Covering a Weird Olympics

Members of The New York Times employees on the Tokyo Olympics mirrored on moments that may stick with them from a Games undercut by the pandemic however full of emotional twists.

When a nice athlete earned an occasion victory, the end result of years of follow, dedication and sacrifice, there was some well mannered applause from a few scattered volunteers, or possibly a shout from a coach. Not the roar of a packed stadium excited by the spectacle that they had witnessed.

But on the BMX biking, one man tried to beat that. Kye Whyte of Britain had simply gained a silver medal, and he paused to observe the ladies’s occasion. His teammate, Bethany Shriever, had two years earlier than turned to crowdfunding after her state financing was minimize. Now, as Shriever surged forward of the opposite opponents, Whyte turned a one-man cheer squad, shouting his approval and punching the air as she raced to the road. When she gained, he lifted her in a bear hug, as joyful about her gold as his personal silver.

“Bethany Shriever is absolutely the flipping best,” he mentioned afterward.

The Olympics, with their masks, coronavirus protocols and oceans of empty seats, lacked a few of their acquainted pleasure. Whyte managed to convey it again, not less than for a second.


It was the ladies’s 3-meter springboard diving semifinal, and my first time watching the game stay.

Apart from an apparent stomach flop, it was arduous to inform how the judges might make the high-quality distinctions between all of those athletes whose twists, midair somersaults and slicing entries into the pool seemed so impossibly troublesome to me.

Then for her fourth dive, Pamela Ware of Canada stepped to the sting of the board and easily jumped, ft first.

Five years of coaching, persisting by way of a pandemic, following restrictive protocols to journey to Tokyo, all ending with a 0.Zero rating on her final try. What should she have been feeling? I watched as she bolted out of the water, her coach trailing behind her. She dipped into a tub within the nook of the aquatics middle, her again to the pool. My coronary heart went out to her. I hope she will get one other probability.


The basketball star Diana Taurasi sauntered into a makeshift convention room inside Saitama Super Arena on Sunday afternoon. Before taking her seat earlier than a gaggle of reporters, she demonstratively eliminated a bottle of water sitting on the desk and held up the large glass bottle she had in her hand.

“No water,” Taurasi mentioned, smiling. “Champagne, Ronaldo!”

It was unclear whether or not everybody within the room acquired the joke. The soccer star Cristiano Ronaldo created a viral second this summer time on the European Championship when he eliminated two bottles of Coca-Cola from a desk earlier than a information convention.

“Agua!” Ronaldo mentioned, holding up a bottle of water for the cameras.

Taurasi had each proper to have a little enjoyable. Moments earlier, she had gained her fifth gold medal with the United States after beating Japan. It was clear a weight had lifted from her shoulders.

Indeed, a predominant emotion amongst athletes at these Games, whether or not they gained or misplaced, was aid that a lengthy journey, below taxing circumstances, was over.

Taurasi mentioned that when the Olympics have been first postponed final 12 months, she set a countdown on her telephone to the opening ceremony. In the autumn of her profession, Taurasi, 39, was unsure she would make it.

“Can you imagine how long that countdown was?” she mentioned.

Taurasi made it, although, and for a second she might revel on the end line, swigging Champagne, slinging one-liners.


I discovered two years in the past once I was in Tokyo for pre-Olympics reporting that the Japanese skateboard star Yuto Horigome grew up in Tokyo, and that his father, Ryota, was a taxi driver who had taught his son to skate. My unfastened plan was to return earlier than the Summer Games and write a story on the daddy, possibly experience round in his taxi. Then the pandemic got here, and I didn’t return to Tokyo till the eve of the delayed Olympics.

I attempted to succeed in Ryota Horigome once I arrived, utilizing contacts to nudge him, however didn’t hear again for a number of days. It turned out he was working 9 days in a row within the cab. Finally, late one night time, I acquired a response: “Sorry for replying so late. Nice to meet you. I’m not good at English. But I will answer possible. Is that ok?”

What resulted is likely to be my favorite story from the Olympics, and a bit prophetic: Yuto Horigome gained gold the day the story ran.

That night time I obtained a observe from his father: “Thank you thank you thank you”


For an Olympics all about restrictions, social distancing and masks, what I’ll bear in mind most about my first Summer Games is the folks I met.

The taxi driver who, throughout an hourlong dialog facilitated by two translating purposes, advised me about his hometown, Yokohama, the place I went usually for softball and baseball. The man who labored with the Belgian males’s area hockey workforce and tipped me off to the sophisticated training techniques it had used for the Tokyo warmth forward of its eventual gold medal run. The Olympic volunteer from Japan who spoke Spanish and was assigned to assist the Mexican baseball team.

There was additionally the American wrestler whose humanity and character radiated on the mat and each time she spoke. The French judokas who, many minutes after profitable a blended workforce gold medal, couldn’t cease hugging one another, posing for images, bouncing up and down and smiling.

Dominican baseball gamers have been so thrilled to convey dwelling the nation’s first Olympic medal within the sport that they fist-bumped volunteers as they walked to the workforce bus. The Ivory Coast bronze medalist in taekwondo defined how a lot it meant to her that she had obtained so many messages of assist not merely from her dwelling nation however from throughout Africa. A Polish wrestler was so joyful to win a bronze medal that he did a again flip and laughed when his 53-year-old coach flipped him over and slammed him onto the mat.


The Philippines, a nation of 110 million sports-mad folks, had by no means gained Olympic gold till Hidilyn Diaz improbably outperformed a Chinese champion within the ladies’s 55 kilogram weight lifting division.

Diaz’s delight was infectious. And her story — of a robust lady who grew up in poverty, then toiled overseas as a part of the Philippines’ military of abroad staff — was for me one of the crucial uplifting tales of the Games. When we chatted after her victory, she began off by saying, “Can we talk? I really want to talk.” And she did for 20 minutes, earlier than Olympic officers dragged her to her information convention, the place she talked some extra.

For a story on why India underperforms at the Olympics, I stored going to see Indian athletes who have been thought of medal hopefuls. And, with one exception, all of them crashed out.

It acquired to the purpose the place the Indian journalists joked — or possibly they weren’t joking — that I, the only real foreigner monitoring the Indian workforce, was dangerous luck. Maybe it’s true. One day, I selected between going to ladies’s area hockey and girls’s boxing. I went to boxing. She misplaced. Without me, the Indian hockey workforce gained.


The Olympics are all about making your self uncomfortable, protecting one thing you’ve by no means completed earlier than. You can spend two weeks doing the same-old same-old, or you are able to do one thing goofy like elevate your hand to cowl an equestrian competitors.

I had by no means been to an equestrian occasion, and confirmed as much as write about Jessica Springsteen, the daughter of a fairly huge rock star whose music has been the soundtrack to my life. If the important thing to being a first rate reporter is asking a lot of dumb questions, I acquired in additional than my share that night time.

A sampling of a few of the zingers I requested a few kindhearted souls within the equestrian press who took pity on me: What is happening right here? Who’s good? How lengthy is that this going to final? Are these thoroughbreds? Do horses like to leap?

Plenty of discomfort. What a pleasure.


Walking into the sumo wrestling stronghold that’s Kokugikan Arena, the Olympic boxing venue, it turned instantly clear that among the many sumo crowd it stirs up the sort of affection some American sporting followers have for locations like Madison Square Garden, Wrigley Field in Chicago or Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.

Boxing could have borrowed Kokugikan for practically 300 Olympic bouts, however all through these Games it nonetheless belonged squarely to sumo, and it was a welcome contact amongst Olympic venues that may tackle a standardized really feel.

Enough touches remained as reminders of what this place is admittedly like when the pink field seating divided by rails — often known as masuseki — is full of followers who pay by the group. Portraits of 32 grand champions — yokozuna — line the rafters (with some extra within the close by subway station).

As Olympians waited within the bowels of the sector for buses to and from the Athletes’ Village, wrestlers who stay and practice close by might be seen strolling round outdoors of their robes and slippers, not for vacationers however merely to get round between coaching periods, in hopes of at some point changing into yokozuna, too.


While I used to be strolling again to my resort from the gymnastics area at 11:30 one night time, two ladies stopped me and requested, “Are you here for the Olympics?”

I advised them sure, and we began speaking. They have been huge Olympics followers. One had been to the 2000 Summer Games in Sydney, Australia, and the Athens Games in 2004.

“We are sad that we can’t go to the Olympics in our own city because of Covid,” mentioned the opposite, who advised me she had labored at a New York City hospital for 2 years as an autism researcher.

The different lady labored at a retailer referred to as Ginza Mitsukoshi, calling it the Harrods of Japan.

They requested if I used to be having a good time. And that they had different questions: Did I get a probability to tour Tokyo? Were the athletes good? What was it like within the venues? After 14 days of quarantine, it was my first interplay with common Tokyo residents.

I advised them, sure, I used to be having a good time — particularly after assembly them. Meeting native residents is considered one of my favourite components of the Olympics. Under a dim streetlamp, we took a selfie and exchanged contact info. They despatched me off with a bag from Ginza Mitsukoshi. Inside was a fantastically packaged slice of gluten-free chocolate cake and vegan vanilla cookies. The cookies had smiley faces on them.


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