The LAX Connection: Taiwan at the Montreal 1976 Olympics

The LAX Connection: Taiwan at the Montreal 1976 Olympics
Photo Credit:Daniel R. Blume@Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0
What you need to know

The 2016 Rio Olympics have just closed, but a story about Taiwan's 1976 Summer Olympics team has resurfaced.

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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 one 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 International Olympic Committee (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 Sr. was for the ROC team to compete as “Taiwan” instead. But out of principle, the ROC National Olympics Committee refused.

So Taiwan’s athletes were denied visas to enter Canada. They had flown all the way to Toronto only to turn right back around.

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 to the surprised athletes.

They were there, and they cared. 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.” Nice one, Dad.)

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 would love to know: who else was there that night? And can we track down any photos?

Tricky Taipei has authorized publication of this article. The original text is published here.

First Editor: Olivia Yang
Second Editor: J. Michael Cole