As Olympics approach, SLO family reflects on father's 1964 Tokyo Olympic win

Michael Larrabee.PNG
Posted at 9:15 PM, Jul 22, 2021

With the Olympics set to officially begin in Tokyo on Friday, it's a reminder to one local family about what the 1964 Olympics there meant to them.

"I know what he did, but my father never talked about what he did," said Michael Larrabee, son of the former Olympian with the same name.

With all eyes set on Tokyo, the memories of Michael Larrabee's father and Shannon Larrabee's father-in-law return.

“He was one of the fastest people in the world at one time in the 400 meters, which is one of our favorite events to watch during the Olympics."

Mike Larrabee, a USC hall of famer, is also the oldest man to have won the 400 meter title and the 4x400 relay at the age of 30.

"He missed the prior two Olympics, so when he went to this one, he was almost 31-years-old. He had pancreatitis and he had missed the other Olympics with an achilles heel problem,” Michael Larrabee said.

“The stories I've heard are the stories about the sacrifices his family had to make. They moved in with his in-laws, he had two small children, one on the way, and at that time, there was no money, no endorsement deals," Shannon Larrabee said.

The odds of Larrabee winning either race were very low.

“He basically got it done on the qualification. When he went to qualify, he won the right to qualify. At the time, there was a New York sportswriter that said he may qualify but he's injury-prone and too old to run this race," Michael Larrabee said.

“To have his wife there to see him win the Olympics and he put the medal around her neck after he won and that got a bow from Emperor Hirohito at the time and what they did as a family to get him there, to pursue his dreams is the story we keep hearing and is the story we like to share,” Shannon Larrabee said.

Mike Larrabee grew up in Ventura with his son and daughter-in-law now calling San Luis Obispo their home but this summer, their hearts will be back in Tokyo for the new crop of Olympic athletes.

“They made a ton of sacrifices to get to that spot in their life,” Michael Larrabee said.

"I think about all of our athletes who are going to be back there in Tokyo this year and how hard they've had to work to get there and to achieve their dream and to do it under complete adverse circumstances,” Shannon Larrabee said.

The former Olympian used to hike the trails of Bishop Peak before he passed in April of 2003. In his honor, a bench can be found along the trails in his memory.

“It touches my heart and stays with us years later,” Shannon Larrabee said.

And while Mike Larrabee may be gone, the medals he earned in 1964 continue to stand the test of time and keep his legacy alive on the Central Coast.

“Those medals mean the world to us. He was number one and, as a small child, I used to love getting the Guinness Book of World Records and take it to kids during library time and show them this is my dad in the Guinness Book of World Records. He was the fastest guy in the world at one point,” Michael Larrabee said.

The Olympics begin airing on KSBY Friday.