Pandemic Olympics come to an end in Tokyo

Held in the center of a resurging pandemic, rejected by many Japanese and tormented by months of administrative issues, these Games introduced logistical and medical obstacles like no different, provided up severe conversations about psychological well being — and, when it got here to sport, delivered each triumphs and some shocking shortfalls.

From the outset, expectations have been middling at greatest, apocalyptic at worst. Even Thomas Bach, president of the International Olympic Committee, mentioned he’d fearful that these might “become the Olympic Games without a soul.” But, he mentioned, “what we have seen here is totally different.”

“You were faster, you went higher, you were stronger because we all stood together — in solidarity,” Bach informed gathered Olympians as he closed the Games. “This was even more remarkable given the many challenges you had to face because of the pandemic. In these difficult times, you give the world the most precious of gifts: hope.”

“For the first time since the pandemic began,” he mentioned, “the entire world came together.”

He overstated it a bit. At these Games, even the phrase “together” was fraught. Spectators have been kept at bay. A patchwork of guidelines stored athletes masked and aside for a lot of medal ceremonies, but noticed them swapping bodily fluids in some venues. That was much less about being remiss than about being actual: Risks that may very well be mitigated have been, however on the identical time occasions had to go on.

Athletes’ perseverance turned a central story. Mental well being claimed bandwidth as never before, and athletes revealed their tales and struggles in weak, generally excruciating style.

Japan’s fourth Olympics, held 57 years after the 1964 Games reintroduced the nation after its World War II defeat, represented a planet attempting to come collectively at a second in historical past when illness and circumstance and politics had splintered it aside.

The closing ceremony Sunday mirrored that — and, at instances, nudged the proceedings towards a sci-fi taste. As athletes stood in the world for the ultimate pomp, digital scoreboards at both end of the stadium featured what organizers known as a “fan video matrix,” a Zoom call-like display of movies uploaded by spectators exhibiting themselves cheering at dwelling.

Even the parade of athletes carrying nationwide flags — hundreds of Olympians, masked and unmasked, clustering collectively earlier than fanning out into the world once more — was affected. Volunteers carried some flags into the stadium, presumably due to guidelines requiring athletes to depart the nation shortly after their occasions concluded.

In entrance of such formidable backdrops, athletic excellence burst by, from the Games’ first gold medal (China’s Yang Qian in the 10-meter air rifle on July 24) to their final (Serbia defeating Greece in males’s water polo on Sunday afternoon).

Among the highlights: Allyson Felix taking a U.S.-record 11th medal in monitor, then stepping away from the Olympic stage. American quintuple gold medalist Caeleb Dressel’s astounding performance in the pool. The emergence of surfing,skateboarding and sport climbing as in style, and viable, Olympic sports activities. Host nation Japan’s medal haul — 58, its most ever.

Any Olympics is a microcosm of the world it displays. These Games’ runup, and the 2 weeks of the Games themselves, featured tens of hundreds of spit-in-a-vial COVID tests for athletes, workers, journalists and guests. That produced barely greater than 400 positives, a far cry from the remainder of non-Olympic bubble Japan, the place surges in constructive circumstances provoked the federal government to declare increasingly widespread states of emergency.

And, in fact, there was that different microcosm of human life that the Games revealed — the reckoning with psychological and emotional well being, and the stress placed on top-tier athletes to compete laborious and succeed at nearly any value. The interruption of that pressurized narrative, led by the struggles of gymnast Simone Biles and tennis participant Naomi Osaka in specific, permeated these Games and ignited the spark of an athlete-driven dialog about stress, tolerance and inclusivity that everybody expects to proceed.

While Tokyo is handing off the Summer Games baton to Paris for 2024, the delay has successfully crammed two Olympics collectively. The subsequent Winter Games convenes in simply six months in one other main Asian metropolis — Beijing, Japan’s rival in East Asia and residential to a way more authoritarian government that’s anticipated to administer its Games in a extra draconian and restrictive approach, virus or no virus.

Beyond that, Paris organizers promised Sunday to “take sport out of its traditional spaces” and “connect with new audiences in new ways” in 2024 — presuming, in fact, the absence of a protracted pandemic. They went stay from the closing to excited teams of followers clustered close to the Eiffel Tower, a crowded public scene that Tokyo didn’t enable.

In latest weeks, numerous folks — officers, athletes, journalists — have been chewing over how these Tokyo Games might be remembered. That’s up to historical past, in fact, however there are hints.

The runup was messy and disputed. The days of competitors have been fraught however, in basic, with out incident apart from sporting milestones. Even a average earthquake rumbled by and was rapidly forgotten. Scattered protests of the Games — together with one exterior the stadium Sunday evening — mirrored a portion of Japan’s sentiment, although definitely not all. The bills — upwards of $15 billion — have been colossal and can echo in Tokyo lengthy after athletes are gone.

What are the Olympic Games supposed to be? A politics-free sporting occasion, because the IOC insists? A bonanza for sponsors and broadcasters? One small step towards world peace? Despite all of the yarn-spinning, their identification stays up in the air and that elementary query stays.

But because the cauldron was snuffed out Sunday evening after the Pandemic Olympics concluded, it’s straightforward to argue that Tokyo can take its place as a Games that didn’t fail — as one which overcame lots to even occur in any respect. And as vaccines roll out, variants emerge and lockdowns re-emerge, one other metropolis and authorities — Beijing, the Chinese capital — should grapple with the exact same query.

In the meantime, this system for Tokyo’s closing ceremony, outlining its “Worlds We Share” theme, captured the impact of the pandemic and the digital worlds and separation anxiousness to which it has given delivery.

“We are in a new normal, and this edition of the Games were a different affair,” it mentioned. “Even if we cannot be together, we can share the same moment. And that is something that we will never forget.”

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