Thursday, October 28

The Observer’s Point of View on the Tokyo Olympics | Observer’s Editorial

The unifying spirit that characterized the London 2012 Olympics has often seemed like a distant memory in the fractured political years since. In recent weeks, however, in the closely watched Tokyo bubble, the symbolic elements of that spirit have been alive and well.

An unusually united kingdom has once again shown itself capable of coming together to be greater than the sum of its parts, drawing the collective excellence of all its counties, regions and nations, showing a leveling of south and north, urban and rural, setting standards. in everything from the extraordinary subtleties of dressage to the wild BMX ride.

No Olympiad has come with as much fanfare as this one. These were Games that hardly anyone believed should go ahead, beyond the Japanese organizing committee with its £ 18 billion bill, and the athletes who had waited five years for their chance to win gold, or their chance to say “I I was there”.

But while the pandemic has turned the event into a one-time precaution and control effort, the action, as always, has been about exciting risk and emotional release. Perhaps our months of relative confinement have made that all-or-nothing energy display more poignant. It used to be the marathon that was the heartbeat of the Olympic movement. These days, to British eyes at least, it’s become the blood-first triathlon that has a nation setting its alarm clocks. This time there was only one Brownlee on display, but the brothers’ legacy was felt in the collective triumphs of the relay quartet.

As in 2012, the implications and potential of such displays of national team spirit, lighthearted patriotism, and all-inclusive have not always had the favor of predictable quarters. The ridiculous Sir Digby Jones felt his experience ruined by the proud consonants of Alex Scott’s Tower Hamlets, eloquently anchoring BBC coverage alongside Clare Balding and maintaining a winning smile for a fortnight. John redwood regretted the fact that he couldn’t just sit back and go chasing the winner-take-all competition, without a preamble exploring the long emotional journey that brought one athlete close to the podium. His criticism not only exposed the limitations of his empathy, but also a misunderstanding of the fact that true glory only has to do with sacrifice.

Simone Biles, for many the best athlete on display, proved that you can be an inspiring champion not only by pushing the limits of human possibility but by showing your vulnerability and fear in pursuit of that goal (rarely can a bronze medal have warmed more hearts than the one Biles got from his last efforts at humility on the beam).

More than in previous Games, perhaps, and at the end of a year in which almost every family on the planet has had to make sacrifices, the BBC’s coverage of the events in Tokyo revealed just how humane the anxieties were within these superhuman bodies. . Cycling gold medalist Laura Kenny, who still laughs as much as she did in 2012, has proven to be the steepest competitor in British women’s Olympic history, but that didn’t stop her unraveling every time someone mentioned her son, Albie. , of who it had been. so long apart

These were Games that opened a new parity of competition for men and women, in highly successful experiments with mixed events. Tom Daley also proved once and for all that there is no single model for men’s sports heroism or Olympic families. Her two medals were separated by a knit and back cardigan, and her husband and son cheerfully celebrated them at home.

There have been times when it seemed that Olympic sport would follow the path of other sports, and it was more about cynicism than grace, contracts than courage. Even in the absence of crowds, however, there have been many moments at these Games that have shown the original flame still flickering. And only three years to wait until Paris.

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