TOKYO 2020.

July 23, 2021-August 8, 2021.

It was.

It wasn’t.

It was.

It finally happened.

It finally closed.

Very weird in most every sense.

In fact, the 2020 Tokyo Olympics represented the strangest Games on record.

It began with a virus and a year-long pause.

It ended with a typhoon blowing through, and yes, still, a virus running rampant.

In between?

You name it.

The tense two-week extravaganza was held in the face of a raging and resurgent pandemic and was categorically rejected by many Japanese.

Plagued by months of entangled administrative problems, these Games presented logistical and medical obstacles deemed nearly insurmountable, and engendered deep discussion and (mostly) cogent analysis of mental health.

As for sport, there were triumphs and surprising shortfalls.

With expectations ranging from tepid to apocalyptic, even IOC president Thomas Bach agonized that Tokyo 2020 could “become the Olympic Games without a soul.”

But when the Games closed, he was singing a different tune.

“What we have seen here is totally different,” he observed.

“You could experience and feel and see and hear how much they enjoyed to be together here again.”

Poor word choice, this “together.”

There really was no together.

Spectators were kept at bay.

Athletes were forced to leave the country shortly after their events concluded.

Volunteers were recruited to carry some flags into the stadium during closing ceremonies, as a result.

A patchwork quilt of rules mandated that athletes were masked and isolated for much of the medal ceremonies, yet also condoned swapping bodily fluids in some venues.

(Spit-in-a-vial COVID testing for athletes, staff, journalists and visitors).

This was less a by-product of not crossing a ‘T’ or dotting an ‘I’, than acknowledging the reality: risk was mitigated where possible (and plausible) but at the same time, events had to go on.

Athletes’ perseverance became a central story, sharing the spotlight with the aforementioned white-hot mental health subplot, which exposed stark vulnerability and sometimes excruciating pain.

Japan’s fourth Olympics — held 57 years after the 1964 Games reintroduced the country to the world following its WWII defeat — represented a planet trying to right its orbit at a historical moment, while disease, circumstance and politics threatened to blow it sky-high, from here to kingdom come.

How will these Tokyo Games be remembered?

For Richard Torrez, Jr., valedictorian of Mission Oak High School, class of ’17, who won the silver medal in men’s super heavyweight Boxing?

For Sunisa Lee or Caeleb Dressel?

Gable Steveson, Molly Seidel or Gabby Thomas?

Alana Smith?

For a moment, let’s forget the Americans.

Just for a moment…

What about Flora Duffy, Polina Guryeva, or brother and sister, Hifumi and Uta Abe?

Duffy, a Bermudian triathlete, won Olympic gold in the Women’s Triathlon.

Guryeva from Turkmenistan, won a silver in the Women’s 59 kg Weightlifting, the first ever Olympic medal for the Central Asian country.

The Abe siblings made judo history at Tokyo 2020, becoming the first ever brother-and-sister act to win gold medals in an individual sport on the same day.

Alessandra Perilli?

Momiji Nishiya?

Kokona Hiraki?

Perilli, a Sammarinese professional targetshooter, ensured that tiny San Marino would enjoy the distinction as the smallest country in history to win a medal at the Olympics; she won a bronze in the Women’s trap and a silver in Mixed team trap shooting.

Nishiya is thirteen.

She copped the first-ever gold medal in women’s skateboarding, and she hails from the host city.



She’s 12.

The Japanese skateboarder won a silver medal in the women’s park event, becoming the youngest Japanese athlete on record to participate in the Summer Olympic Games.

Stories rich in interest, substance and depth abounded, involving the usual suspects, if you will.

Katie Ledecky, Allyson Felix, Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi, Kevin Durant.

Naomi Osaka.

Simone Biles.

Tokyo 2020 — The Pandemic Games.

Like the deadly virus, Tokyo persisted relentlessly.


With tenacity of purpose.

But conflict pervaded, permeated and ultimately prevailed.

Tara Sullivan of the Boston Globe aptly posited that, “As the Tokyo Olympics close, the legacy of these games is a complicated one.”

Her esteemed colleague, the venerable John Powers, bluntly asked, “How could you be excited about an event that you paid $25 billion for, but were forbidden to attend?”

Both on point.

Bottom line?

Good for the athletes; good for the IOC; good for the sponsors; good for the money-printing business(es).

Good for Japan?

And for the rest of the world?

Jury’s out.

COVID’s still in the house.

[Editor’s Note: This piece was written by Mr. Kaplan in August 2021.]




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Peter J. Kaplan

Peter J. Kaplan

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