Tokyo is hosting the Paralympic Games for the second time. The first dates back to 1964. René David won two archery medals there. This retired CNRS researcher tells us about his twenty-hour journey by plane through Alaska, welcoming the Japanese, the latest adapted coaches or the gymkhana in a wheelchair… Travel back in time.
1964, Paralympic games, Tokyo. Grenoblois René David won a gold medal in the team archery competition and a bronze medal in the individual. This former paraplegic athlete and former CNRS researcher remembers a truly unexpected adventure.
Paris, London, Hamburg and Alaska
Its story begins on November 5, 1964. For his first flight, the 25-year-old Frenchman takes off from Paris-Orly for a long journey with the French delegation. The plane first made a detour via London, then Hamburg, where the English and German sportsmen joined them. Before a final stop in Anchorage, Alaska. “I stayed on the plane for more than twenty hours, remembers René David. The able-bodied people were able to get off at the last stopover, but the paraplegics were not. “
Very innovative Japanese coaches
Upon his arrival, René David discovered the Japanese organization in awe. As soon as you get into the coach, from the rear « via an elevating platform ”. Very innovative system at the time. “The bus is almost empty of seats and leather straps, secured to the floor, are provided to attach the wheels (…) A little over an hour after landing the 120 paraplegics of the plane roll on the highway towards the Paralympic village ”, he will note in his notebooks.
Parade in front of the imperial family
He will also remember “Countless enthusiastic volunteers”. Or even soldiers always ready to transport athletes on difficult or steep paths.
Superficial encounters? Not really, since the Frenchman will keep in touch with some Japanese volunteers and interpreters for more than thirty years.
During the opening ceremony, 500 athletes parade in front of Crown Prince Akihito and his wife, before giving way to a hundred students for a demonstration of kendo (sword fighting) in traditional dress.
Only a few handicaps represented
A far cry from the 4,400 athletes registered for the Paralympics in 2021… At the time, the competition was only open to athletes with paraplegia or polio. “The other physical handicaps were integrated from 1972”, reminds the Grenoblois.
“We all had the same chair, a steel model that rolled well, but very heavy”
Fewer disciplines on the program as well. “Mainly archery, fencing, table tennis, swimming, basketball and wheelchair gymkhana. Little or no athletics », René David list. The material also seems limited today. “We all had the same chair, a steel model that rolled well, but very heavy”, he adds.
Gold and bronze in archery
This will not prevent the twenty French athletes from winning thirteen medals, four of which are gold. René David is distinguished not only in archery but also in basketball with a fourth place, after a nice drop against the USA 61-24… Author of 18 points, he still has fond memories. “I was then told that I had my place in the American team… », he smiles.
A sporting adventure only one year after rehabilitation
A formidable adventure, still improbable only a year before. Like many Paralympic athletes, the young engineer discovered disabled sports in rehabilitation, at the famous center of Berck-Plage, in Pas-de-Calais, following a road accident in March 1963.
Everything then happened very quickly. That same year the Sports Federation of the Physically Handicapped of France was born. The engineer will then multiply the basketball and archery competitions. He is quickly spotted.
The start of an engagement
A real turning point in his life. The native of Saint-Nazaire, passed through Nantes and Angers, will then engage in the promotion of disabled sports in his adopted region. “You who are going to settle in Grenoble, you will have to set up a basketball team there”, a member of the French clan in Tokyo had slapped him in the ear.
The Paralympic medalist will then launch a club in 1966 which will become Grenoble Handisport, to welcome disabled people. “The first of the Dauphiné”, says its creator. “I was caught in a movement that was beyond me. There was a real need ”, he humbly confides.
How does he view the 2021 Games? “Our time was that of the pioneers. Today, it is that of high level athletes. Some of whom are now real professionals ”, rejoices the former medalist.
René David in a few dates
1939: birth in Saint-Nazaire.
1962: obtaining an engineering degree.
1963: victim of a road accident. THE
November 1964: participation in the Tokyo Paralympic Games.
1964: enters the Faculty of Sciences of Grenoble, as a researcher in the automation laboratory.
1969: becomes Doctor of Science.
1969-2000: researcher at the CNRS, specializing in logic automation, digital circuit testing and performance evaluation of production systems.
2000-2010: retirement. He becomes director of research emeritus at the CNRS.