athletes that didn't medal that just being an Olympian was a real accomplishment and that they shouldn't be disappointed at not winning a medal. But how does that sound coming from a Tim or a Willie that has more medals than he can hang around his neck?"
Tim's answer was, "It's up to the individual how they take it. It's our obligation to say it and to believe it ourselves. North Dakota, the university, and the Gang have had spectacular success at getting medals. But those that didn't medal are just as important to us as are the medalists. You know, there are 300 million Americans and only about a thousand Olympians each four years. Just being an Olympian is something to be proud of and to tell your children about. And that's why I think marching in the Opening Ceremony is so important. That's when everyone is simply an Olympian. It's the time to bask in the amazing success you've had in getting as far as you have. No lack of a medal can take that away from you. And I think that our athletes that don't medal appreciate hearing that from a Willie–a spectacular success that still cares about everyone on the team."
"Thanks, Tim. I still feel a little uncomfortable giving that speech. But I really do believe it, even if it doesn't exactly apply to me."
"I understand. I've had the same thoughts at every Olympics."
That covers swimming: four swimmers, two medals. Diving would be one of the last events of the Games.
Men's Gymnastics started Monday the 24th–the same day that swimming had begun–and was followed the next day with the beginning of Women's Gymnastics. We had three men–Dag, Bill, and Mark–and two women–Harriet and Michelle–competing. That's three men out of a total of six U.S. men gymnasts and two women out of six women gymnasts! The Cave was on the map in a big way, bringing far more gymnasts to Tokyo than any other program in the world (not counting a few countries whose program were on a national basis like China).
There was one change from previous Olympics–the team competition would involve teams of four instead of five. Dag was the only one of our gymnasts to make the men's team and Harriet was the only one on the women's team.
We couldn't help but notice that Dag was in a position to get his eight medals. However, that wasn't Dag's goal this time around. He told us, "Look, I'm five years older; I'm one of the ones that the fifth year hurt, not helped–it was just one additional year that I had to stay in top form. And it allowed some younger kids to get a year's additional experience. Sustaining my form in all six events has been very difficult, and I'll be surprised if I can medal in more than two to four. On the other hand, I'm damn good at everything and another all-around medal would be sweet to add to the pile. As for the team medal, I'm sorry to say that the U.S. hasn't got a chance."
It's uncanny how well Dag knew himself, and his competition. The U.S. Team came in eighth. Dag got a silver in the all-around, gold on the rings and high bar, and bronze on the parallel bars. Each time he came off the podium he was all smiles and happy, whether gold or bronze. Back home Tim was particularly worried that the all-around silver would be a downer for him. When asked about this when his got home his reply was, "Are you kidding? Look back in history and see how many times the all around medalists have repeated. Hell, I've got a gold and a silver, that's fantastic. I am soooooooo happy. And five total medals. Wow! That's a total of thirteen Olympic medals. I'm ready to retire before I look like a foolish old man in Paris."
Shel said, "Look out what you say about old men. The Gang is full of old men who made others look foolish."
"Not in gymnastics. Diving, sailing, marathon, yes. Gymnastics, no."
Tim said, "My third attempt I got one medal. I think that says it all."
I'm very sorry to add that Dag was the only Caver to get a medal. The others tried their best; there was nothing to be ashamed of. But, as Tim would say, there were others whose best was better. Neverthelss, a trip to the Olympics–even a pandemic screwed up Olympics–was a lifetime thrill for the other four.
Fencing was next to start–on Monday, July 26. North Dakota had two fencers: Johnny Lord who'd gotten a bronze in foil in Rio, and Cynthia Robb in sabre, new to the Olympics. Johnny would've loved to medal again, but he'd just squeaked into a spot on the U.S. team and wasn't able to defend his medal, coming in ninth. He was a good sport about it, but you could see that he was disappointed. He stood erect and watched the awards ceremony, and it was clear that he was going to go home a proud Olympian and not a disappointed non-medalist. However, nobody would have been either upset or surprised to learn the he cried in his pillow a few nights; if he did, he never told anyone.
Ctynthia had a great time. She did well, getting fifth place, which earned her a Victory Diploma. That meant that Nels, Mary, and NTAC would have to be content with a single medal–Karen's in archery–and Cynthia's Victory Diploma. Nels and Mary weren't unhappy: They had three members of NTAC at the Olympics, enough to stir up a little Olympic fever back home at NTAC in Grand Forks. And they had a prertty bronze medal for the NTAC archers to oogle over.
Next up, on Saturday, July 31st, was trampoline. Technically trampoline was one of three gymnastics events, the others being rhythmic and artistic gymnastics–our guys, and gals, competed in artistic gymnastics which is what most people think of when they hear the word gymnastics.
On the trampoline we had John Smith. Unlike Phred and Pnan he was totally incapable of finding himself on the internet, and he liked the anonymity. Nobody else could find him either. On the trampoline he was equally anonymous, but he didn't care. He held the second U.S. men's slot, and had almost no hope of a medal. He put on a very good performance, was eighth of eight who advanced to the finals, remained in eighth place in the finals, and was deliriously happy to receive the eighth place Victory Diploma. When Marty got to him after the final event, he was in tears he was so happy. "Marty, do you believe I made it to the finals? I can't believe it. Just getting here was a dream come true, and I'm going home with a Victory Diploma, which I'm going to frame and hang on my wall forever. Oh, my God, what a thrill." I'm not quoting him exactly; it was partly gibberish. Marty says he's never seen a happier kid.
When they all got home and Tim heard the full story he said, "We have to get together a group of Olympians and take John to dinner at the Dakota Steak House and let him order their biggest steak. He's my kind of guy!" We did, and John really appreciated it. He still glowed with Olympic glory.
Individual diving begin on Friday, July 30, a day ahead of trampoline, But trampoline was over in a day, and diving went on until the day before the Closing Ceremony, Saturday, August 7, when Liam and Woody would meet again to try to settle that great question: Who is the better of the two of us?
As you know, there are ten possible slots for male divers and ten female: six individual slots, and four synchronized slots–a total of twenty. The divers from the University of North Dakota pool held five of those slots. Tim would've gained bragging rights with Ralph Billings for the next four (actually three, thanks to COVID) years. As it was, the press made a big story of the little University of North Dakota making up twenty-five percent of the U.S. diving team. If the national press was excited about that story, think of the coverage in North Dakota.
We had Carolyn in springboard diving, Taylor in springboard diving, Myra in platform diving, and Liam and Woody in platform diving. They would compete in that order. Carolyn and Taylor had, of course, benefited from the reading of the riot act by Shel to their grandparents: These kids were to be pushed and encouraged; they had the chance to be true Olympians. And Shel had been proven right: Marilyn, Carolyn, Tyler, and Taylor were all in Tokyo: proud Olympians.
Carolyn was the first to dive. She made it to the finals on the springboard, which guaranteed her a Victory Diploma, but she really wanted a medal. She fought tooth and nail, dive by dive, with her closest competitor for the bronze, but had to accept fourth place. We knew she was disappointed, but you couldn't have told it by her words or actions.
Taylor, also on the springboard, did a little better: he got a silver medal and was as proud as a peacock. Together the twin boys had a bronze and a silver medal to show for their years of hard work back in Grand Forks.
Myra came to the platform with a silver medal in the 100-meter medley under her belt (her swimsuit?). That was much talked about, and nobody could remember anyone medaling in both swimming and diving. Modern diving venues have balconies that give access to the 10-meter platforms and elevators to get to them. The long climbs up the ladders to reach the plat-forms are gone. Tim thinks it's a real loss to the sport, and he insisted on always climbing the ladder–when there was a ladder to climb. And you can be sure that there would never be an elevator at the University of North Dakota pool–unless you were seriously disabled. There was no ladder available in Tokyo and Myra was glad. She hated the long climb, but hated to ride an elevator when Tim was around. In Tokyo she rode the elevator with pleasure, walked out onto the platform, and delivered a series of dives that would make any diving coach proud. Coming into the Olympics she wasn't sure that she had a chance of making it to the finals. Coming out with the gold medal, she could only say, "It must be in the Tokyo air or water." Gold! She came out of nowhere, unremarkable in previous meets, and delivered a series of dives worthy of Tim, Billy, or Willie. With the swimming silver medal, she was the darling of the press corps–for a day.
Then came the matchup everybody was waiting for–especially those of us from, or watching back in, North Dakota: Woody and Liam off the platform. Leading up to the competition Woody and Liam had roomed together, eaten together, practiced together, and generally acted like two best friends–which they were. They were interviewed, and neither would make any kind of prediction about the outcome of the match. Some reporters were beginning to think that they wouldn't really take their diving seriously, treating it more like a lark. When that was suggested, Liam kind of smiled and said, "Wait until we get serious."
Much to everyone's surprise they got serious in the prelims. Usually top divers that are quite sure of their chances of making the semifinals don't try too hard in the prelims. Not Liam and Woody, at least not this time. From Liam's first dive to Woody's last they put on a show of perfection never seem in prelims. It was clear that they might be best friends, but neither was giving up an inch in this competition.
They entered the semifinals in positions one and two and three might as well've been in a different competition. There was, in fact, a very interesting four-way battle shaping up for the bronze medal, but it got lost in the intense interest in Woody vs. Liam.
The semifinals didn't settle much. Ties are virtually impossible in diving, because of the weighting of individual dives. Liam and Woody were doing exactly the same dives–and it would've been impossible to select a more difficult slate of dives–the odds of their getting exactly the same score on each were virtually nil, thus making a tie virtually impossible. However, they came out of the semifinals so close that first place could shift back and forth on a single dive, but Liam was ever so slightly ahead.
Then came the six dives of the finals. Unlike in the days of Tim, Willie and Billy, semifinal scores were not carried forward. The contest was settled by the six dives of the final round. Again, each was doing the most difficult dives possible. In each round Woody would dive next to last, and Liam last, based on their scores in the semifinals. As either one of them stepped to the edge of the platform a definite hush would come over the audience–as small as it was due to COVID rules. Then one after the other they hurled themselves thirty plus feet into the water. You'd expect a noise or a splash. Their slender bodies streaked into the water so straight and so smoothly that you hardly heard a whisper. After his dive Woody would hang around the ladder, watch Liam dive, and then greet him as he got out of the pool. They'd chat and talk as if they were on an afternoon picnic. You would never know they were in the middle of one of the most dramatic competitions of the entire Games.
Five dives in Liam was slightly ahead, but it was so close that everyone knew it would be settled by the final dive. In the dive before Woody the bronze medal had been settled in favor of China. Now the two Americans would settle the gold, a contest that'd been in the works for five years, if not longer.
Woody's dive was so near perfection that the judges scored it the highet of any dive of the day. Liam came to the platform knowing that if he could deliver the same degree of perfection the medal would be his, because of his slight lead coming to the last dive. On the other hand, anything less than perfection would give him the silver medal.
Woody told me later what he was thinking, "At least it's only one damn medal on the line, not the question of a whole grand slam. Do I really care which of us gets the gold? Hell, no. We've proved to the world that, with the possible exceptions of that kid's father, grandfather, and granduncle, we're the best damn divers in the world." He continued, "Then I thought, 'Shit, yes, I want the gold, but I don't want Liam to screw up for me to get it.'"
I asked him, "Aren't those conflicting thoughts."
"Sure they are. And I couldn't tell you which won out in my thinking as Liam flew through the air, flipping and turning in the same impossible corkscrew that I had just performed. I couldn't see how he could've done it better, and that meant the gold was his. But the judges disagreed, and I won the gold by the closest mathematical margin in Olympic history.
"I rushed to the ladder and pulled him out and we waited for his score. When it came he looked at me, grinned, and said, 'You won.' It was as simple as that. We've hardly talked about it since. It's just a fact. We each have a gold medal in Olympic platform diving and that's that. Now we have to get on with our lives."
The rest of the world didn't take it quite so calmly. Not only was there a winner, a change of places from four years before, but it was a fantastically close finish–that alone made it newsworthy. And it was at the end of the Olympics, so there wasn't a lot of other Olympic news to compete with it.
Willie was, of course, on the scene in Tokyo. Reporters were eager to ask him what he thought of the results. Was he disappointed that his son didn't get a second platform diving gold? Reporters can ask a lot of dumb questions, and then they manage to ask the same questions again and again, just changing the words around. Willie would just smile and say, "Did you see Liam and Woody hug each other on the podium after the 'The Star-Spangled Banner' was played? They would've behaved just the same had the medals been reversed. They have gone for five years expecting that they'd come in one, two here in Tokyo. They both have known for years that their friendship was more important than the color of a medal."
One reporter asked, "Why did they put themselves through all this? After their Grand Slam five years ago, why risk a friendship with this kind of high pressure competition?"
"They didn't risk a friendship; it's as solid as a rock. Pressure? This past week did you think it looked like they were under pressure? They've been relaxed and joking, chatting with the other athletes, having a ball. They just wish they could've gotten out and really seen Tokyo. Why did they compete this time around? Woody wanted to. I'm not sure that even he knows why, but in Rio he took two silver medals. I think he felt like he needed one more chance at an individual gold. Well, Liam certainly was willing to give him the chance, but it was clear from the beginning that Liam would give him the chance but not the gold medal. Yesterday, he earned that gold medal."
"And you don't think it'll affect their friendship?"
"Absolutely not. I think when they get home to Grand Forks and have a chance to think about it a little, they'll have a very private discussion of what it all means. Those boys are very smart boys, very self-aware. They'll talk. But I think it'll be very private, and I don't expect to get a report. I just expect those two boys to keep on doing amazing things in their lives."
Then there was the Olympic Marathon. Dink had won the bronze medal in Rio and was back to see if he could medal again. Tim had sort of given silver and bronze medal holders persmission to think in terms of improving the color of their medal. It was OK for a silver medal holder to dream of getting a gold the next time around. When Tim suggested that to Dink the response was, "I'd be so damn happy to have another bronze, I can almost piss my pants dreaming of it."
Dink had some disadvantages: He didn't have a Hal to pace him. He didn't have a Hal to coach him in Tokyo–though they talked by internet telephone on a regular basis. He didn't have a Shel in Tokyo to kick him in the ass. And he didn't have a Tim to eat dinner with him the night before his race. In fact, the night before his race everybody he knew was talking about and celebrating the fantastic conclusion of platform diving. He did have a late dinner with Willie. Willie told me afterwards, "I gave him the usual script, that we'll love you regardless. But Dink knew that. I know absolutely nothing about winning marathons, so I had nothing to say about that. All I could really say was, 'Tim would give his eye teeth to be having his dinner with you tonight. Keep that in mind tomorrow'."
Dink told me afterwards, "I went to sleep knowing I was loved by the people I most cared about."
Dink was his own man; he managed his own practice schedule–ignoring the Olympic coach just as Hal had. On the other hand, he didn't run marathons quite as frequently as Hal. He was very much a part of the North Dakota contingent to Tokyo, participating in their social activities, watching their practices, and cheering their performances. But as a marathoner he was solo. Had Hal or Jody been in Tokyo I don't think that would've been the case, but they were back in North Dakota and Dink was fending for himself in Tokyo. He told Hal later, the Olympic coaches weren't a lot of help. "I missed you and Jody."
The men's marathon began at 7:00 a.m. Tokyo time, on the last day of the Olympics, Sunday, July 8. The race took place in Sapporo, north of Tokyo, because average temperatures there in August were cooler than in Tokyo. In the event, the temperatures at the two cities were about the same on race day. Marathon times were getting so close to two hours that it could safely be predicted that the race would be over by a few minutes after nine.
The favorite in the race was Eliud Kipchoge of Kenya, who'd won in Rio, and held the world record of 2:01:39, set at the 2018 Berlin Marathon. Virtually no runner had any realistic hope of displacing Kipchoge from the top podium. Kipchoge crossed the finish line at 2:08:38; considering the hot Japanese weather in August, it wasn't a bad time at all. Second was Abdi Nageeye of the Netherlands at 2:09:58. Then there was Dink, at 2:10:00 even, two seconds behind second place and an amazing four minutes and seven second off his previous personal best. Whatever he'd been doing, or drinking, or breathing in Japan, it had certainly agreed with him.
The United States hadn't been expected to medal in the marathon, and Dink's performance took everyone by surprise. With a two hour race, coaches, officials, reporters, and spectators, had advance warning that Dink was moving faster than expected. By the time he was back in the stadium, heading for the finish line, every American around was watching, holding their breath. At two seconds behind second, and four seconds ahead of fourth, it was a breathtaking finish. Dink had definitely not "run his own race" as Hal often put it. He'd run his guts out. As he lay in the grass near the finish line there was nothing left in him. It took him more than five minutes to recover at all. In fact, the doctor on duty for the race went over to check on him, pronouncing him healthy, but just barely. Finally he got up, had a drink, and walked over to the officials' table to look at his time. He couldn't believe it. He still doesn't. "Charlie, I simply can't run that fast."
"Well, you did in Japan, and you earned your second Olympic medal. Congratulations."
What an ending for Dink! For the University of North Dakota! For the United States! What a way for the U.S. team to finish the Olympics; what a way to top off their 113 medals–the most of any nation. Dink was a hero.
We are, of course, interested in the results from a particular point of view: the Gang, the University of North Dakota, and all of the athletes that we touched. Before I recap our record, let me remind you that North Dakota had eighteen athletes at the Tokyo Olympics, a staggering number considering how small the state is and how small the programs are that produced these athletes. Here's our record:
[ALL CAPS = MEDAL. Initial Caps = Victory Diploma.
[lower case = out of the running.]
Tyler in the 100-meter freestyle. BRONZE.
Marilyn Reed in the 100-meter butterfly. Sixth.
June in the 200-meter backstroke. eleventh.
Myra in the 200-meter individual medley. SILVER.
Myra in platform diving. GOLD.
Carolyn Reed in springboard diving. Fourth.
Taylor in springboard diving. SILVER.
Liam Carson platform diving. SILVER.
Woody Cramer in platform diving. GOLD.
John Smith on the trampoline. Eighth.
Dink Ringgold in the marathon. BRONZE.
Johnny Lord in foil. ninth.
Cynthia Robb in sabre. Fifth.
Karen Wells in archery. BRONZE.
Dag Nilsen on the U.S. Men's Gymnastics Team. Eighth.
Dag Nilsen in gymnastics, all-around. SILVER.
Dag Nilsen in gymnastics, high bar. GOLD.
Dag Nilsen in gymnastics, rings. GOLD.
Dag Nilsen in gymnastics, vault. Fifth.
Dag Nilsen in gymnastics, pommel horse. Fourth.
Dag Nilsen in gymnastics, parallel bars. BRONZE.
Dag Nilsen in gymnastics, floor exercises. Sixth.
Bill Green in gymnastics, all-around. ninth.
Bill Green in gymnastics, high bar. Seventh.
Bill Green in gymnastics, pommel horse. eleventh.
Mark Samson in gymnastics, vault. twelfth.
Mark Samson in gymnastics, rings. fourteenth.
Harriet Stover on the U.S. Women's Gymnastics Team. Sixth.
Harriet Stover in gymnastics, uneven parallel bars. Fourth.
Michelle Arkle in gymnastics, all-around. Eighth.
Michelle Arkle in gymnastics, balance beam. tenth.
Michelle Arkle in bymnastics, vault. Sixth.
That's a total of four gold, four silver, and four bronze medals.
Tim always likes to pretend North Dakota is a nation and see how we measure up. Our total medal count of twelve equaled Chinese Taipei, and would've tied us for twenty-second place. Our four gold medals would've tied us with a number of other nations at seventh place. That's out of a total of 206 national teams and 93 medal winning teams.
Just to push it a little bit further: Were North Dakota a nation it would've been the fifth smallest nation to win a medal, and the four smaller nations that won medals (San Marino, Bahamas, Bermuda, and Grenda) won a combined total of seven, as opposed to North Dakota's twelve. Data like that always makes Tim smile, just as it did Fred!
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