Tokyo in Review

The Games ended filled with incredible performances, heartfelt emotions, and unity.

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By Ying Chen

The Olympics have had their fair share of unforgettable moments over the years: miracles on ice, Derek Redmond, Jesse Owens, and Michael Phelps to name a few. Adding to that list, the 2020 Tokyo Summer Games concluded nearly a month ago, marking the end of one of the most memorable Olympics in recent history. Although the COVID-19 pandemic was the source of much uncertainty going into the competition, the Games ended with incredible performances, heartfelt emotions, and unity.

Of course, this Olympics was not without its fair share of disappointments. The Tokyo Games recorded the lowest television ratings of any summer Olympics since NBC began broadcasting the Games. Averaging 15.5 million viewers, this year’s ratings dropped to nearly half of the 2012 London Games. This contrast stems from the many adjustments to the Olympics that were necessary because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The one-year delay and lack of audiences at events took away from the typical excitement the Games offer. Without fans allowed to spectate, many events took place in empty warehouses or arenas, which may have felt eerie and anticlimactic to viewers used to the enthusiastic crowds. To add insult to injury, Tokyo held the most expensive Olympic Games on record, with estimated total costs coming out to more than $20 billion.

A couple competitive low points included Team USA’s atypical failure to qualify for the men’s 4x100m relay, Japanese tennis icon Naomi Osaka’s loss in the third round, and American BMX racer Connor Fields’s terrifying crash, in which he suffered a brain hemorrhage and memory loss. That said, the high points of the Olympics certainly outweighed the lows. Team USA topped both the overall gold count and medal count, with 39 gold and 113 total medals. A few prominent American athletes who contributed to the count include gymnast Sunisa Lee, who won gold with her all-around performance, swimmer Caeleb Dressel, who impressively earned five gold medals, and sprinter Allyson Felix, who not only secured a gold in the 4x400m relay but also became the most decorated woman in Olympic track and field history.

There were also four new sports added to the Olympic Games. Skateboarding, surfing, karate, and sport climbing (rock climbing) made their first appearances on the world’s stage. The additions proved entertaining, with Japan’s Momiji Nishiya winning gold in women’s street skateboarding at only 13 years old and Team USA taking first place in both women’s surfing and women’s 57kg taekwondo.

Another upside of the Games was the limited spread of the COVID-19 virus. While many around the globe were skeptical about holding the Olympics in this state of the pandemic, their fears were not realized. With strict safety procedures, no spectators in attendance, and a vaccination rate of over 70 percent among athletes and staff, the virus was kept in check within the Olympic Village. Over 50 thousand people were present in the Olympic “bubble,” but there were no serious cases. This result is not only a victory in terms of the Games but also a step forward universally.

The Olympics were also marked by political statements on women’s rights and athletes’ mental health. The German women’s gymnastics team wore full-body unitards as opposed to typical, high-cut leotards, standing “against sexualization in gymnastics.” While these uniforms are compliant with the rules of gymnastics wear, other statements against sporting dress codes were not as well accepted. Prior to the Games, the Norwegian women’s beach handball team chose to wear shorts instead of bikini bottoms to a European Championship in a similar protest. Despite an outpour of praise from the media and fans worldwide for their bravery, the team received a fine from the European Handball Federation for “improper clothing.” Though their battle is not over, the Norwegian team hopes to inspire a rule change with their active objection.

Additionally, gymnast Simone Biles, one of the most well-known athletes in the world, boldly spoke out on the mental strain of being in the spotlight. Following an off-balance vault performance, Biles withdrew from the team final and individual all-around competition. She cited her mental health and a case of the “twisties,” and in an Instagram post, she wrote that she felt the weight of the world on her shoulders. “My mind and body are simply not in sync,” Biles said. She received abundant support for her decision to focus on her well-being over competition. Her decision was a necessary reminder to the world of the stress burdening many of these high-performing athletes.

While the 2020 Tokyo Olympics proved an overall success, questions remain about the future. The 2022 Winter Olympics are scheduled to be held in Beijing, China, beginning February 4. However, the Chinese government has faced international disapproval for their mistreatment of Uyghur Muslims in the Xinjiang province. On top of that scrutiny, the government’s treatment of protestors in Hong Kong, a newly imposed national security law, and the current state of the pandemic have fans worldwide wondering whether it is a good idea to hold the Olympics in the country. So far, over 160 human rights groups worldwide have called to revoke China’s right to host. Though this demand has not yet come to fruition, the idea of a Beijing Olympics boycott is surely present in the minds of many. While the USA’s involvement remains uncertain, Dominic Robb, a British foreign secretary, said that he has not ruled out a UK boycott of the Olympics over China’s treatment of the Uyghurs.

Despite the questions surrounding the Beijing Winter Games, winter athletes around the globe are preparing to step onto the world’s stage in just six months. They hope for a return to the glory and excitement of the Olympics that unite so many people globally.