Updated Sunday, August 8, 2021 –

The Japanese are always stuck with the thorn of not knowing how their Games would have been held in a world without Covid. “They would have been the best in history,” said Thomas Bach, president of the International Olympic Committee.

Volunteers of the Olympic Games at the entrance of the Aquatic Center.LC

Tokyo 2020. In 2021. We started badly with the numbers thing. The presentation was not very encouraging either: the curtain opened a year later than planned and without an audience. It was the Games of the protests of the citizens of the host country. Those who were going to open a new post-pandemic era. But the only thing they opened was a can full of fears of a big outbreak that would force them to cancel everything.

Japan had a huge challenge: getting the Pandemic Games through. And he has succeeded. Of course there have been chaotic moments, with many improvisations and corrections on the fly. But it must be recognized that the three bubbles around which everything worked (that of the athletes, journalists and volunteers of the organization), have worked.

The Japanese are always stuck with the thorn of not knowing how their Games would have been held in a world without Covid. “The infrastructure and the operation they had was incredible. They would have been the best in history,” he told a group of journalists a few days ago. Thomas Bach, President of the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

Surely Bach is right. But we are not here to talk about things that have never happened. In these lines of review, it must be said that Bach himself had to deal on a trip to Hiroshima with shouts and insults from a group of protesters who asked him to cancel the Games.

Badosa, retired in a wheelchair

There have been protests since the Olympic torch began traveling through Japan in March. Even a lady called Kayoko Takahashi I tried to extinguish the flame with a squirt gun. On the night of the opening ceremony, an angry mob gathered outside the Olympic Stadium. There were times when their screams were heard louder than the stadium music.

In the midst of a fourth state of emergency and a fifth wave of infections that breaks new records every day, the Japanese, who were not in for much of a party, turned their backs on their Games. Although it is also true that, as the competitions progressed and Japan was winning medals, more people were hooked and the protests lost force until they were somewhat marginal.

Paula Badosa, retired in a wheelchair.
Paula Badosa, retired in a wheelchair.REUTERS

Tokyo 2020, in addition to the sanitary lock, will be remembered for being the hottest Games in history. Ask the Spanish tennis player Paula Badosa, who had to retire in a wheelchair due to heatstroke.

More than 34 degrees for a few days and a humidity of almost 70% caused a scare like the one in Badosa. The tennis players were the ones who complained the most. In the memo, there should be the phrase that the Russian Daniil Medvedev to the referee during a match: “If I die, will you be responsible?” Medvedev did not die of heat, but lost the match.

Caught while sightseeing

Outside the sports arena, these atypical Games have also left bizarre moments like the disappearance for four days of Julius Ssekitoleko, the Ugandan weightlifter who left his delegation hanging and hid up north in Yokkaichi city. Before his escape, he left a note explaining that he wanted to work in Japan. It was not very successful because I was deported.

Other expelled from the country were two Georgian athletes who left the Olympic Village to do some sightseeing in the center of Tokyo, bypassing the rigid restrictions of the organization. What they did not count on Lasha Shavdatuashvili and Vazha Margvelashvili, both Olympic medalists, is that some citizens recognized them and told the police that two athletes had escaped from the bubble.

Tsimanouskaya, prosecuted by Japanese police.
Tsimanouskaya, prosecuted by Japanese police.REUTERS

Less funny was what happened with the Belarusian Krystsina Tsimanouskaya. The claws of an authoritarian government tried to operate with impunity at the Olympic Games. It will not be the first time it happens. But if Japan is not suspicious of something, it is of being one of the healthiest democrats on the planet. Sprinter Tsimanouskaya criticized her coaches and the Alexander Lukashenko attempted forcible deportation. She described it as a “kidnapping”.

The 2022 Winter Games

Luckily, her Japanese story had a happy ending: the police interceded when the athlete was already at the airport. Tsimanouskaya applied for asylum and the Polish government granted it. Already exiled in Poland, she said that even the doctor in her delegation suggested that she commit suicide.

The strangest Olympic Games ever held have come to an end. Now, before Paris 2024, it is Beijing’s turn to take the baton with its Winter Games in February 2022. It will be the third consecutive Olympic event in Asia. China intends, if the new outbreaks give it a break, that at its Games there will be an audience in the stands. It wants to do what Tokyo couldn’t: celebrate the first big party of the post-pandemic era.

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