There were many winners in Tokyo. Some would argue that Sunisa Lee was the biggest winner for getting the individual all-around Gold in women’s gymnastics after Simone Biles (another big winner in a different way) got a case of the “twisties” and stepped aside, although the team still won Silver without her competing in the finals. Women’s sprinter Allyson Felix won her 12th medal, making her the most decorated track and field athlete in U.S. Olympic history. World records were set in both 400-meter hurdles events by Sydney McLaughlin and Karsten Warholm.
There were dominant performances from the basketball teams, with the U.S. women winning their seventh straight Gold (with Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi becoming the first basketball players to win five Golds in the Summer Games ) and the men getting their fourth in a row. Women’s volleyball (beach and team) won Gold, as did the U.S. women’s water polo team. The U.S. was the top team in medals won, edging China in number and Golds, and it was in large part due to the success of the U.S. women.
Fellowship among athletes
One keynote moment had more to do with fellowship than winning the Gold. It was when Italy’s Gianmarco Tamberi and Qatar’s Mutaz Essa Barsham opted to share a high jump Gold medal they tied for after each missed three straight tries at 7 feet 10 inches. Best friends off the field, the genuine emotion they shared in the win was magical.
On a related note, the lack of a live audience made it easy to spot and hear fellow athletes taking in the events as observers, cheering on team members and friends. It also happened on the field of competition — old school competitors were probably annoyed by competitors in new sports like skateboarding, climbing and BMX genuinely supporting each other, strategizing with, and genuinely consoling fellow competitors on other teams. It will likely be the future norm of competition as old school coaches retire and the mindsets in tradition-laden sports change.
The mental health games
While some predicted that these would be the “woke games” where athletes would speak up on various social topics regarding race, politics and COVID, Tokyo turned out to be the mental health games. Frontrunner Simone Biles jump-started the conversation when she withdrew from several events because of mental health and safety issues, facing the issue head-on while cheering on teammates from the stands.
This was after Japanese tennis player Naomi Osaka, who withdrew from the French Open because of mental health reasons, lit the Olympic cauldron at the opening ceremony. Another striking example was fierce Silver medal female shot-putter Raven Saunders, whose depression had pushed her close to suicide before rebounding. Outspoken on different fronts, she crossed her arms in an X to represent the intersection of all oppressed people. She was nothing but life-affirming in her words and actions during the games.
The weird games
There were countless other uplifting, inspiring or anguishing stories worth telling. Some athletes referred to the games as “weird” because of protocols (there were 571,000 COVID tests and no fans). Still, this is nothing they haven’t been going through for months now, regardless of whether they were wearing masks. The pandemic games is a more accurate label, and likely it will not be the only one with Beijing 2022 scheduled to start on February 4.