The strangest Olympic Games have thrilled us like the ones of yesteryear
Tokyo closes the pandemic Games, saved by athletes, and Paris takes over
BarcelonaA year later than expected, with the stands empty and demonstrators protesting at the gates of the stadiums, the Tokyo Olympics are now a thing of the past. The athletes who have been national heroes will gradually be reduced to statistics, the champions of sports that are not usually followed will return to compete without making much media noise and the Japanese will be able to breathe. They have pulled off this poisoned gift well. It was meant to be the Games of the renaissance of the Olympic movement, but the coronavirus has made it a toothache. Never before have the Games cost so much to organise. A whole year late, in fact.
Olympism lives trapped in this duality. Everything surrounding the organisation of the Games is dubious. Suspicions of corruption, of economic and political interests, of pressure. The Japanese have opposed the Games until the end, but in the last polls most citizens said that the event should not have been held, but they admit that the organizers have done quite well. They have passed the test, but without it being the exceptional event that the International Olympic Committee imagined when it entrusted the Japanese to organise it. The pandemic has changed everything, but it has not been able to prevent the Games from becoming a reality, despite the fact that some athletes have not been able to participate because they have tested positive. On the last day of competition, the number of positive cases in the Olympic Village bubble was 480, with more than 600,000 tests carried out. "It has been shown that it can be done, that we can overcome it", said IOC President Thomas Bach. "You have given us the greatest gift, hope. You have inspired us and united millions of people around sport. These will remain the Games of hope and solidarity", he said in his closing speech.
The closing ceremony, somewhat more joyful than the opening ceremony, closes an Olympic cycle to give way to a shorter one, in three years, until the Parisian event, when some of the trends we have seen in Tokyo will be consolidated, like seeing urban sports and young people climbing the podium who look like they have just stepped out of the square in front of the Macba in Barcelona. New paths are being explored by an Olympism that knows that it has to reformulate itself, even though it has not completely changed, because when the Olympic Games arrive, athletics and swimming continue to thrill as always: How can you not be thrilled by Eliud Kipchoge's breakneck pace to win the marathon or by Yulimar Rojas' triple jump?
The out-of-competition doubts have given way to a lot of surprises. Partly because the pandemic changed the form and preparation of the athletes, partly because some stars have been absent and partly because while the United States and China are fighting to dominate the medal table, states like India, Israel or Italy have worked very well and have surprised in sports like athletics or gymnastics. In fact, 93 countries have won medals, a record number. Some of them have made a great debut, such as San Marino, with three medals.
The big surprise, however, was Simone Biles, the gymnast who was supposed to win it all, and who left with two medals, none of them gold. However, she leaves with the recognition and respect of the whole world after giving up a good part of the competition to focus on her mental health, since she lost the ability to concentrate on the most complicated jumps. A legacy more important than records, because now we have to ask ourselves if it is worth destroying the youth of many athletes by making them chase perfection as if the stability of an entire country depended on them.
The United States, humiliated in athletics, has won the medal tally with a bitter aftertaste. Florida swimmer Caeleb Dressel has become the new American hero, with five gold medals and a world record, moved, as he went out to compete wearing the headband of a teacher who had died of cancer. On the other hand, despite Katie Ledecky's strong performance, in the pool the Australians vindicated the glorious tradition of swimming in their country, with a host of medals won by Kaylee McKeown, Ariarne Titmus and Emma McKeon.
In athletics, the big names have been Venezuela's Yulimar Rojas in the triple jump, Norway's Karsten Warholm in the 400m hurdles, the Netherlands' Sifan Hassan (5,000 and 10,000m champion) and Jamaica's Elaine Thompson-Herah, queen of the sprint with her golds in the 100m, 200m and 4x100m. If seeing Jamaicans flying is not surprising, the 100m gold medal of Italian Marcel Jacobs, who put the icing on the cake with gold in the 4x100, was a surprise. The eternal Allyson Felix, after becoming a mother, has won two medals and now has 11.
It has been a surprising Games, with the tears of joy of the Brazilian gymnast Rebeca Andrade or the anger of the world number 1, Novak Djokovic, when he missed out on a medal in tennis. The Games of the emotion of cyclist Richard Carapaz on winning gold and remembering the first bicycle he had, found among the scrap metal his father collected on the streets. The Games of the debut of rock climbing, skateboarding and surfing, a success in terms of audiences. And a success of comments on social networks. A good sign. Judo has also been followed, being Japan, a discipline in which the brothers Hifumi and Uta Abe won gold on the same day. Never before had two brothers each won a medal in different events at the same Games, and they did it in just two hours. Japan, in fact, finished third in the medal standings, with some very good sporting results thanks to youngsters such as Nishiya Momiji, a 13-year-old skateboarder.
The Games in which more women have participated than ever before, despite the fact that some are always there, like Germany's Isabell Werth, who can now say that she has won gold in six different Games in the equestrian competition. And also the first transgender athlete, New Zealand weightlifter Laurel Hubbard.
In Tokyo, Spanish sport, which was hoping for the second best results in its history, has taken a step backwards in the medal tally, partly because of the lack of candidates to be champions. Only three gold medals, none of them from a Catalan athlete. The Catalan representation, in fact, has returned with magnificent performances by young athletes who are aiming for Paris, but with few medals. It is not about winning all the time, of course. It's about competing and valuing the road that has been travelled until reaching an event that has been complicated. Many of the athletes who will always remember these days in Tokyo have trained locked up at home or have lost family members. And they have transformed their efforts into a positive example of how to face life. In the end, the years go by and Olympism, like sport in general, continues to be a great metaphor for our world. With the most emotional stories and also a lot of dirt hidden under the carpet of the offices. With athletes that make us scream as if we were little kids and others that you can't stand. Sports and designs will change, but it will probably stay the same. That's why we love the Games so much.
Now the athletes have three years to prepare for Paris. The Olympic flag is already in the hands of the mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, who at the closing ceremony gave a live connection where different musicians were playing The Marseillaise. Some in the Louvre, others in the Stade de France and a third in a space station. As always, the challenge is to make the Games surprisingly positive, while waiting for the obstacles that may arise. The first one, in fact, has already arrived, because they wanted to unfurl a giant flag from the Eiffel Tower and the wind did not allow it. Paris will have to overcome a few problems until 2024. But when the opening day arrives, sport will continue to thrill us. In spite of everything.