Arigato Tokyo, Arigato Japan! The XXXII Summer Olympic Games are officially, and somewhat miraculously, in the books.
The Olympic Flame has been extinguished, all medals awarded and athletes departed, many with indelible memories that will last a lifetime, inspired by an Olympic Games that was unlike any other in the movement’s 125-years of modern Olympic history.
Undoubtedly, there were inspiring performances, commendable displays of Olympism, magnanimous gestures, moments of adversity, creative efforts and hardships that largely went unnoticed. It’s understandable when there are 10,305 athletes representing 206 nations, territories and principalities, across 33 sports, going faster, higher, stronger, and let’s not forget together.
To recognize, pay tribute, honor, smile at, question or even call out – as warranted – some of these athletes, sports, citizens, occurrences, acts of nature, and unheralded performances, that may have flown under the worldwide media’s collective radar, Around the Rings presents its first-ever Gold, Copper and Tin virtual medals, unofficially of course, with no reference to, whatsoever, the Olympic Charter. And arguably the best part - recipients need not worry about losing, dropping, denting or dinging these medals.
GOLD: The Japanese citizens. Dedicated, kind, friendly, caring and with smiles under their masks, the Tokyo 2020 volunteers, staff and officials went above and beyond their call of duty, welcoming foreigners from across the globe under exceedingly difficult circumstances. Citizens, who were, unfortunately, unable to attend events, clamored to get glimpses of athletes, many wishing them well. Friends, you made your country proud. Thank you!
COPPER: Golfer Rory McIlroy. The four-time Major champion continues his introspective debate, perplexed and pondering the merits and role of golf in the Olympic Games. Credit to the Irish golfer though, for someone who explicitly dismissed the sport’s Olympic return in the lead-up to Rio 2016, the big hitter seems to be making gains. After missing out on the medals in Tokyo, coming up short in an unlikely and peculiar seven-player, four hole, bronze medal playoff, McIlroy admitted to media that he told his wife the night before that he needs to be more open-minded. A medal in Paris 2024 would certainly cure Rory’s case of the Olympic yips.
TIN: Tennis ace Novak Djokovic. The 20-time Grand Slam winner arrived in Tokyo in quest of the “Golden Slam”, but about the only thing that got slammed were his rackets, as Djokovic smashed one to smithereens in his bronze medal match defeat to Spain’s Pablo Carreno Busta. The towering Serbian tossed another into the stands, perhaps an Olympic souvenir for someone. Djoko also complained about the weather and then withdrew from a scheduled mixed doubles match, returning home without a medal for a third consecutive Olympic Games. No love for Japan and not a memorable performance on or off the court.
GOLD: Japan’s gold medal winning baseball and softball teams. Another gold medal is more than deserved by these two honorable Japanese teams, both overcoming an enormity of pressure, winning gold on the diamond and thrilling an entire baseball-crazed country. Both the men and women accomplished the tall order in duplicate 2-0 shutouts versus their American rivals. The Japanese baseball authorities took their business seriously from the outset, halting their ongoing professional leagues, bringing together all parties and attracting their best players. Hats off to them.
COPPER: Golfer Jon Rahm, pole vaulter Sam Kendricks and Greece’s artistic swimming team. The world’s number one golfer, a friendly American pole vaulter and four members of Greece’s artistic swimming team all tested positive for COVID-19, abruptly ending their Olympic hopes. The colorful Spanish golfer was certainly missed on the course, among the early favorites for gold. Kendricks was sent into quarantine at an adapted Tokyo hotel, informing that he had no symptoms, candidly expressing his disappointment and vast opinions on Instagram Live, while referring to his “fellow inmates” and also challenging eventual pole vault gold medalist “Mondo” Duplantis to a competition after he gets out. Hearts go out to the young ladies from Greece, who forfeited their Olympic dreams.
TIN: Tokyo’s scorching heat and humidity. Not ideal conditions for elite performances from the world’s greatest athletes. Tokyo temperatures ascended above 30 degrees Celsius, often with near unbearable 75-80 percent humidity and heat indexes soaring. The athletes coped and many excelled, especially on the Tokyo Olympic Stadium track, as three world records and more than 20 continental records were set. In the men’s marathon, 106 runners started and 30 did not finish (28.3%), as compared to Rio 2016, when 155 started and only 15 (9.7%) failed to cross the line. At beach volleyball, sand temperatures reached a scorching 45 degrees Celsius. Holding the Tokyo Games in October, as was the case in 1964, would not have been a bad idea.
GOLD: U.S. athletics veteran Allyson Felix. The 35-year-old ‘Super Mom’ of track and field did not miss a step on the Tokyo track. Felix eclipsed Carl Lewis’ U.S. record, winning her 11th Olympic medal, doing so in style as part of the women’s 4x400 relay team, which sped to gold ahead of the Netherlands, by 1.48 secs. It was the seventh Olympic gold medal for the determined U.S. athlete. Felix also displayed her ageless form while racing to bronze in the women’s 400m. Her illustrious Olympic career began in Athens 2004, where she sprinted to her first medal, silver in the women’s 200m. In Tokyo, 17 years later, she delivered, once again.
COPPER: Swimming legend, and commentator, Michael Phelps. No, Michael Phelps did not officially set foot in the Tokyo Aquatics Center pool, however his sheer presence made waves in Japan. The 28-time Olympic medal winner excelled in the NBC Sports commentary booth, alongside Dan Hicks and Rowdy Gaines. More than qualified for the job, Phelps provided expert commentary and in-depth swimming analysis to the American audience. For his fly performance on the mic, we considered awarding Phelps a 24th gold medal. However, after further consideration and much debate, it was decided that the ‘Baltimore Bullet’ has more than enough. So copper it is – ATR increases his grand total to 29.
TIN: That guy…driving the boat at the men’s triathlon. In a bizarre twist of events, the men’s Olympic triathlon needed to be restarted and swimmers called back from the water after a TV boat, unassumingly, was blocking their path. The 56 competitors who dove into Tokyo Bay were unaware of the stray boat in what was a chaotic situation, one that could have become dangerous. “I have never seen anything like that before at the start of a triathlon — let alone one at the Olympics,” said one of the announcers. “What a shambles.”
GOLD: Olympic surfing: More than 100 years after the father of surfing, Duke Kahanamoku, expressed his opinion to the IOC that the lifestyle sport be included at the Olympic Games, the dream was finally realized in Japan. Adding to the fun, excitement and overall coolness of surfing’s Olympic debut, the waves off Tsurigasaki Beach were more than sufficient as men and women shortboarders dazzled, launched skyward and delivered a scintillating show. Brazil’s Italo Ferreira and Carissa Moore of the United States impressed both judges and fans alike, becoming the sport’s first-ever Olympic champions. No truth to the rumor that IOC president Thomas Bach will soon be riding waves with the flamboyant surfing federation president Fernando Aguerre, but suffice to say, surfing impressed the IOC and made a huge splash with sports fans around the globe. Onward to the massive swells of Teahupo’o in Tahiti, in 2024.
COPPER: Israeli rhythmic gymnast Linoy Ashram. The 22-year-old world champion in rhythmic gymnastics became Israel’s first woman to win an Olympic gold medal. Ashram took top honors in the individual all-around event, choreographing her routine to the spirited “Hava Nagila” melody, recognized around the world. Ashram is just the third athlete from Israel to win gold and only the fourth woman from her country to garner an Olympic medal of any color.
TIN: The exclusion of baseball, softball and karate from Paris 2024: Baseball, softball and karate were big hits in Tokyo, driven by the passion of the Japanese people and time-honored traditions that these sports are in Japan. Yet, it wasn’t only Japan and the United States embracing their national pastimes on the Olympic stage. Israel fielded a men’s baseball team and the Dominican Republic went jumping for joy after winning bronze, its first Olympic medal in the sport. Canada and Mexico offered a tight North American showdown in the women’s softball bronze medal game, the Canadians coming out on top. Ballplayers and managers proved that the sports are consummate team games, loaded with calculated strategy, late-inning drama and heroic walk-off home runs. Yet it will be ‘Au Revoir’ for these three sports come Paris 2024. Instead, there will be breaking. So, store your bats and balls away, and break out your dusty, old boom boxes, high top sneakers and parachute pants.
GOLD: High jumpers Mutaz Essa Barshim and Gianmarco Tamberi. The world-class high jumpers and close friends from Qatar and Italy were united like never before, sharing gold medals in Tokyo. Both leaped 2.37m and then missed their three attempts at 2.39m. Barshim and Tamberi each made six consecutive successful jumps, without misses, for essentially what was a dead heat. After a brief deliberation with an official, the duo mutually agreed to call it a night, no jump-off, their decision immediately accepted. Thrilled with the unlikely outcome, Tamberi proceeded to jump one more time, but this time into the arms of his pal Barshim. A golden moment for sure – the good buddies will now also share an ATR virtual gold medal.
COPPER: Olympic transportation: By many journalist accounts, the Olympic transportation system was less than ideal, at times crowded and often unreliable. Plus, walking, even short distances, was not permitted due to COVID-19 countermeasures. One hard-working journalist, based upon the infrequent scheduling of buses and time-consuming trip to the Fuji International Speedway for a cycling road race, chose option two – remaining at the more accessible Main Press Center. Considering her remote location and without access to athletes, one could have just as easily covered the race, without hassles, for example, thousands of kilometers away from cycling-crazed Italy.
TIN: Lack of star power across numerous sports. Most athletes afforded the opportunity or meeting qualification standards embraced and cherished their Olympic moments. However, there were others that said ‘No thanks’ to the Tokyo Games. There were just too many marquee names and needle-moving sports stars that were absentees, particularly in basketball, baseball, boxing, tennis and golf. No need to single out names – you know who you are.
GOLD: U.S. baseball player Eddy Alvarez. The U.S. lead-off hitter, second baseman and flag bearer completed a most unlikely double – winning a silver medal in Olympic baseball to complement his silver medal from short track speed skating. The 31-year-old Cuban-American ballplayer, who has played for Major League Baseball’s Miami Marlins, won short track silver with U.S. teammates in the 3,000-meter relay in Sochi 2014. He also raced in three individual events. Alvarez is the sixth athlete and third American to medal at both the Summer and Winter Olympics.
COPPER: Equestrian jumper Jessica Springsteen: Her rock star parents may have platinum, but Jessica Springsteen now has silver. The daughter of “The Boss” Bruce Springsteen and Patty Scialfa, decades old performers in the legendary E Street Band, competed admirably alongside her U.S. teammates Laura Kraut and McLain Ward, bringing home an Olympic silver medal to New Jersey. It was nearly gold, but Springsteen and the Americans were defeated by Sweden, in a jump-off, in the equestrian team event. Springsteen, 29, who has performed well on international tours, like her Dad, for more than a decade, rode her reliable 12-year-old Belgian stallion, Don Juan van de Donkhoeve, to the team medal. We’ll refrain from the over-used cliché that the Rock & Roll legends’ daughter is ‘Born to Ride’, however, as Jessica reflects upon her Olympic achievement and time spent in Tokyo, she’ll certainly consider them ‘Glory Days’.
GOLD: Slovenian Janja Garnbret and the Olympic debut of sport climbing: There still may be a few kinks to be worked out, but sport climbing impressed on the Olympic stage for the first time. Slovenian Janja Garnbret, 22, demonstrated that she is a true rock star in the sport, swiftly and smoothly performing maneuvers on the Aomi Urban Sports Park climbing wall that seemed impossible. Her fluidity of motion, problem solving skills, strength, balance and explosiveness when necessary, were a display of beauty. Garnbret dominated the speed, bouldering and lead disciplines, en route to the combined event gold medal ahead of a Japanese duo. Her male counterpart Alberto Gines Lopez of Spain also ascended to gold, while Czech climber Adam Ondra, one of world’s premier big wall climbers, expressed nothing but positive vibes for sport climbing at the Olympics. The new sport has already been rewarded by the IOC, with two more medals up for grabs in Paris 2024.
COPPER: German Greco-Roman wrestler Frank Stäbler. Talk about going out in style and leaving a lasting impression. German Greco-Roman wrestler Frank Stäbler overcame COVID-19 to make it to Tokyo and after battling to an Olympic bronze medal, he raised his arms in triumph and proceeded to leave his wrestling shoes on the mat – symbolic of his retirement. The 32-year-old wrestler was already a three-time world and two-time European champion, however the elusive Olympic medal was the last feather in the German wrestling star’s cap.
TIN: Venue food options. Hard-working journalists certainly have large appetites and unfortunately, according to many, the Tokyo venue food and overall dining situation just didn’t cut it. One journalist noted that press room food options are “severely lacking” and dinner often consists of what can be “pieced together” from 7-11, in a 15-minute dash due to an imposed time constraint. With the less than ideal food situation, she informed there is the occasional pizza at the MPC and Uber Eats could be an option, however who has spare time to wait, when covering 339 medal events at 42 venues across 33 sports.
GOLD: San Marino and first-time medal winning nations: San Marino, with a population of 33,600, is the smallest country, by numbers, to medal at the Olympic Games. Not just one, but three medals, all coming at Tokyo 2020. It was silver in the mixed team trap shooting event, while both freestyle wrestler Myles Nazem Amine and trap shooter Alessandra Perilli earned bronze. Kosovo, which made its Olympic debut in Rio 2016, also won its first two medals, both gold, in women’s karate. Turkmenistan and Burkina Faso were also first-time medal winners. Bermuda, Philippines and Qatar all brought home gold medals for the first time.
COPPER: Belarusian sprinter Kristina Timanovskaya. Timanovskaya’s trials and tribulations caused an international stir as the 22-year-old Belarusian athlete became the center of diplomatic conflict in Tokyo. Timanovskaya sought sanctuary from police at Narita International Airport after being forced, against her will, to leave the country by two Belarusian coaches. The order, they claimed, came from higher-ranking officials. Problems began after Timanovskaya wrote an Instagram message highly critical of Belarusian athletic federation officials. After an investigation, the two Belarusian coaches were finally stripped of their accreditation and sent home, according to the IOC. Timanovskaya, now in Poland, is deserving of a positive remedy to her unfortunate situation.
TIN: The Polish Swimming Federation. Six Polish swimmers were sent home from Japan after an Olympic-sized mistake by the Polish Swimming Federation, which chose too many athletes. The federation brought 23 swimmers to Tokyo, but only 17 were actually eligible under Olympic qualifying standards. The aggravated swimmers signed an open letter calling on the board of the Polish Swimming Federation to resign. The federation President Pawel Slominski apologized for the error, claiming they wanted “to allow as many players and coaches as possible to take part in the Games.”
GOLD: Track and field athletes Karalis and Crouser honoring their family. We’ll end on a high note here, awarding one last virtual gold medal. Greek pole vaulter Emmanouil Karalis, who finished fourth, paid tribute to his parents, revealing a ‘Thank You Mom and Dad” that he had written on the back of his bib. The 21-year-old Karalis immediately showed the sign upon missing his third and final attempt in the competition. American shot putter Ryan Crouser, who successfully defended his title in Tokyo, uncorking an Olympic record toss, also displayed a sign for the cameras. His read: “Grandpa, We Did It. 2020 Olympic Champion”, honoring his late grandfather, who helped teach him the sport and died just before Crouser departed for Tokyo.
Written by Brian Pinelli with editorial contributions from Sebastian Fest, Gerard Farek, Miguel Hernandez, Filip Vachuda and Hironori Hashimoto