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Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Typewriters at the Olympic Games: Part II 1960-1992

ROME 1960
Having made the breakthrough as the first typewriter company to be an official Olympic Games supporter, at the 1956 Melbourne Games, Olivetti took advantage of the Olympics moving to its “home turf”, in Rome in 1960, to strengthen the relationship.
Olivetti set up the main Press centre in Rome
In catering for 1626 accredited journalists, the Rome Games official report states, “The spacious work-room of the Press centre (Domus Mariae) was equipped with special panels organised by the Olivetti company. In addition, Olivetti placed 1000 Olivetti typewriters, 600 of them table models and 400 portable machines, at the disposal of the journalists in the various Press rooms and even in their own rooms in the Press centre. These 1000 typewriters were rationally subdivided into the various international keyboards, so as to satisfy as nearly as possible the cosmopolitan nucleus of journalists coming from all parts of the world. The 400 portable machines were issued, on request by the interested parties, to journalists intending to work in their own rooms.”
Before his trip to the Rome Games, Australia's champion swimmer, the late Murray Rose, was presented with an pistachio Olivetti Lettera 22 by the Australian Swimming Union. It sold on eBay a few years ago.
Receptions for visiting media were limited “so as not to interfere with the journalists, all fully engaged in the resolving of their particularly onerous tasks". At one, “lots were to be drawn among the journalists for two Fiat 500 motorcars, 60 portable Olivetti typewriters and other valuable and appreciated gifts”.
Apart from meeting the needs of the Press, Olivetti also provided for free 1000 typewriters for the Games organisers (of which only 10 typewriters “were not recovered”).
TOKYO 1964
Brother had only been making typewriters for two years when the Olympic Games first reached the Orient, in Tokyo in 1964; Nakajima and Silver-Seiko were still a year or two away from starting typewriter production. Yet Brother was desperately keen to “greatly help improve recognition of the Brother brand”. Brother did become involved in the Games, but not to the extent of Olivetti, which still had the inside running.
For the 1332 accredited media, the Olivetti Corporation of Japan supplied 181 typewriter desks, 330 “typewriter stools” and 848 typewriters. Other typewriter suppliers were Brother (300), Sankyosha (30) and Kusuda Jimuki (264). Among the 24 types of keyboards provided by Olivetti were those in English, French, German, Spanish and Russian.
Olivetti Japan set up the main Press centre in Tokyo
Just as for the master of American sports writing, Grantland Rice, the highlight of the 1932 Los Angeles Olympic Games had been seeing Babe Didrikson compete, for the doyen of British sports writers, Neil Allen, the high point in Tokyo was watching the graceful American sprinter Henry Carr.
The Babe
Grantland Rice
Rice wrote of Didrikson, “She is beyond all belief until you see her perform ... Then you finally understand that you are looking at the most flawless section of muscle harmony, of complete mental and physical coordination, the world of sport has ever seen.” An inspired Allen, banging out the words on his Olivetti Lettera 22 portable typewriter, described Carr as “The awesome sight of moving good”. 
Watch the smooth, economical style of Carr as he wins the 200m
in Tokyo here:
During the Tokyo OlympicsTokyo bank typists had to wear traditional kimonos:

Olivetti continued its close association with the Olympic Games in Mexico City. For the main Press centre alone, it supplied 153 Olivetti typewriters with keyboards for a remarkable 55 languages.
The Mexico City Games took the breath away from athletes, and for the numbers of media, they were also breathtaking, with 4377 media accreditations, “the largest number ever assembled to cover a single event”.
At some centres at the Mexico City Olympics, such as the equestrian centre, above, Olivettis were to provide a result service
“The Games of the XIX Olympiad were undoubtedly the best-covered event in the history of modern communications,” the Mexico official report states. “The Organising Committee spared no effort in providing all facilities required to assure this widespread coverage.”
Scenes from the main Press centre in Mexico City

Olivetti lost its Olympic Games typewriter bragging rights when in 1972 the Games returned to sea level and to Germany, 36 years after the fascist-infiltrated Berlin Games. Olympia, a West German-based company, won the contract to supply the typewriters for the two vast journalists' work rooms in the main Press centre, covering a total of 961 square metres. These allowed for 350 places, each equipped with a desk, chair and an Olympia typewriter.
Oh what joy! Covering the Olympic Games for a Fleet Street newspaper!

For the first Canadian Olympics, the main Press centre had 250 places for non-agency journalists. “[Olympia] Typewriters were provided at each place with keyboards in a variety of languages.” In all, an Olympic Games record of 2300 typewriters was set!
Montreal found hosting the Games exceedingly expensive. “Stringent demands were made and met in due course [with] supplies. And it takes little imagination to realise what is involved in acquiring, for example, 18,000 modular stacking chairs, 13,000 lamps, 1800 torches for the Olympic Flame relay, 627 massage tables, 2000 secretary's chairs, 2300 typewriters, 1200 coat racks, 7200 laundry hampers, 2000 portable clothes dryers, 1960 desks, 2760 work tables, etc. Not to mention sports-related equipment aggregating 108,946 different items!”
Olivetti returned to the Olympic Games fold at the first Russian Games, the boycott-hit Moscow Olympics. “The work premises were equipped with Olivetti typewriters with a choice of keyboards (a total of 1100 typewriters).
“Most of the agreements concluded by the OCOG-80 provided for free supply of products at full disposal of the organisers. Exceptions were agreements with such companies as Ing C. Olivetti and Co of Italy (typewriters). Under the agreements, the OCOG-80 was to return the equipment to the above companies in case it had not been purchased by Soviet organisations.”
For the first time, the Olympic Village provided for the hire of “typewriters with Latin type” for a small fee.
Brother ensured it had finally squeezed out Olivetti as Olympic Games typewriter supplier by signing a deal with the LA Organising Committee more than three years out from the start of the 1984 Games, on January 19, 1981.  Brother Industries was the LAOOC’s first “Official Supplier”. Brother believed the contract signified that it had “gained international recognition as the No 1 typewriter brand”.
       As part of the arrangement, Brother provided a manual typewriter repair service during the Games. That it only had to repair 71 of 3000 typewriters is testimony to the durability of the little orange-red Brother 210 portable (above).
Manual typewriters were also provided to organisations with offices in the International Broadcasting Centre on the same basis as made available to those working in the main Press centre. A total of 250 typewriters were available for IBC users, including 200 in English, 20 in French, 10 in Russian and 20 in Spanish. A few groups wished to rent electric typewriters with LAOOC assistance and a favourable rate was arranged for the rental of a total of 36 machines, 28 of these in English, with others in French, German and Italian. Manual typewriters came in 19 different keyboards.”
       Just as typewriters were starting to be phased out of the Olympic Games, they began to appear on Olympic Games badges. Sam, bottom, was the LA Games' official mascot.
“Materiel management was the vital link between planning-development and physical production of the Games. Without raw materials and effective management, the Olympic Games could not be held; the stadia and arenas would exist, the crowds would arrive to watch the athletes, but the Olympic staff would not be able to do its job. There would be no javelins for the field events, no typewriters for reporters and no chairs for the staff.”
       After the LA Games, from October 15-19, 1984, a sale of Olympic Games equipment was held. “By the end of the week, nearly everything that had been put out for sale had been purchased”. The items included manual typewriters at $US20 a pop. Little wonder the LA Games were rare in making a profit, enabling historians such as myself to access the foundation’s archives and PDFs of Olympic Games official reports.
SEOUL 1988
When the Olympic Games returned to Asia in 1988, 1453 journalists were accredited. Again, Brother Industries won the typewriter supply rights. The main Press centre was equipped with 298 typewriters in 20 languages, and all up 953 typewriters were provided.
       Seoul's main Press centre in full swing. Before the Games opened, this room was a sea of orange Brother portable typewriters. Many journalists used both manual portable typewriters and early electronic devices such as NEC machines with 14-line screens attached to phone couplers for filing copy. Given the size of the NEC screens, and the scrolling involved, it was sometimes easier to typewrite copy then transcribe it to the small "laptop".
Brother also maintained its typewriter repair service.  “The typewriter repair room was operated from 9am to 9pm each day by the Brother Co as an official supplier of the Olympics. A total of 105 cases of ribbon changes and repair services were handled during the period of operation. Repair service teams inspected the machines at the competition venues.”
Seoul was the last of the "great typewriter Olympics" and the first Olympic Games I covered. Back then, it was found quicker and more efficient to typewrite start lists, result sheets and flash post-race quotes and photocopy these for the Press. The big story in Seoul was Ben Johnson's disqualification from the 100 metres. Below is the immediate post-race result sheet, and the amended one:
Me at the Opening Ceremony 
Olympic Games graft? Just before the Seoul Games, Brother's European president Kazuaki Tazaki visited the International Olympic Committee headquarters in Lausanne to stitch up Brother's ongoing deal for the Games, stretching on to the 1992 Olympics, summer and winter. While there, Mr Tazaki presented IOC president Juan Antonio Samaranch with a Brother typewriter:

Modern technology had began to encroach into the media’s area of working tools in Munich in 1972 and 20 years later, in Barcelona, the changeover was all but complete. Nonetheless, Brother yet again supplied typewriters, 2000 of them, as well as 500 typewriters to the Albertville Winter Olympics that same year (1992). The typewriters were adapted to 20 languages and technical service was once again provided. 
Barcelona provided a day out at the Games for the staff of Olympic sponsors. Here are Spanish Brother workers in their Olympic T-shirts.
As the lone typewriter seen in the image above indicates, the days of typewriters dominating Olympic Games Press centres were over. But was this man using a typewriter in Beijing in 2008? It looks to me like one last stand:
There will certainly be some in London this year wishing Olympic Games organising committee offices were still staffed like this (from London's previous Olympics, in 1948):
And sports writers would no doubt like to have this much room to work in Press centres, and to have someone to type their copy for them (Hungarian journalist, London Olympics, 1948): 


Ted said...

OOh! I see a Tandy 200 among all those NEC laptops in the 1980's pics. My favorite of the early 8-bit Z80 laptops. (:

shordzi said...

Robert, it's you! Gigantic post! Love it!!

Dwayne F. said...

Thanks for this comprehensive bit of history. Your personal press credentials are especially interesting. Do you miss being a member of the press?

Robert Messenger said...

Thanks Ted, Georg and Dwayne. Yes, Georg, it's me all right!
Dwayne, I've been thinking about this a bit lately as I near the end of my newspaper career and may post on it. I don't miss the travel and the hard work or even the camaraderie so much, but I loved witnessing the great events. The No 1 cost was a settled family life, which I often regret. Back then we could have done with mobile phones, to make filing a lot easier - my coupler would cut out with the roar of 100,000 people! But I really believe we did a better job with typewriters. I have been pondering on this point and will probably put some thoughts down in a post.