Different torch, same flame
By Nicole Wong (HK Edition)
Updated: 2008-05-03 07:31

 

Law Hon-pak, a Hong Kong representative in 1964 Olympic boxing competitions and an Olympic torch bearer that year, coaches students at the South China Athletic Association. Wen Wei Po

As the Olympic flame passed through gaily-bedecked streets of Hong Kong yesterday, it also lit up memories of past glory from 44 years ago.

The Olympic torch made its way to Hong Kong for the first time in 1964 for the 18th Olympic Games held in Tokyo, Japan. As the second last stop in the 12-city route, Hong Kong embraced the sacred flame on September 4, 1964 in a whirlwind of applause as well as scattered thunderstorms.

The torch was scheduled to arrive at the Kai Tak Airport at 6pm. Buglers and drummers of the New Method College were on stand-by from 4pm, gearing up for their historical performance. Six of the torch bearers and members of the Olympic Committee of Hong Kong also arrived early at the venue.

Excitement ran high as eager citizens gathered around the airport. A sudden downpour hit the town at 5pm. Caught in the rain without umbrellas or raincoats, many onlookers and performers scurried for shelter, while others were soaked in outdoor areas.

The chartered JAL airliner carrying the torch from Manila touched down at 6:20pm, twenty minutes behind schedule. Cutting through rain and wind, the aircraft was flying Olympic and Hong Kong pennants.

 

Law Hon-pak carries the Olympic torch in 1964. Wen Wei Po

Fumio Takashima, Head of the Special Torch Relay Mission of the XVIII Olympiad, was greeted by A. de O. Sales, Chairman of the Olympic Committee of Hong Kong, and Kinya Niiseki of the Japanese Consulate in Hong Kong.

With multi-colored banners fluttering and the band striking up, Takashima handed the torch to Sales, who in turn handed it to the first runner, F. X. Monteiro. As Monteiro started out of the airport, flights of pigeons were released. He was escorted by 12 cyclists from the Hong Kong Amateur Cycling Association.

Some enthusiastic citizens seized the chance to follow the first stage of the relay. Lau Ka-wai, a 60-year-old retired banker, who was present at the event, recalled how some local youngsters jumped on their bicycles and trailed behind Monteiro down the wet road.

"A number of teenagers rode their bicycles slowly on the sides of the road and raised their fists in excitement. Numerous children started running after the torch," Lau exclaimed. "The onlookers were all pushing their way through the crowd and stretching their necks for a few more glimpses of the flame."

The Kowloon route saw four other athletes carrying the flame. L. H. Guterres, P. M. M. Field, William Hill and R. Remedios relayed the torch through Tokwawan Road, Chatham Road and Salisbury Road, to the Kowloon Public Pier. The most crowded spot was the newly-built Chatham Road flyover, said 64-year-old Mandy Liu.

"The crowd took cover under the flyover from the rain," Liu noted. "The funny thing was I heard that balloons had been distributed to young children lining the route, but I saw very few of them. My friends and I believed the children must have taken the balloons home as souvenirs."

"It's a shame I couldn't manage to take pictures. I borrowed a camera from a relative, but all the films in my neighborhood were sold out and I didn't have time to look elsewhere," Liu exclaimed. "Having a camera was a big deal back then. Apparently all photography lovers in town were prepared for the event."

At the Kowloon Public Pier, a dozen disabled children waved white paper flags once the runners appeared. Remedios passed the torch to Sales, who then passed it to J. M. Park. Park carried it across the harbor in a launch escorted by yachts of the Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club.

 

1964 Torch relay Torch: Length: 64,5cm Weight: 836gDate: August 21 - October 10, 1964 Number of runners: Outside Japan: 870 Japan: 4,374

Park raised the torch high with his right arm, as citizens welcomed him at the Queen's Pier. More pigeons were released, while applause and thunder of firecrackers resounded outside the City Hall. The last runner Cheung Kin-man, three-time Olympic representative, trotted into the Concert Hall carrying the flame at 7:20pm.

The police band and a choir delivered a graceful performance, much to the delight of the large number of people who packed every vantage point in the hall. Cheung handed the torch to Governor Sir David Trench, who ignited a specially prepared urn at the main ceremony.

To commemorate the passage of the flame through Hong Kong from Olympia to Tokyo, the governor announced that the access to the Kai Tak Airport would be named Olympic Avenue, while the one-and-a-half acre garden under construction was to be known as Olympic Garden.

The urn bearing the flame was then placed in the Memorial Garden, where representatives of various sports bodies in Hong Kong kept vigil over it. The flame went off at some point through the night, as Typhoon Ruby gathered speed and brought tumultuous rain.

When typhoon signal number 9 was hoisted in the morning of September 5, the torch's departure was postponed to the next day. The farewell ceremony was held in the Memorial Garden at 11am on September 6. Thousands of people gathered to watch the last moments of the Olympic flame in Hong Kong.

Kwok Chan, President of the Hong Kong Amateur Sports Federation, lit the torch and passed it to the first runner, Peter Rull. The torch set off its return journey from the City Hall, along Murray Road and Queen's Road, then back to the Queen's Pier for its cross-harbor trip.

Law Hon-pak, Hong Kong representative in 1964 Olympic boxing competitions, ran the fourth lap. With a traffic policeman opening the way for him, the 27-year-old ran along Chatham Road. His girlfriend, who later became his wife, was among the jubilant crowd on the pavements.

"It was the first time the Olympic torch ever came to Hong Kong and the whole city was terribly excited. I was exhilarated," Law recounted. "The torch was shaped like a Japanese sword and it wasn't heavy. Each torch bearer had a short lap to run, about 600 meters. It only took a few minutes."

"I don't remember who passed me the torch or who the next runner was. All I recall is that I raised the torch high with a smile on my face," Law added. "As an athlete, my ultimate goal was to take part in the Olympics and the torch relay. I achieved both. It's an honor that has made my life worthwhile."

"Most of the 17 torch bearers in 1964 have moved overseas or passed away by now," said Pang Chung, Honorary Secretary General for the Olympic Committee of Hong Kong. "As a track and field athlete I had the honor to participate in the torch relay. I still keep the torch at home."

While the flame made its way to the Kai Tak Airport smoothly, Typhoon Ruby damaged the chartered plane that was to take the torch to Taiwan. The Special Japanese Relay Mission prepared another chartered airline, but this also failed to get off the runway after some defects were detected in an engine.

A Tokyo-bound JAL 720 flight was held over and became a special chartered flight. The flight's passengers were requested to leave the aircraft and take other airlines. Some were asked to stop in Hong Kong before resuming their journey to Japan.

 

Pang Chung, Honorary Secretary General for the Olympic Committee of Hong Kong. Courtesy of lcsd.gov.hk

At 5:05pm, the Olympic flame and its team flew out of Hong Kong, 30 hours later than originally scheduled. Earlier in the afternoon, before the second flight was scheduled to leave at 1:45pm, Setsuzo Matsudo, alternate chief of the relay mission, commended the warm welcome extended by Hong Kong people to the torch and its mission.

As tokens of appreciation, Takashima presented Sales with three Japanese stop-watches, one for Sales, one for O.R. Sadic, Hong Kong Secretary General of the Amateur Sports Federation and Olympic Committee, and one for the Committee. There were also 100 souvenir medals for the torch bearers and organizers.

Wong Chi-hung, a 58-year-old security, was among those who bade farewell to the Olympic torch on September 6. Wong had gone to the Memorial Garden the previous morning with his elder brother, and gone home when the ceremony was postponed. The delay, however, only ignited his desire to see the torch off even more.

"The weather was really bad on September 5. The furious waves were splashing against the pier. Yet my brother and I were determined to say goodbye to the torch," Wong exclaimed. "On September 6 we got to the Memorial Garden early to get a good spot. It was a beautiful ceremony. All the Hongkongers present were touched."

(HK Edition 05/03/2008 page4)