Last night, my dad shared a story about something that happened 40 years ago. I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it since.
In the 1970s, he was studying for his Master’s at the University of Rochester in New York. During the summer break, he and his friends went to California to visit other Taiwanese friends who were studying at colleges on the West Coast.
One night, a group of them got in a car and drove to LAX. There, even more Taiwanese students would be waiting.
Taiwan’s 1976 Summer Olympic team — then the Republic of China team — was connecting from Toronto via LAX on their way back to Taipei.
The 42-member ROC team was registered to take part in 10 events at the Montreal Olympic Games: track and field, boxing, cycling, judo, swimming, modern pentathlon, equestrian, shooting, yachting and archery.
But the Republic of China team had been barred by Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau (father of current Canadian PM Justin Trudeau) from competing.
In response, the IOC threatened to cancel the Olympics, declaring Canada had overstepped its bounds and breached the Olympic principles. However less than two weeks later, the IOC sided with Canada: the name, flag and anthem of the Republic of China would not be allowed to compete.
The compromise suggested by Trudeau was for the ROC team to compete as “Taiwan” instead. But out of principle, the ROC National Olympics Committee refused. (Argh!)
So Taiwan’s athletes were denied visas to enter Canada. They had flown all the way to Toronto only to turn right back around.
That photo above shows members of the ROC team waiting at the airport in their Olympic uniforms.
The connecting flight was scheduled to land at LAX close to midnight. The Taiwanese students, including my dad and his friends, had been waiting quietly in the arrivals area. With it being so late, they gathered quietly so they didn’t disturb the travelers sleeping in the terminal. One guy had a small loudspeaker set on the lowest volume.
When the Taiwanese team walked out, the guy with the loudspeaker said in Mandarin, “Let’s welcome the Olympic athletes of the Republic of China…”. The students all started clapping in unison, quickly but softly, and whispered jia you 加油 to the surprised athletes.
Many of the athletes were moved to tears.
(My dad stressed that he didn’t cry. He said he was in his early 20s back then and “unemotional”.)
A few months later in November 1976, the IOC would officially recognize the People’s Republic of China as the only Chinese government represented at the Olympics. In 1979, the name “Chinese Taipei” became official.
It was incredible to hear my dad tell this story. I can only imagine how emotional it would have been to witness.
I’d love to know: who else was there that night? And can we track down any photos?
Oddly enough, the two sources I used for the facts in this post were published exactly 40 years apart.
Taiwan Today, July 11, 1976
ROC sending team despite Canada ban
Montreal Gazette, July 29, 2016
1976 Montreal Olympics: City was a nervous wreck days before opening ceremony
This Canadian radio segment from July 16, 1976 is also fascinating:
Taiwan controversy at the 1976 Montreal Olympics
Image source: Montreal Gazette