The Perseverance Games: Surreal Olympics near their end

Sunday's exhausting, enlightening and sometimes enraged 2020 Tokyo Olympics will see the final straw. It was actually held in 2021. These were the Games that were meant to be tolerated and not celebrated.

The Perseverance Games: Surreal Olympics near their end

Sunday's exhausting, enlightening and sometimes enraged 2020 Tokyo Olympics will see the final straw. It was actually held in 2021. These were the Games that were meant to be tolerated and not celebrated.

07 August 2021 Saturday 16:25
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The Perseverance Games: Surreal Olympics near their end

Both will be.

These Olympics, imperfect but not impossible -- willed to existence despite widespread skepticism from the Japanese public and hard-wired resistance from Japan's citizens -- might just be as important as the Games that revolutionized sports.

These were the Olympics, where athletes could have their say. The Olympics where mental health became as important as physical. Stories of perseverance were often more important than actual performance at the Olympics. They were documented, discussed loudly, and even recorded.

Not only the ones who stood at the hyper-scrutinized pressure cooker Tokyo where COVID-19 was tested and spit on their beds, but also those who slept on cardboard-framed beds. They were all there.

Their voices were heard, in big ways and small, through hundreds of reminders that their mental and physical health were not for sale, not even to the $15.5 billion behemoth that underwrites many of their grandest dreams.

Those voices were notably reflected in the words of Simone Biles, who, early on, reset the conversation when she pulled out of the gymnastics meet, declaring her well-being was more important than medals.

"It was something so out of my direct control. At end of the day, my mental and physical health is better than any medal," said Biles, who benched herself while battling "the twisties."

And by Naomi Osaka, the tennis player who lit the cauldron on Day 1, but only after spending the summer insisting that the world listen to her -- really listen -- instead of only watching her on the court. She was the planet's most highly-paid female athlete, and she was also the poster girl for her host country. It was difficult to manage her expectations.

Osaka stated, "I certainly feel like there was pressure for this."

Hundreds of athletes found some way to use their voices in ways they hadn't considered until the Tokyo Games -- and the seismic 18 months that led up to it -- all but commanded it.

They were able to share what it was like to make sacrifices for four years, then five years, to go to the Games alone, to be themselves, and to know that they will not be judged on their appearance, but how fast they run, shoot or whether they land the landing.

"To understand that I am enough." To realize that I am enough.

They came in many sizes and shapes. Quinn, the first openly transgender Olympian who won a gold medal, was a transgender weightlifter and a nonbinary skier. Teenage skateboarders and surfers looking for gnarly waves -- many of whom never dreamed to be on the Olympic stage. Quinn shared tips and hugged everyone, reminding us that this is supposed not to be hard work.

They wove tales about sportsmanship: the high jumpers headed for a tension-filled tiebreaker for first, who stepped back and told a track official they should both win a gold.

And about advocacy: soccer players looking at a midday gold-medal game in the searing heat of the Olympic Stadium and deciding they deserved better. After Paula Badosa, one of the world's best tennis players, left the court with heatstroke, Daniil Medvedev, the chair umpire, said that he could finish the match, but that he could die. Are you going to hold me responsible if I die?

Concerning mental health, Noah Lyles, a sprinter, admitted that he came not only to race but also to share the gospel that became the motto of these fraught Games during difficult times: It's OK to not be OK.

And about gender equity and inclusion: The International Olympic Committee added five new sports and 18 new events for Tokyo to create an equal number of women and men for every sport, excluding baseball and softball. But when Britain's first female Black swimmer was denied use of a cap that fit her voluminous afro, the conversation on a lack of diversity in the pool became louder.

"I just want people to know that no matter your race or background, if you don't know how to swim, get in and learn to swim," Alice Dearing, co-founder of the Black Swimming Association, said after the women's open water marathon. "Don't let anyone tell you it's not for you."

Thomas Bach, president of the IOC, stated two days before the closing that the Tokyo Games had "far exceeded my personal expectations" because spectators were banned as a precaution against pandemics, he was afraid "these Olympic Games could become an Olympic Games with no soul."

Bach stated that he preferred the intimacy of empty venues because it created an intense atmosphere. He said that in many cases, you didn't realize there weren't spectators. "Maybe you could experience the emotions of the athletes in some cases closer than being surrounded with so many spectators."

Bach is responsible for describing the Olympics as a success. Perhaps that goal was achieved in Tokyo by just crossing the finish line. There were also highlights.

Italy shocks with its surprising rise as a sprint power, Marcell Jacobs winning the men's 100m in a surprise win. "Four Ferraris" then won the 4X100 relay to win another gold medal.

Lydia Jacoby won gold as the first Alaskan swimmer in the Olympics, while Caeleb Dressel collected five golds in pool.



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