Odd, Uneven Olympics End

IOC president praises athletes as Paris accepts the challenge of hosting the next Games
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Aug 8, 2021 11:10 AM CDT
Odd, Uneven Olympics End
Athletes from Japan take a selfie during the closing ceremony in the Olympic Stadium on Sunday in Tokyo.   (AP Photo/Vincent Thian)

It began with a virus and a yearlong pause. It ended with a typhoon blowing through and, still, a virus. In between: just about everything. The Tokyo Olympics, christened with "2020" but held in mid-2021 after being interrupted for a year by the coronavirus, glided to their conclusion in a COVID-emptied stadium Sunday night as an often surreal mixed bag for Japan and for the world. A rollicking closing ceremony with the theme “Worlds We Share"
—an optimistic but ironic notion at this moment—featured stunt bikes and intricate light shows, designed to convey a "celebratory and liberating atmosphere" for athletes after a tense two weeks. It pivoted to a live feed from Paris, the AP reports, host of the 2024 Summer Games. And with that, the strangest Olympic Games on record closed their books for good. Held in the middle of a resurging pandemic, rejected by many Japanese and plagued by administrative problems, these Games presented logistical and medical obstacles like no other, offered up serious conversations about mental health—and, when it came to sport, delivered both triumphs and a few surprising shortfalls.

From the outset, expectations were middling at best, apocalyptic at worst. Even Thomas Bach, president of the International Olympic Committee, said he'd worried that these could "become the Olympic Games without a soul." Instead, he told athletes at the closing, "You were faster, you went higher, you were stronger because we all stood together—in solidarity." But at these Games, even the word "together" was fraught. Spectators were kept at bay. Rules kept athletes masked and apart for much of medal ceremonies yet saw them swapping bodily fluids in some venues. Risks that could be mitigated were, but at the same time events had to go on. Mental health claimed bandwidth as never before, and athletes revealed their stories and struggles in vulnerable, sometimes excruciating fashion. Still, athletic excellence burst through, while surfing, skateboarding, and sport climbing emerged as viable Olympic sports. As the cauldron was snuffed out Sunday night, it was easy to argue that Tokyo can take its place as a Games that didn't fail.

(More 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games stories.)

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