Editorial Feature

1972 Winter Olympics: The Games That Brought Winter Sports To Asia

Archive photography from LIFE magazine veteran, John Dominis

Born in 1921 and working predominantly from the 1950s to 1980s, John Dominis was a documentary photographer, war photographer and photojournalist. He freelanced for multiple magazines over the years including LIFE magazine and People, and was the editor of Sports Illustrated from 1978 to 1982.

In his career, which saw him photograph the Korean war, the Vietnam war, Woodstock and icons of pop culture, Dominis also went to six Olympic Games. One of his most notable shots was from the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City, when the photographer pictured Tommie Smith and John Carlos during their Black Power salute.

Here we celebrate the images Dominis captured during the 1972 Winter Olympics that were held in Sapporo, Japan. These particular Winter Games were the first to be held outside Europe and North America. In wonderful saturated color, Dominis photographs both the athletes and the crowds at Sapporo, managing to catch mid-action shots, celebrating crowds and the in-between moments.

16-year old Hideki Takada was tasked with lighting the Olympic cauldron, which Dominis has captured below. This quote from a New York Times article published on February 3, 1972, from the opening ceremony, paints the scene for us: “The climax came about 11:45 when a Japanese girl in white skated into the arena with the Olympic torch lighted five weeks ago in Greece. She handed the torch to 16‐year‐old Hideki Takada, a volleyball enthusiast who knows nothing of winter sports, who ran up the 103 steps in the 35 seconds prescribed by the organizers and lit the Olympic cauldron.”

Two spectators wrap up warm while watching the games. The Games comprised of 35 events in 6 sports at 14 sites over an 11-day period and attracted 1,125 competitors from 35 countries.

Here is ski jumper Yukio Kasaya. He was the first Japanese athlete to win a gold medal at the Winter Olympics in the Men’s Normal Hill, Individual event with a distance of 244.2. The athlete took up ski jumping at the Taketsuru facility in his native Yoichi, which was built by the founder of Nikka Whisky Distilling, Masataka Taketsuru. The facility was renamed after Kasaya following his Olympic win.

In this image, Dominis demonstrates the scale of the 90m ski jump by zooming out slightly and including the audience stand in the composition. A tiny competitor can be seen in the image and the steep downhill angle puts the skill and pluckiness of these athletes into context.

Here the photographer captures volunteer workers preparing and maintaining the luge track in between heats. Luge first appeared at the Winter Olympics in 1964, and these days lugers can reach up to incredible speeds of 140 km/h.

In this image, Dominis manages to portray the in-between moments of events and gives the people who work behind the scenes some recognition. In comparison to the bright outfits and blinding snow, this amber-tinged image offers a change of pace.

As well as capturing an athlete forlornly looking out of the window, Dominis also incidentally captures a self-portrait in the process with the reflection. This entire series was shot for LIFE magazine and the photographer often remarked on the freedom, “support, money and time” the publication gave him to do what he wanted all over the world.

Throughout the 10-day event, Dominis captured Alpine skiers on the downhill and slalom routes. The contrast between the blurred crowd and snowy tress with the vibrant colors of the competitors' outfits and their precise movements creates a series of dynamic images.

The Sapporo mountains provided a dramatic backdrop to the Games and here we see a skier sweeping downhill as he leaves a spray of powder in his wake. With these Winter Games being the first to be held outside of Europe and Northern America, it brought winter sports to a new audience within Asia. Along with 12 new sports venues, extensions to 2 airports were made, improvements to the main railway station, 41 new and improved roads and upgraded water and sewage systems, all to welcome the world and show people what winter sports in Asia could be.

Credits: All media
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