The biggest sporting spectacle on the planet, Olympics 2020, commenced in Tokyo this year towards the end of July and ended in early August. Although I love watching sports, I do not follow any event or championship or leagues except for the Olympics. As a kid, I still remember Carl Lewis showing off his medals; Flo-Jo’s long painted nails; Matt Biondi in swimming; Sergey Bubka with his awe-inspiring pole vaults; Daley Thompson [I had a poster of him in action in the various events of the decathlon]; Ben Johnson’s doping scandal; the painful loss of our very own PT Usha; and many more such moments. And thus, with no particular effort I got attracted to watching and following this quadrennial event.
The Tokyo Olympics was special due to the circumstances, constraints and threats amidst which it took place. The event was delayed by a year due to the COVID pandemic. Not just before the event, but even during the event, there were enough fears and speculation that the event may be cancelled. Kudos to the Japanese government and organizers for braving the pandemic and pulling off a spectacular show. Of course the event lacked its usual lustre since the stadiums and arenas were empty. Spectators were not allowed, which meant the cheering and hooting was grossly missing. Yet, the spirit shown by the athletes was out of this world. Below I call out my most memorable moments of this edition of the Olympics.
Wearing a face mask was mandatory at all times, except when participating in the event. The mask that caught everybody’s attention was the one worn by the American contingent. It was grotesque and funny. To me it looked like a civilized version of the mask worn by Mr Bane in the movie The Dark Knight Rises. I initially thought that the voluminous mask provided more safety for the athletes. But it seems the mask was designed as a fashion statement and nothing else. Designed by Nike, one should have expected nothing less.
Keeping in mind social distancing and hygiene, the medals ceremony was very different this time. It was not surprising to see that the medal winners had to wear a mask on the podium. What was interesting was that the athletes had to take the medal and wear it themselves, rather than the officials doing it for them. The same goes with the bouquet that was handed out to the athletes. I would like to take a wild guess and say that the athletes would have had a sense of pride, if a world renowned sportsperson had put the medal around their necks. This time around they had to settle for a compromise thanks to COVID.
GOAT. This is the first time I came across this term. The context was paddler Sharath Kamal losing out to the Chinese player Ma Long, who looked like was from a different planet. The experts opined that Ma Long was the GOAT and hence there is no shame in losing to him. That is when I looked up the term GOAT and realized that it is an abbreviation for “Greatest Of All Time”. It further piqued my curiosity and I made it a point to watch Ma Long in the final of the Men’s Singles table tennis match. He played against Fan Zhendong, another Chinese. It was the ultimate showdown in table tennis and Ma Long showed why he was the ultimate super star of table tennis. The title of GOAT clearly belonged to him.
The hundred meter sprint is the marquee event in every Olympics. I followed the GOAT Usain Bolt run the 100m in the previous three editions. Watching him compete in the 100m finals is a testimony to human’s pursuit of excellence. I missed him at the Tokyo Olympics. I never paid much attention to the men’s 100m race this time. So much so, that I never watched the event at all. However I watched the 100m women’s sprint this time. What a race it was!!! I have no clue how and why Jamaica produces the finest of sprinters in the world. The women from Jamaica made a clean sweep of the 100m sprint. Thompson-Herah, Fraser-Pryce and Jackson raced like the wind leaving everyone else behind to bite the dust. Elaine Thompson-Herah not just won a superb gold, but also broke Flo-Jo’s Olympic record set way back in 1988. She also went onto win the 200m and was also a part of the 4 X 100m gold medal winning quartet. A superb sprinter indeed.
Every Olympics throws up people who inspire generations with their achievements. My choice in the Tokyo Olympics is Anna Kiesenhofer from Austria. She won the Gold in women’s cycling road race. She never had a professional contract, is some kind of a geek in mathematics and it seems she never had a coach as well. Yet, she was so far ahead of the pack that the lady who came second actually thought of herself as the winner. Only later did she realize that Anna Kiesenhofer had clinched the title. I am all for people who display top notch discipline and work ethics in their chosen field. Anna Kiesenhofer personifies all of this and much more.
The sportsmanship spirit at the Olympics was played out during the men’s high jump finals. Barshim from Qatar and Tamberi from Italy were staring at a jump-off to decide who will take home the gold. Barshim popped a question to the official if they can share the gold. The official said that was possible and that sealed the deal. Barshim decided to share the gold with his close friend and compatriot Tamberi. The joy on both their faces and particularly the hysteria that Tamberi displayed would have moved mountains. Irrespective of how many more medals that the two will go onto win in their careers, I am confident that they will cherish this gold as the most memorable one.
I always used to think that the Olympics is the stage that all athletes dream off. Leave alone winning a medal, but participation itself will be an accomplishment. My perceptions went for a long cold walk when Simone Biles, the star gymnast, dropped out sighting depression and mental health issues. I could not believe it. Simone Biles was supposed to be the GOAT in her sport chasing an Olympic dream, yet here she was opting out of the competition. My utmost respect to her for her vulnerability and her courage in bringing this to the fore. It exposed the dark under belly of pressure which all the athletes go through.
A 12 year old winning an Olympic medal. Kokona Hiraki, won the silver in women’s skateboarding and in the process, created history by becoming the youngest to win a medal at the Olympics. She indeed looked like a 12 year old and behaved like a 12 year old during the event and post winning her silver medal. Go girl!!!
Like in all Olympic events, I followed the Indian contingent this time around as well. It was a good outing for us winning 7 medals, one among them being gold. All the medals were well fought and well deserved. I was very pleased to see the progress that we were making as a sporting nation. I could not believe my eyes, when I read that we had qualified for fencing and sailing. I know the nation is going gaga about the winners, but to me, the ultimate winners from India were the women’s hockey team. Although they finished fourth, they displayed the best of women’s hockey. My heart really went out to Rani Rampal and her girls after they lost the semi-finals and the bronze medal match. We missed out narrowly in both the encounters. This will be a watershed moment for women’s hockey in our country. The girls have inspired millions with their achievement. I will be looking forward to them taking the gold in the Paris in 2024.
Like previous editions of this sporting event, the Tokyo Olympics bought out the best in athletes. However what makes this edition special is that it planted the seeds of “Hope” among all of us. The “Hope” that we will get through this COVID crisis and come out of it together and stronger. The “Hope” that if we all share a common dream, the world will be a better place in three years from now when we meet at the Paris Olympics 2024. Cheers!