On August 8, the 2020 Olympics closed – a year late and under incredibly different circumstances due to Covid. Yet, the Games – and the athletes themselves – embodied resilience, sportsmanship, and togetherness after a difficult year. Let’s take a look back at the Tokyo Games.
Covid at the Olympics
Covid was the biggest storyline surrounding the leadup to the Olympics. Toshiro Muto, head of the organizing committee, didn’t rule out cancelation in the immediate leadup to the Games. Ultimately, the festivities went on.
Per official data, there were 430 positive Covid tests at the Olympics. 29 positives came from athletes, 109 from “Games-concerned personnel,” 25 from media, 10 from employees, 236 from contractors, and 21 from volunteers.
The Covid protocols made these Olympics look much different. Athletes needed two negative tests before boarding their flights – and negative tests upon arrival and each subsequent day. They also masked, distanced, avoided yelling (with clapping encouraged instead), and lived in a “bubble” in the Olympic Village or at approved off-campus sites.
These Covid protocols made the Olympics a gargantuan undertaking – one many Japanese residents didn’t want Japan to take on, owing to concerns over the spread of the virus. In an Ipsos 28-country survey from July 13, ten days before the opening ceremony, just 22% of Japanese respondents wanted the Olympics to proceed, the second lowest of any country.
Additionally, 62% of those surveyed thought the Games would be an opportunity to heal. However, just 31% of Japanese respondents agreed – again the second lowest of any country. Nonetheless, the Games went on. So, as we look at some uplifting moments from the Olympics, we should be thankful for the hard work and sacrifice of all those on the ground in Tokyo who helped make this event possible under difficult circumstances.
Stories of Resilience
Simone Biles, regarded as the greatest gymnast of all time, showed resilience while helping redefine her sport. Biles withdrew from the women’s gymnastics team final after getting the “twisties.”
She said she ‘literally can not tell up from down,’ which meant she had no idea how she was going to land or what part of her body she was going to land on. ‘It’s the craziest feeling ever,’ she added.Article by NBC’s Henry Austin explaining the phenomenon
Biles cheered her teammates on from the stands and then came back to take home the bronze medal on the balance beam.
ESPN’s Alyssa Roenigk chronicles the shift Biles has helped bring about in gymnastics, which has been rocked by an abuse scandal. Former Olympians Roenigk interviewed credit Biles’ openness about “teenage mundanity” like “junk food or vacations or boyfriends” with a shift away from gymnasts’ lives being totally controlled by the sport. With her decision to withdraw – and the support she received – Roenigk says Biles “changed the game again.”
On the track, CBS’ Matt Norlander profiles Allyson Felix’s history-making performance – and last few years. Felix became the oldest-ever U.S. women’s track gold medalist and the most decorated American track Olympian ever.
Off the track, Norlander also details how Felix led a change in how Nike treats pregnant women in endorsement deals. She left Nike for Athleta and even started a childcare fund for “mom-athletes” in Tokyo, as USA Today’s Chris Bumbaca outlines.
In yet another show of resilience, the Netherlands’ Sifan Hassan tripped in her semifinal heat – and then won it.
Moments of Sportsmanship
Those were just three displays of resilience and toughness. Sportsmanship was on display throughout the Games, too.
Runners Isaiah Jewett and Nijel Amos tripped over each other and then walked arm-in-arm to the finish.
In the high jump, Qatar’s Mutaz Essa Barshim and Italy’s Gianmarco Tamberi tied in the final round. They then decided to share the gold in lieu of a jump-off.
After Biles withdrew from the all-around competition, Sunni Lee stepped up to take her place. Lee shined on the biggest stage of her life, bringing the U.S. gold, and her family’s reaction was beautiful.
In the first Olympics since legendary American swimmer Michael Phelps retired, Caleb Dressel perhaps emerged as the next great U.S. men’s swimmer. He took home five gold medals in Tokyo after claiming his first gold in 2016. He set two world records, too, and his family and friends were on hand (virtually) to watch both.
Lydia Jacoby, the first ever Olympic swimmer from the remote U.S. state of Alaska, was also a breakout sensation. Her gold in the 100 meter breaststroke elicited a reaction full of pride in her hometown.
On the track, Athing Mu brought the U.S. its first gold in the women’s 800 meter in 53 years, while her family and friends cheered proudly from New Jersey.
Sydney McLaughlin broke the world record in 400 meter hurdles, and she, too, had a watch party in her honor.
McLaughlin also penned a heartfelt Instagram post about the honor of representing the U.S. and how her faith grounded her in her pursuit.
In women’s wrestling, American Tamyra Mensah-Stock brought home gold. She gave a heartfelt interview, in which she credits her late immigrant father and her faith as inspirations, gushes with pride in representing the U.S., and even sings some karaoke.
And in women’s weightlifting, Hidilyn Diaz won the Philippines the nation’s first-ever gold medal and was overcome with joy.
See You Next Year
These are just some of the best moments from the postponed 2020 Games. Truthfully, there were too many to include here. After Covid postponed – and then greatly altered – the Olympics, these athletes and their supporters clearly relished the opportunity to compete.
That they had that opportunity is a credit to every organizer and volunteer who made this event happen. Now, thanks to the postponement, just 180 days separate this closing ceremony and the start of the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics.
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