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How The 1964 Games Brought Live Olympic Sports To The United States For The First Time

By Todd Kortemeier | Jan. 08, 2019, 3 p.m. (ET)


The Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 run July 24-Aug. 9, 2020, and while they may be nearly 20 months away there’s a lot to learn on your quest to becoming the ultimate fan. Each Tuesday leading up to the Games, TeamUSA.org will present a nugget you should read about – from athletes to watch to storylines to follow to Japanese culture and landmarks – as part of “Tokyo 2020 Tuesday.” Follow along on social media with the hashtag #Tokyo2020Tuesday.


In August 1964, a satellite no wider than the length of a baseball bat was launched into space and positioned itself above the Pacific Ocean. 

On Oct. 20, it broadcast the Opening Ceremony of the Olympic Games to the United States for the first time via satellite. And for the few who could receive such signals, it even was in color.

The Games had been televised since 1936, but either to only a limited local audience or on tape delay for other countries. The 1964 Tokyo Games became known as the “TV Olympics” for bringing live Olympic sports to the world. The Games were a huge hit in Japan as well, and were a signature event for the country’s national NHK station, which had just begun television broadcasting in 1960.

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 The Games were notable as the first ones to be broadcast in the U.S. by NBC. While the satellite broadcast was a huge leap forward in technology, coverage was still limited. NBC supplemented what could be shown live with taped events that had to be flown across the Pacific and then aired in the U.S.

Tokyo was also the first time that Olympic results were tallied and kept via computer, instead of by hand. Japanese engineers from IBM designed a system from scratch that kept records and distributed them to the media and for official record-keeping.

Todd Kortemeier is a sportswriter, editor and children’s book author from Minneapolis. He is a contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.


A photo from the Opening Ceremony of the Olympic Games Tokyo 1964 on Oct. 10, 1964 in Tokyo.