2020 Tokyo Olympics
2020 Tokyo Olympics Viktar Masalovich/ Pixabay

It has been less than a week since the jaw-dropping light show that was the closing ceremony of the Tokyo Olympics and the memories of the event are fresh in our minds.

The officials, athletes, and other foreign participants in the Games are back home, perhaps enjoying a short respite before resuming training for future matches. Whether heads held high or hanging, the athletes have made this global event one to remember.

What may very well be forever known as the COVID Olympics, or the Pandemic Olympics, this year’s Games made records of its own.

It is the first event of this scale – sporting or otherwise – that was held since the pandemic began. It is the first Olympics to be held without any spectators in the stands. What's more, this is the only Olympics to be held under a state of emergency in the host country.

Even before it began, the Tokyo Olympics was beleaguered by issues on all fronts. The local population was against the event, citing health and safety issues for both participants and citizens. Prime Minister Suga’s cabinet was loudly criticized for the slow vaccination rate and general inability to deal with the virus efficiently, thus purportedly making it unsafe to hold the Olympics. There were concerns about a COVID-19 outbreak in the Olympic Village.

And as the Games were already underway, critics continued with their outcry. Spectators were banned from the events, but that didn’t stop protesters from gathering at the stadium.

Now, as we look back to the Tokyo Olympics and the hurdles it faced, we can safely say that it was nothing short of a miracle.

Even the criticisms were quashed. Japan’s vaccination rate quickly increased as the Olympics came nearer. The COVID-related death rate decreased by 5 percent as the Olympics started. And, while there were some athletes who tested positive for the virus, one can hardly call it an outbreak. In fact, with only 438 cases recorded in the Olympics-related population, the logical conclusion is that the organizers were able to successfully implement safety measures, contrary to public outcry. The government’s efforts are to be commended.

All this aside, the real success of the Olympics is for the athletes who gave their all as their years of training came to fruition. Already delayed for a year, the Tokyo Olympics was a dream for many, and this year, it finally came true despite the odds.

It is also a success for the countless viewers at home who have been cooped up for so long, not knowing what day of the week it is most of the time.

The Tokyo Olympics brought a ray of sunshine into an otherwise gloomy world. Who could not help but tear up a little when Filipino weightlifter Hidilyn Diaz won the first gold medal for her country? When Bermudan triathlete Flora Duffy and Qataris Mutaz Essa Barshim (high jumper) and Fares Elbakh (weightlifter) did the same?

Nations some people may not even recognize were made proud by their athletes as they bagged the first medals of any kind. San Marino (population 34,000) is now the smallest country to have medals in the Olympics. Turkmenistan won its first medal as well (silver in women’s weightlifting).

For certain, the Japanese people’s hearts were bursting with pride when Ryo Kiyuna won gold in men’s kata – a first within a first, as karate debuted in the Tokyo Olympics. Karate came home to its land of birth and gave back gold.

The performance of Japan’s athletes went a long way to ease the fears and discontent of the population. Bagging 27 gold medals, 14 silver medals, and 17 bronze medals, the country came in third with an unprecedented total of 58 medals. Notably, in the end, the protesters at the Olympic stadium were only a handful compared to the early days.

From the onset, it seemed that expectations for the Tokyo Olympics were low, but the spirit of the Games came out strong. IOC president Thomas Bach said that he was initially afraid that the Games would be “without a soul”, but the athletes made it otherwise. Their joy and enthusiasm were unmatched, and they showed the world just how much we needed the Olympics.