The Tokyo Olympics officially closed on Sunday night (8/8). The Olympics began with the widespread outbreak of the coronavirus and a one-year break. And ended with a hurricane, and still: COVID-19.
The Tokyo Olympics – which remain called the 2020 Olympics but are being held in mid-2021 due to the widespread coronavirus outbreak – closed in stadiums without spectators on Sunday evening, signaling a mixed situation for Japan and the world.
The drummed closing ceremony with the theme “Worlds We Share” – an optimistic but ironic notion – is set to lead to the Summer Olympics in Paris in 2024. And with that, the strangest sporting event in world history, concludes.
The Tokyo Olympics come amid a resurgence of the pandemic, opposed by many Japanese and plagued by administrative problems for months; which makes the Games a logistical and medical challenge like no other, sparks serious discussion on mental health issues, and in the case of sport, shows surprising wins and few losses.
Initially, expectations were set quite well, but COVID-19 messed things up. The Associated Press news agency reported that even IOC International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach said he feared the Games would “become a soulless Olympics.” Although last Friday (6/8) he said “what we see here is completely different.” “You can experience and feel and see and hear how much they really enjoyed being together at the Olympics again here,” said Bach.
In those games the word “together” is foreign. Spectators were unable to watch the match up close. Various rules make athletes must always wear masks and maintain a distance, even for the medal ceremony. But of course it is unavoidable in some matches some athletes are close to each other. Not because they were negligent, but because it was inevitable. There are strong efforts to reduce the risk of exposure to COVID-19, although at the same time the event must continue.
The athlete’s perseverance is the main story. Mental health is becoming an unprecedented serious discussion, and athletes are telling their stories and struggles in vulnerability and occasionally in torturous ways.
The fourth Olympics in Japan, held 57 years after the 1964 Olympics that effectively re-introduced the country to the world after its defeat in World War Two, represent a world trying to come together at a historic moment when disease and the conditions that accompanied it – and politics – pulled it apart.
Sunday’s closing ceremony reflected that sometimes to push the process toward something, a “science-fiction” approach is needed. As athletes stood in the arena for the closing ceremony, digital scoreboards at both ends of the stadium displayed what organizers called a “fan video matrix,” a video screen as large as the Zoom screen uploaded by cheering spectators at home.
Even the parade of athletes carrying their national flags was affected. Some of the flags were carried by volunteers because of regulations requiring athletes to leave Tokyo immediately after their matches.
But even with that extraordinary background, there are a number of athletes who made history. These include China’s Yang Qian, who won the first gold medal in the 10-meter air rifle on July 24, to the last one being the Serbian athlete who beat Greece in the men’s water polo event on Sunday afternoon.
Some of the other athletes in the spotlight were Allyson Felix who won his 11th medal for America in track running. Also the outstanding performance of five American gold medalist, Caeleb Dressel, in the pool. And of course the athletes in surfing, skateboarding, and rock climbing which are popular sports at the Olympics.
Japan as the host overall won 58 medals. [em/ka]