TOKYO (AP) – The cauldron will be smothered on Sunday during the grueling, enlightening, sometimes infuriating Tokyo 2020 Olympics – which actually take place in 2021. These are the Games that were to be tolerated, not celebrated.
They will both be.
Imperfect but not impossible, these Olympics – wanted despite a pandemic that sparked global skepticism and hard-wired opposition from Japan’s own citizens – may well become the Games that changed sport for good.
These became the Olympics where the athletes had their say. The Olympics where mental health became as important as physical health. The Olympics where stories of perseverance – spoken, documented and discussed aloud and at length – often overshadowed actual performance.
It wasn’t just those standing at the hyper-scrutinized pressure cooker medal booth in Tokyo, where sputum testing for COVID-19 and sleeping on cardboard-framed beds was part of the daily routine. It was all.
Their voices have been heard, large and small, through hundreds of reminders that their mental and physical health is not for sale, not even to the $ 15.5 billion giant who subscribes many of their biggest dreams.
These voices were notably reflected in the words of Simone Biles, who early on reset the conversation when she retired from gymnastics competition, saying her well-being was more important than medals.
“It was something that was so out of my control. At the end of the day, my mental and physical health is better than any medal, ”said Biles, who sat down while battling“ the twisties ”.
And by Naomi Osaka, the tennis player who lit the cauldron on Day 1, but only after spending the summer insisting the world listen to her. – really listen – instead of just looking at it in the field. Highest-paid female athlete on the planet and flag bearer for the host nation, she faced tough expectations.
“I really felt like there was a lot of pressure for it,” Osaka said.
Hundreds of athletes have found a way to use their voice in a way they hadn’t envisioned until the Tokyo Games – and the 18 seismic months that preceded it – almost ordered it.
They learned to talk about what it was like to make sacrifices and come to terms for four years, then five, coming to the Games without friends or family, showing off and knowing that they will be judged not on who they are but how fast they run, how hard they shoot or if they land well.
“I was afraid that my worth was linked to whether I win or lose”, Allyson Felix wrote the morning before her bronze medal run in the 400-meter made her the most decorated female track athlete in Olympic history. “But for now, I’ve decided to put that fear behind me. To understand that I am enough.
They have come in all shapes and sizes. A transgender weightlifter, a non-binary skateboarderAnd Quinn, the first openly transgender Olympian to win a gold medal. Teen snowboarders, and surfers seeking gnarled waves – most of whom have never dreamed of being on the Olympic stage, hugging and sharing tips and reminding us all it’s meant to be fun.
They weaved stories about fair play: The high jumpers first headed for a tension-filled tiebreaker, who took a step back and told a track official that they all should. two win a gold medal.
And on advocacy: soccer players watch midday gold medal game in scorching heat of the Olympic stadium and decide they deserve better. The world’s best tennis players are demanding their matches be rescheduled, a demand that went unheeded until Paula Badosa left the wheelchair court with heatstroke and Daniil Medvedev told the referee to chair: “I can finish the game but I can die. If I die, will you to be responsible? “
And on mental health: In a tearful post-race interview, sprinter Noah Lyles conceded he came as much to run as to spread the gospel which has become the slogan of these tough Games held during tough times: It’s OK not to be OK.
And on gender equality and inclusion: The International Olympic Committee added five new sports and 18 new events for Tokyo to create an equal number of women and men for each sport, excluding baseball and softball. But when Britain’s first black swimmer was denied the use of a cap that matched her bulky afro, the conversation about the lack of diversity in the pool got stronger.
“I just want people to know that no matter what your race or where you are from, if you can’t swim just come in and learn to swim,” said Alice Dearing, co-founder of the Black Swimming Association, after the open feminine. aquatic marathon. “Don’t let anyone tell you it’s not for you. “
IOC President Thomas Bach said two days before the closing that the Tokyo Games “had far exceeded my personal expectations” because when spectators were banned as a precautionary measure in the event of a pandemic, he feared that “these Games Olympics don’t become soulless Olympics ”.
Instead, Bach said, he found the privacy in empty places created for an intense atmosphere. “In many cases, you didn’t realize that there were no spectators,” he said. “Maybe in some cases you could even get the feelings of the athletes closer and better than being surrounded by so many spectators. “
It is Bach’s job to call the Olympic Games a success. Perhaps, however, that goal was achieved in Tokyo just by reaching the finish line. But of course there were some highlights along the way.
– Italy shockingly established themselves as sprinting powerhouses with a surprise victory for Marcell Jacobs in the men’s 100 meters followed by ‘four Ferraris’ teaming up to win the 4X100 relay for another gold medal medal.
– Lydia Jacoby, Alaska’s first swimmer at the Olympics won gold and Caeleb Dressel won five gold medals in the pool.
– Sunisa Lee, the first American Hmong Olympian, win gold in the women’s all-around competition. And in those games where social media usage has skyrocketed and TikTok has become the platform of choice for the Olympians, Lee blaming his bronze on the uneven bars for the distractions created by his newfound internet fame.
– Streaming usage is increasing among viewers, and NBC reports that 3 billion minutes of content watched on its platforms was digital.
“I think the whole world will be very happy that this event takes place in sport, in the times we live in now,” said Alexander Zverev after winning men’s singles gold for Germany ahead of compatriot Bach. .
Although there were intermittent protests – a group of about ten outside the tennis final, loud enough for players to hear, and another small crowd outside the Olympic Stadium during the ceremony. opening and before the athletics events – the Japanese had reason to be happy. The host nation set a goal of winning 30 medals in Tokyo and nearly doubled that number to 56 on Saturday night.
Outside the Olympic bubble, cases of COVID-19 have soared in Tokyo to daily records, although Bach exonerated the Olympics because 11,000 athletes were kept away from the public and regular testing for everyone produced extremely low positive rates.
The pandemic is still raging and the Beijing Winter Games are expected to open in just six months. And COVID-19 is just one of the issues facing the next scheduled Olympics – the IOC has rejected several recent requests to move the Games to China on allegations of human rights violations.
“Our responsibility is to organize the Games,” said IOC spokesperson Mark Adams. “It is the responsibility of others – the United Nations, which have been very supportive of the Olympic Games, and governments to take care of this – and not us. The IOC must remain neutral.
IOC got involved when Belarus tried to fire sprinter Krystsina Tsimanouskaya in his country after criticizing the coaches on social networks. This helped intervene as she instead traveled to Poland on a humanitarian visa. Then he started two Belarusian coaches from the Olympics, their credentials were revoked for their role in the Tsimanouskaya saga.
The Games, of course, will continue. They still do. Japan will hand over the Summer Olympics flag to France on Sunday for the Paris 2024 Games. Tokyo organizers will end with a ‘Worlds We Share’ ceremony designed to bring athletes and viewers to “Think about what the future has in store for them” and “express the idea that each of us lives in his own world”.
Athletes have already done it in Tokyo, where the Olympics will be forever remembered as the Games that have persevered.
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