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The opening ceremony is here and as you probably guessed, it will be weird. NBC will air the show live at 7 am ET on Friday. By the time you open this newsletter, some of you may have already seen it. Many more will be installed to watch the replay in prime time.
The ceremony has already had its share of controversy for reasons that have nothing to do with the pandemic. A few days ago, a composer whose music is part of the ceremony was fired after a story of “Your Abuse of a Disabled Child”. Thursday, the day before the event, the organizing committee of the Tokyo Olympics fired the director when a joke he made about the Holocaust during a 1998 comedy show resurfaced.
And of course it was meant to be pretty weird. The event will already be muted. An organizer told Reuters it will be “sobering”. Don’t tune in expecting elaborate choreographies and large groups of dancers like we’ve seen in the past. This is a very good thing, in my opinion. As we’ve been through this week, the Olympics are taking place even though many, many people don’t want them to. Given all that, it would be extremely wrong to turn this into a grand celebration.
Also, there won’t even be fans in the stands to entertain themselves. And as anyone who has recorded a video of a fireworks show on their phone can attest: it’s never as good on video as it is in person.
So who is this show for?
One thing I think of every Olympiad is that for many athletes, the opening ceremony is really the reward. The vast majority of athletes at the Games will not win medals. Many will not come close. But being an Olympian, and saying you’re an Olympian, is still great!
Yes, these are all competitive athletes and we assume they all rest their head on the pillow every night thinking about winning gold and standing on that podium. But many, many athletes come to the Olympics knowing that their chances of winning medals are slim. For countless athletes, the Olympic experience itself is the prize. The dream is to qualify and get there. Marching in the parade, waving your country’s flag for everyone at home to see on television.
I think American sports fans probably take it for granted that our country will send a gigantic delegation and compete for medals in many sports. Many athletes are happy to be included. Some athletes, all they wanted was to get there.
So I’m glad they continue to have that experience. Walk and be honored. Having friends, family, and compatriots (and women) at home who see someone represent them.
And the rest of us don’t need a flashy display that ignores the reality of the country they are currently in.
I mentioned in my introduction on Monday that I would love to hear from you so that we can experience these Olympics together. I already have some great questions, so I’ll answer two now.
From Nuke: Can you summarize the sports that have gone, the new sports and the exhibition sports?
Yes I can! I suggest everyone check out Thursday’s newsletter, in which I previewed all the sports. (I know this email was written before it went live.) It has an overview of the new sports: 3×3 basketball, baseball / softball, karate, sport climbing, and surfing. Also, I mentioned several new events within different sports such as BMX freestyle, mixed doubles table tennis, women’s 1,500 meter freestyle swimming, mixed relay triathlon, etc. There are many of those.
As for sports that no longer exist: all the sports of 2016 are back. The changes are only certain events or weight classes within sports. For example, on Thursday I mentioned the men’s two-person kayak slalom.
Great question about exhibition sports. For those who don’t know, the Olympics have a history of hosting demonstration sports. They are not actual Olympic events, but sports governing bodies want to benefit from additional exposure. Like when Tokyo hosted the Olympics in 1964, there will be a sumo demonstration this year. It’s August 12 and 13, which originally would have been great for spectators who were still in town for the Olympics. Things have obviously changed now that the stadiums will be empty for the Olympics. But I hope there is more information on how to watch it as we get a little closer.
From Howard Tilman: These are the first Summer Olympics with easily accessible online gambling across much of the US So is the Olympics a thing? Can you bet on individual events? Matches? Races? Medal count? I’m not sure what is legal and what is a good way to participate.
Another great question. Gambling has become a more unavoidable topic within sports, as many more states have legalized it. The short answer to your question is yes, betting on the Olympics is very important. I remember a lot of people talked about this during the London Games in 2012, because of how easy it was to bet there at the time. And here in the US, people have always wanted to bet on sports and now a growing number seem to want to do so all the time.
I guess most people who play games on their phones while watching events use sites like DraftKings or FanDuel. Both offer the ability to bet on individual events. You can go to DraftKings and bet on karate, weightlifting or rowing right now if you want. Whether you want to bet on who will win gold in soccer or who will win an individual soccer match, this will be like any other international tournament.
I reached out to my old friend (and former SI gambling editor) Ben Heisler about this, and he noticed that WynnBET posted the overall medal count about 30 seconds after we hung up the phone.
If you are already used to gambling, it will not be difficult to find ways to do so. Ben also believes that offshore books will have more of the fun / wacky / dark prop stakes, just as you’d see it in Super Bowl time.
WHAT TO SEE
Friday night and Saturday morning, all ET times.
They are handing out medals on Saturday!
Shooting: The women’s 10-meter air rifle will be the first medal of the Games, at 7:45 pm on Friday. The men’s 10-meter air pistol final is at 2:30 am on Saturday.
Cycling: The men’s road cycling race begins at 8pm on Friday. I haven’t seen an expected end time, but this event has taken at least 5 1/2 hours in recent Olympics, and US TV coverage ends at 2am on Saturday.
Weightlifting: Women’s 49kg at 12:50 am on Saturday.
Archery: Mixed team competition begins at 8:30 pm on Friday, with medal rounds at 3:25 am on Saturday.
Judo: A full day of competition concludes with medal matches after 4 am Saturday, but no one from Team USA is in action.
Fencing: The women’s sword and men’s saber are activated during the night, with bouts for medals beginning at 6:50 am on Saturday.
The 3×3 basketball debut is at 4:55 am on Saturday against France, with another game at 8 am against Mongolia.
The United States women’s water polo plays its first match against Japan at 1am on Saturday.
US softball plays in Mexico at 1:30 am on Saturday.
The USWNT is looking to bounce back from the loss to Sweden against New Zealand at 7:30 am on Saturday.
Men’s Beach Volleyball: 8am Saturday against the Netherlands.
Men’s Indoor Volleyball: United States vs. France at 8:45 am on Saturday.
Singles table tennis: Juan Liu women at 8 pm on Friday; Men: Nikhil Kumar at 9:30 pm on Friday.
Men’s Doubles Badminton: 10pm on Friday against China.
Tennis – Everyone is in action, but kick-off times depend on the matches on the court.
Swimming: Playoffs begin on Saturday, shortly after 7 am. The first medals will be awarded on Saturday night. I will speak to you again before then.
ICYMI: My colleague Dan Gartland and I selected teams in a handful of sports that the United States did not qualify for.
Men’s Handball: I adopted Norway, which plays the opening match on Friday at 8pm. Dan Gartland has Sweden, who play at 1:15 am on Saturday.
Men’s Field Hockey: My Australians play Japan at 8:30 pm on Friday. Dan has India at 7:45 am on Saturday.
We remind you that this newsletter is free if register to receive it in your inbox. You also can subscribe to SI.com for unlimited access to all the other great stories on our site.
• First impressions from our team of writers on the ground in Tokyo
• The games continue, with a new purpose: Greg Bishop SI daily cover from Friday
• Message from Michael Rosenberg from a men’s soccer game in Japan: “It felt like someone unplugged the Olympics.”
• SI’s Meet Team USA package is an excellent preparation for everything to come.
And now we go! Thank you for reading.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.