Tokyo 2020 Olympics Takes the Gold Medal Against All Odds

Updated: Aug 26, 2021

The Summer Olympic Games is the most high-profile sporting event on the planet, the pinnacle for athletes in their prime to test and prove themselves against the best, an occasion when the world convenes and unites under the communal banner of sport.

As we are all fully aware, the Tokyo 2020 Games almost never went ahead due to the COVID-19 pandemic that has brought the world to its knees. Originally scheduled for July 2020, it was deferred a full year, during which time it was literally anyone’s guess as to whether the occasion would proceed or not. Right up to the last minute there were still serious reservations and whispers that it would not go ahead.

Residents of Tokyo and Japan were dubious to say the least, reluctant, unwilling even, to welcome the world’s largest sports event to their capital during a time of such uncertainty and fear. Many felt their country was being held hostage in effect by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) who, with billions of dollars on the line, had insisted the occasion proceed, seemingly prioritising profit over the health of a nation who didn’t want to play ball. The Japanese government dithered, turning one way then the other before deciding to tow the line and bow to the wishes of the IOC.

Credit: Alex Smith, Olympics Tokyo 2020
Credit: Alex Smith, Olympics Tokyo 2020

Once finally approved to proceed it was confirmed that spectators would be banned and robust health and safety protocols would be enforced to ensure any threat from the virus could be combated. In a similar vein to the Euro 2020, the European football championships which was also deferred a year, the Olympics would retain ‘Tokyo 2020’ as its title.

And what an occasion it was! What was witnessed over 15 days of competition was among the most enthralling, entertaining and inspiring sporting action in recent memory with numerous feel good stories and examples of super-human achievement, drama and controversy.

The tournament once again emphasised the power of sport in being able to unite people from all four corners and promote a notion of positivity. It was truly the first occasion when nations from all over the world came together since the pandemic had begun, serving as a bastion of hope and triumph.

It also shone a light on key social issues that are so prevalent within our societies and that shape our daily news. Gender equality, inclusion, race, mental health issues and many more came to the forefront as the Games progressed.

The two-week festival also highlighted the durability, tolerance, and spirit of the Japanese people who dealt with such a precarious occasion with their renowned accommodating grace and warm hospitality. They deserved every ounce of praise and applause that came their way.

However, as previously stated, there was much trepidation and resistance leading up to the Games...

Family affair

Japan winning a gold medal on the first day of official competition was crucial as it seemed to soften a significant portion of the Japanese public’s perception and resistance to the tournament. Naohisa Takato’s gold in the men’s 60kg judo appeared to almost immediately break an invisible barrier and make it OK for the host nation’s population to not only support the venture but actually enjoy it. There’s nothing quite like being sucked into the occasion and carried along with the raw emotion that only sports can provide and much of Japan, like most other nations, was immediately hooked. The feel good factor of national pride is a powerful dynamic and something millions around the world had been desperately seeking for close to 18 months.

It was very much a family affair the next day as siblings Uta and Hifumi Abe won the women’s 52kg and men’s 66kg titles in judo, piquing the country’s interest levels and engagement furthermore.

Young Guns

Later on that second day, 22-year-old Japanese Yuto Horigome became the first athlete to win gold in Olympic street skateboarding as the sport made its Olympic debut. Momiji Nishiya won gold in the women’s category. The country was well and truly hooked now!

Sakura Yosozumi, 19, then won the women’s park skateboarding contest, ahead of compatriot Kokona Hiraki who is only 12-years-old and Great Britain’s Sky Brown who is only 13-years-old.

Australia got in on the act too as 18-year-old Keegan Palmer claimed the inaugural men’s park skateboarding Olympic gold medal in stunning fashion with two giant scores in the final.

Skateboarding was introduced to the Games roster to connect with new, younger audiences and, along with the likes of surfing and sport climbing, was a huge hit.

Not to be outdone, the oldest medal winner was 62-year-old Australian equestrian rider Andrew Hoy who won a silver from team eventing and a bronze from the individual.

Singapore’s golden boy of diving, Jonathan Chan became Singapore’s first-ever male Olympic diver. 24 year old Jonathan competed in the Men’s 10 metres Platform Preliminaries. Due to his Olympic qualification, Chan was nominated for the Straits Times Athlete of the Year award in 2020.

Photo credit: Foo Yan Nuen