Taiwan in Time: Aug. 31 to Sept. 6
The 1960 Summer Olympics, which took place from Aug. 25 to Sept. 11 in Rome, is notable not only because Taiwan won its first medal ever, but also because of the national team staging a protest during the opening ceremony due to a longstanding naming dispute.
WHAT’S IN A NAME?
. Photo: Chen Hsien-yi, Taipei Times
The 1952 Olympics were the first games held after the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) retreated to Taiwan in 1949. That year, the Taiwan team withdrew in protest after the Olympic Committee allowed both sides of the Strait to compete.
In 1956, Taiwan competed as Formosa-China, and this time China stayed home in protest, continuing to do so until the 1980 Winter Olympics.
Things came to a head in 1960, when the committee decided that Taiwan should compete as “Formosa,” which did not sit well with the KMT, who wanted to use the Republic of China (ROC). This resulted in the Taiwanese team marching behind an “Under Protest” sign during the opening ceremony.
Taiwan competed as Taiwan in 1964 and 1968, and the KMT finally got their wish in 1972 as the team went as the ROC. It was also the last time, as China had supplanted Taiwan in the UN, and the KMT’s claims as ruler of both China and Taiwan was growing weak.
When the International Olympic Committee forced Taiwan to compete under the intentionally ambiguous name of “Chinese Taipei” in 1979 due to the return of China to the games, the long and confusing dispute finally drew to a close.
Despite the earlier protests, the nation celebrated on Sept. 6, 1960 when Maysang Kalimud, an Amis Aborigine who went by the Chinese name Yang Chuan-guang (楊傳廣), claimed silver in the decathlon.
Kalimud, who was nicknamed the “Iron Man of Asia” (亞洲鐵人), is essentially the granddaddy of the numerous “lights of Taiwan” (台灣之光) today, making an impact on the international stage long before the term even existed.
Kalimud was born in Taitung in 1933. He first gained national attention in 1954 by winning the decathlon gold medal during the Asian Games, a feat he would repeat in 1958.
Kalimud made his Olympics debut in 1956, finishing eighth in the decathlon. He enrolled at University of California-Los Angeles in 1958 to train under Elvin Drake. He became close friends with training partner Rafer Johnson, but both had the same goal: to win an Olympic gold medal for their respective countries.
The two athletes did well in the 1960 Olympic decathlon, beating out other opponents until the competition became essentially a duel. Kalimud trailed Johnson by only 67 points after the ninth event, but needed to beat Johnson by at least 10 seconds in the last event — the 1,500-meter race — to close the gap. He won the race by only 1.2 seconds, and Johnson took gold.
At the end of the showdown, the crowd chanted, “Give both of them a gold medal,” recalls Drake in the book Rivals: Legendary Sports Matchups that Made History by David Wiggins. The two remained lifelong friends.
In 1963, Kalimud finished with 9,121 points at the Mt SAC Relays in California, breaking the Decathlon World Record as the first person to reach 9,000 points. Kalimud lost more than 1,000 points when the scoring system was adjusted in 1964, but under the new system he still became the first person to surpass 8,000 points. To this date, he’s also the only athlete not from the US or Europe to hold the record.
Kalimud competed in his last Olympics in 1964, finishing fifth. In later life, he trained athletes, dabbled in politics and ran a temple. In 1997, he and Johnson were both presented the Amateur Athletic Foundation’s Lifetime Achievement Award.
Kalimud died of a stroke in 2007.
Taiwan in Time, a column about Taiwan’s history that is published every Sunday, spotlights important or interesting events around the nation that have anniversaries this week.
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