Monday, November 29

Tokyo says goodbye to the Games with grace and relief | Tokyo 2020 Olympics

FOkay then, Tokyo 2020. On a sweltering night at the Olympic Stadium, Japan said goodbye to its turbulent and quietly glorious Games with a closing ceremony that, in turn, was graceful, somber, and hilariously free. Not to mention, in the great Olympic tradition, full of nonsense and corporate double talk.

At 10pm local time, IOC President Thomas Bach stepped onto his illuminated pedestal to declare Tokyo 2020 closed, and to offer something else as well, to push for his place in history.

“Dear athletes, for the past 16 days we have been in awe,” Bach told his global television audience, as an irresistible corporate rainmaker in a turquoise tie, light blue suit, and flawless white mask, and surrounded by the traditional hand of handsome young men. wrapped in medals.

“You created the magic of these Olympic Games, Tokyo 2020. You were stronger because we all stood together in solidarity.” There’s a weary olympic bingo to these platitudes, these uplifting point-connecting statements. But for all the usual things of peace, things of unity, there was an added urgency here, as Bach used his final notes to apply the IOC brilliance to how these Games will be remembered in times of plague.

Tokyo has been a warm, courteous and witty host, but also troublesome. Outside the stadium there were street protests and shouts of “No Olympics” as delegates, experts and team members left the show at the end. The display of discontent was orderly but assertive, marking the anger that many people have felt at the staging of this global event in a city where the line between contagion and control is already very thin.

“They were competing fiercely with each other in pursuit of Olympic gold,” Bach continued. “At the same time they lived together in peace. This is a powerful message of solidarity and peace. For the first time since the pandemic began, the whole world came together. Sport returned to center stage… That gives us hope. This gives us faith in the future ”. Although it does? As always, these occasions tend to raise other questions.

Questions like, what are the Olympics really for? Why, exactly, are we doing this? The Olympics still like to define themselves as “a movement,” an arm of international relations, a force for camaraderie and joy, as opposed to, say, a heavily branded corporate circus. The insistence on these transcendent qualities stems from the burden the Games place on those who intend to organize and finance them. That empty host stadium cost $ 1.3 billion (£ 0.9 billion). There must also be magic dust.

This kind of conversation could carry more weight among critics of the Olympic-industrial complex were it not for the fact that this celebration of love, so recently in Azerbaijan and Russia, is heading to China for the Winter Games. But that doesn’t matter for now. Just look at the lights.

“The Tokyo 2020 Olympics are the Olympics of hope, unity and peace,” concluded Bach, having insincerely argued that the reason for organizing Tokyo 2020 at such a dangerous time was to fulfill the wishes of athletes, rather than commercial contracts that carry ruinous losses.

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And yet, as every Big Sport executive knows, something in that human spectacle will always keep us coming back for more. Bach had stepped out onto the Olympic arena two hours earlier when the inspiring music grew and an exciting blue glow spread across the stands of this refurbished ghost stadium. The staging was lavish, kitsch and splendidly kitsch, the central area fitted out with an arrangement of pedestals and podiums, plus at one end the Olympic flame itself, leaping like some kind of squashed dinosaur egg.

For much of the two hours that followed, this was an elegantly stripped down ceremony, commemorative rather than celebration. At first, the Japanese flag was carried to the sand very slowly, with a poignant sense of formal calm.

The flags of the competing nations followed, Great Britain in the hands of Laura Kenny, now the most decorated British Olympian in history. And little by little the night dissolved into a kind of mix of world music, from rumba to nose flute twists and jazzy bass funk, as athletes leaped into the stadium, enthusiastically applauded by a line of waiters who, Besides dancing like your aunt on Christmas, she seemed to be having a really great time.

For a time, the stadium resembled a human Fantasy, a whirlwind of color and music going on: barks and bings, bagpipes, horn, strange gurgles. Volunteers passed by, waving to the crowd and earning their own standing ovation. It’s hard to do justice to the Tokyo 2020 volunteer army, which has been warm, stoic and endlessly patient with this mess of uncooperative humanity, and all this in a Games that many Tokyoites did not want.

Athletes parade through the stadium for their final duty at the Games.
Athletes parade through the stadium. Photograph: Jewel Samad / AFP / Getty Images

Nations came and went. The team from Russia (not Russia) waved at the camera.

The rarity of Russia’s presence here in such numbers despite an apparent doping ban, another sad saga by the IOC, a tarnishing of sports it is charged with preserving, was never the athletes’ fault. This was just a group of very happy young people having the time of their lives.

And now the central carpet was filled with all the flags of the world, shining examples of physical splendor, of the power of species. Well, people of the cosmos. We are ready for our close-up now. That lot over there under the lights. That is what we are. At its best, Tokyo 2020 has been like this, not only spectacular but also relaxing, a reminder that the world can be a fun place too.

When the flame was delivered via video link to Paris 2024, the skyline captured on stunningly beautiful film, it was again difficult to avoid that duality.

Despite all the talk of a new “sustainable” Olympics, the world’s largest industrial sporting event will continue to play with overspending, waste and dubious regimes. Men will appear on pedestals speaking of peace and love while the noise of the stadium drowns out the screams beyond its walls.

And Tokyo will now breathe again, at the end of 14 days of fiercely organized, spectatorless competition, from rhythmic gymnastics to the two-person boat, from the fastest humans on Earth to 87kg clean weight and jerk. This brilliantly seductive mess of a world sports beano has finally said goodbye, with grace and verve, but with a sense of relief, too.

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