The COVID-19 pandemic could have consigned the 2020 Tokyo Olympics to the fate of the three cancelled editions (1916, 1940, 1944) hit by the World Wars. That the mega games — with thousands in attendance, including athletes, support staff, officials and volunteers — passed without incident in such trying times is a huge credit to the organisers.
On the field of play, every possible script — tales of inspiration, the underdog defying sporting logic, or just exceptional athletic prowess — was written.
Sprinter Allyson Felix led the way, winning the women's 400m relay gold to overtake Carl Lewis as the most decorated U.S. track and field athlete of all time. Only three years ago, she had an emergency C-section at 32 weeks to deliver her daughter Camryn. The 35-year-old proved that motherhood is no barrier to realising grand dreams.
Fellow American and gymnast Simone Biles inspired as well. She made a brave statement when she withdrew from five of the six final rounds she qualified for, citing a mental block. She made it clear that it is all right to prioritise overall well-being over everything else.
Who says kids can do no more than play hooky and obsess over gaming consoles? At 12, Japan’s Kokona Hiraki became the youngest Olympic medallist in 85 years with a silver in women’s park skateboarding. Britain’s Sky Brown, just a couple of months her senior, took bronze in the same event.
At the other end of the spectrum, equestrian Andrew Hoy became Australia’s oldest Olympic medallist at 62. His teammate Mary Hanna, the oldest competitor at Tokyo, is going strong at 66. The duo dispelled all stereotypes associated with lonely ‘senior citizens’ watching the world go by.
With two record performances, the 400m hurdles laid claim to being the marquee track event. Norway’s Karsten Warholm and American Sydney McLaughlin both ran near perfect races to smash their own men’s and women’s world records. That both silver medallists — Rai Benjamin (son of former West Indies pacer Winston Benjamin) and 2016 Olympic champion Dalilah Muhammad — returned faster times than the previous world records showed the incredible quality in the fields.
Kimia Alizadeh jumped over higher obstacles in life to finish fourth in the women’s taekwondo tournament. Kimia, who at the 2016 Rio Games became the first Iranian woman to win an Olympic medal, fled the country last year. Citing severe oppression from the Iran regime, she chose to compete for the Refugee Olympic Team at Tokyo, and nearly won a maiden medal for the courageous group of displaced athletes.
Just an hour after finishing a dismaying fifth in the 200m freestyle swimming event, Katie Ledecky returned to the pool to dominate the first-ever 1,500m event for women. With the 800m freestyle event also in the bag, her six individual gold medals across Games were the most for any female swimmer, and second only to all-time leader Michael Phelps (13 golds).
Caeleb Dressel, meanwhile, became just the fourth male in history to win five golds at a single Olympics. Dressel may dislike comparisons with the legend Phelps, but he has earned his spot among the greats.
Over to Paris 2024, and more indelible memories.