When the story returns to this year’s Tokyo Olympics, images of masked athletes and empty stadiums will likely be the defining element. But look beyond the Covid-19 protocols and it will be clear that these were Games with more than one story to tell.
Much will be done when Simone Biles stepped away from gymnastics competitions and spoke openly and emotionally about the need to protect the mental health of athletes.
“At the end of the day, we’re not just entertainment, we’re humans,” Biles told reporters after his bronze on the balance beam.
It’s a medal that she says means more than her gold medals after struggling with the ‘twisties’ – a mental block in which gymnasts lose sense of where their bodies are. full flight.
Biles arrived in Tokyo as a decorated competitor, but left after highlighting the well-being of athletes and the pressures of elite sport. And she wasn’t the only one to redefine her legacy during the Games.
Natacha Pisarenko / AP
Simone Biles performs on vault at Tokyo women’s final
Fellow American Allyson Felix became the most decorated American track and field athlete in history with gold in the 4×400-meter relay on Saturday. The two medals she won in Tokyo also represent her role as an athlete’s mother.
“There have been so many women before me who have had to stay silent about their fight,” said Felix of how sport and track and field so often overlook women’s careers during and after childbirth.
“So that I could go out – I think my daughter gave me the courage to do so.”
His Olympic career spans five Games, which World Athletics President Sebastian Coe says are “frankly, off the planet”.
“We’re just lucky that she’s from our sport,” Coe added. “She is magnificent.”
While Biles and Felix both competed in their last Games, Tokyo 2020 also shed light on athletes early in their Olympic careers.
Take skateboarding, a sport that got its start in Tokyo. The podiums in the women’s street and park events had combined ages of 42 and 44, respectively. This is an average age of 14 in both medal events.
Kim Price / CSM / Zuma Press
Briton Sky Brown competes in the park skateboarding competition at the Tokyo Olympics, where she won bronze.
Skateboarding was not the only sport added to the Olympic program in an attempt to attract a younger audience; Sport climbing has also sought to attract new fans to the Games with a one-on-one speed discipline and an unpredictable and realistic scoring format.
Expect more of the same at the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris, where breakdancing has been added to the lineup of events.
Records are broken at every Games, but maybe not in the breathtaking way they are at the Olympic Stadium in Tokyo.
In the men’s 400-meter hurdles final, gold and silver medalists Karsten Warholm and Rai Benjamin ran more than half a second faster than Warholm’s previous record, while Sydney McLaughlin also broke the women’s 400-meter hurdles world record.
Olympic records were also set by Elaine Thompson-Herah in the 100 meters and Jakob Ingebritsen in the 1,500 meters.
Some attributed it to an elastic running track and advances in shoe technology, while others credited the athletes themselves.
Petr David Josek / AP
Karsten Warholm reacts in shock to his world record in the 400m hurdles
“There is a certain efficiency in the shoe, don’t get me wrong, and it’s good to have a good track,” said Benjamin.
“But no one in the story is going to go out there and do what we just did, ever. I don’t care who you are.
New benchmarks have not only been set on the race track. Yulimar Rojas broke the women’s triple jump world record with a jump of 16.57 meters, 17 centimeters longer than the previous mark which lasted 26 years.
For others, it was not necessary to have a file to mark the Games.
Shot put silver medalist Raven Saunders, like so many other athletes have done over the past 15 months, used her moment in the spotlight to highlight social injustice.
Saunders, a black LGBTQ athlete, raised her arms in an X symbol as she posed for photos on the catwalk, telling NBC it represented “the intersection where all the oppressed meet.”
Francisco Seco / AP
Raven Saunders performs her X protest on the podium in Tokyo.
Fans may have been kept away from virtually all Olympic events amid the coronavirus pandemic, but that hasn’t stopped them from trying to experience the Games in person, as many have rallied around the sites to try and get a glimpse of the action.
At Aomi Urban Sports Park, for example, fans lining the adjacent pedestrian street had distant views of the sport climbing competitions – despite signs and security officials urging people not to congregate there.
Similar scenes took place about a kilometer from where the Olympic cauldron is on display. The site, located on the Yume no Ohashi Bridge, was rarely without a crowd taking photos, although notice boards and security advised members of the public to keep walking.
Then, outside the Olympic Stadium, fans often lined up to pose for photos with the Olympic rings, while the nearby Tokyo 2020 store was busy with people shopping for t-shirts, pins and more. other memories.
There is no doubt that the athletes would have been well supported had fans been allowed to enter the venues, not least because of Japan’s success in winning a record 27 gold medals.
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“All I have now is sadness. Every time I look at the tickets, I cry, ”a superfan told CNN ahead of the Olympics of the $ 40,000 in tickets he couldn’t use.
At times, especially at the start of the Games, the venues were strangely quiet.
Two days after Naomi Osaka lit the cauldron at the opening ceremony, she stepped out onto the center court of Ariake Tennis Park to barely applause.
On some occasions, it was the song of the cicadas that was the dominant sound of the Games.
This does not mean that the places were completely devoid of atmosphere. Non-competing athletes showed they could be voracious cheerleaders from the stands, while stadium announcers and music – played over the speakers at most events – filled the silence as well.
The preparation for the Tokyo Games was dominated by the context of the pandemic as rumors of a cancellation or new postponement swirled.
At the sites, hygiene protocols – including temperature testing, wearing of masks, hand sanitizer, and remote corporate headquarters – were all put in place and rigorously enforced by the large number of volunteers.
Coronavirus cases in Tokyo increased at the start of the Games, steadily surpassing more than 4,000 new infections daily; Inside the Olympic “bubble” there were over 400 confirmed positive cases, the majority of which were residents of Japan.
“The flow of people in downtown Tokyo has not increased compared to the period leading up to the opening of the Olympics,” Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said on Friday.
“I don’t think the Olympics resulted in an increase in infections. ”
On Sunday, the last day of Olympic competition, thick gray clouds blanketed Tokyo as rain fell over the city – an unusual sight at the end of 16 sunny days.
The gloomy weather marked a temporary end to proceedings with the start of the Paralympic Games on August 24 – another opportunity for Japan to deliver a sports drama amid a global pandemic.
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