Monday, September 27

The Olympics are here, for better or for worse: time to get on with the show | Tokyo 2020 Olympics

ORbeloved, uncertain, but somehow strangely unstoppable. Tokyo 2020 is finally at the door, a little worn and wild, a year out of control, a skinny hand hitting the door knocker. Turns out, this is really going to happen after all.

The Olympics have claimed to be many things over the decades, most of the time a beacon of hope, a cauldron of joy, a saucer full of love, and everything in between. As the opening ceremony at Tokyo National Stadium began to wrap up around 11 p.m. local time, Thomas Bach could be heard making a series of similar generic claims about the Games as a force for peace, tolerance and tolerance. freedom, a speech he will undoubtedly deliver. I repeat with a feeling of furious reformist zeal at the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics.

Tokyo 2020 is of course something very different, the Olympics as an act of duty, a matter of signed contracts and staked political capital, organized in a city where the healthcare system is in danger of being inundated by a mix of Covid. -Surge and sunstroke in summer. And yet, for all its flaws, including the gruesome imposition on the people of Tokyo, it was still hard to shake the feeling on opening night that these Games might also provide some enlightenment.

This was undoubtedly a beautiful opening ceremony, beautiful, sad and light as air. The first moments of the musical show were almost unbearably tender, the performers moving with each other slowly and with a frankly devastating sense of grace and care. Even as things got more lush towards the end, there was a gloomy quality, like a vast, illuminated formal wake.

One of the performers at Friday's opening ceremony at the Tokyo Olympics.
One of the performers at Friday’s opening ceremony at the Tokyo Olympics. Photograph: Amin Mohammad Jamali / Getty Images

Finally, the athletes emerged in a reduced procession. There were 22 out of a possible 376 in the Team GB lineup, the flag carried jointly by rower Mohamed Sbihi, who is huge, and sailor Hannah Mills, who is not. A year and a half of anxiety, commitment, quarantine, nasal splints, closed doors, and last minute fears had brought them to this point. They both seemed delighted to be walking across the stage.

And now what exactly is it? At times like these, it is customary to “take the temperature”, to speak in terms of scene outlines about the atmosphere around the host nation. The sun usually rises over the harbor bridge. The atmosphere in the city is tense but hopeful. And sport, as always, fills the skies, drunk on its own moonlight.

That part won’t take long this time. Tokyo, like everywhere else, is completely up to speed with other things at the moment. It has become a habit to call these the Cursed Olympics, although the problem here is not so much the Games as the puzzling series of events currently posing as “reality.” In the midst of which the Olympics are somehow still happening, and happening in a way that takes us off the map.

There has been an impulse to compare these Games to earlier versions in peril, from the fix and repair of 1920, to the horrors of Mexico and, with more hope, the austerity games of 1948, when the torch descended the Thames in a boat. of oars and everyone got down to work. But this is not really so, because in reality it does not look like anything.

There are so many elements that have felt bad, from public unrest to worldly worlds as relative as Russia (remember them?) Abiding by a flag-based doping ban. At times, the case against holding these Games has felt overwhelming.

There are a few things worth saying about it. For starters, Europe just held a month-long soccer tournament that involved a larger mass of travelers and higher infection rates. And second, well, this is simply the road to the Olympics, orbiting the world like a mobile superstate in search of the most mature and docile host. Combined spending around Tokyo 2020 should be close to £ 20bn. No one was going to cancel this. After the ceremony, there is nothing left to do but face the lights and continue with the show.

Fireworks light up the Tokyo Olympic Stadium.
Fireworks light up the Tokyo Olympic Stadium. Photograph: Clive Brunskill / Getty Images

The focus can at least shift now to the one indisputable note of grace: the athletes, who have worked for this in the dark and who are now having their moment in time. The next 16 days will see 339 events across 33 sports, starting this weekend with medals in archery, shooting, fencing, road cycling, judo, taekwondo and weightlifting.

There are some brilliant sports stories to follow. Can Teddy Riner of France, the 10-time judo world champion, claim his third GOAT-level Olympic heavyweight title? Swimming royalty Katie Ledecky is in the pool this weekend, as is British breaststroke king Adam Peaty himself. Rapid climbing, freestyle BMX, skateboarding and other novel events will offer their own charms, on both sides of the athletics A-lists.

The women’s sprints could be the main event, with Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce of Jamaica looking to become the first woman to win three Olympic titles in 100 meters, and the great Allyson Felix to a medal from Carl Lewis’s American record. The American track and field team is an object of fascination in its own right, from Ryan Crouser, launching his orb further than anyone in history, to Sydney McLaughlin and Dalilah Muhammad in the 400-meter hurdles, to Erriyon Knighton. In the 100 meters, 17 years old and fresh from breaking Usain Bolt’s U-20 world record.

And yes, it really is happening after all. The host nation deserves our thanks for hosting these games in extremis and we apologize for the imposition. Tokyo is an expansion, but also a well-kept place.

Meanwhile, the Olympics are a huge mess of Colombian TV teams, Malaysian netball teams, and Norwegian VIP delegations. It’s no wonder that a large part of Tokyo didn’t want this human mass mixed in here, running up and down the stairs, spilling its viral load on the living room carpet.

Much will depend on how courteous the visitors are and how carefully they adhere to the boundaries. This is a trip to a slightly terrifying open space. But when the final light show faded into the sky over the national stadium, it was hard to shake the feeling that Tokyo had already given us something beautiful and strangely comforting.

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