When the International Olympic Committee declared in May that Tokyo 2020 would go ahead come pandemic emergency or not, the games were cemented in controversy.
After 16 days of action-packed sporting brilliance, it is now fair to say the games will also go down in history for boasting moments of success, resilience, and exemplary sportsmanship. Perhaps this was the global sporting tonic that the world needed, a distraction from much of the hardship of the past 18 months, celebrating the best athletes the world has to offer.
From Tom Daley’s Tokyo 2020 cardigan to Jason Kenny’s record as the most decorated British Olympian, here at Sport, we revelled in watching all the action despite a spectator ban and an even less sociable time zone.
Here are five moments we thought made the cut for the most memorable at Tokyo 2020:
1). Tom Daley and Matty Lee’s triumph in diving – Harvey Stevens
Tokyo 2020 was Tom Daley’s fourth Olympic Games at just the age of 27. In an illustrious career which has seen him pick up two Olympic bronze medals and three victories in the World Championships, a gold at the Olympics seemed to be the only prize missing. So when he picked up gold in this year’s synchronised 10m alongside Matty Lee, who was making his Olympic debut, the emotion was clear to see.
An important and touching speech from Daley followed his win: ‘I feel incredibly proud to say that I am a gay man and also an Olympic champion’. The stunning performance on the platform from the pair followed by the poignancy of Daley’s LGBT speech made it an Olympic moment to remember.
2). Anna Kiesenhofer wins gold – Mary Atkinson
Perhaps the most poignant cycling story of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games came from Austria’s Anna Kiesenhofer, who claimed a shock victory on day three of the games in the women’s road race with a vast margin of over two minutes. Leading the Netherlands’ silver medalist Annemiek van Vleuten to believe she had won the race.
However, it wasn’t her dominating time advantage alone that made Kiesenhofer a surprise winner but, her cycling background. An amateur within the sport, not currently cycling for any pro world tour team with only brief stints in the pro peloton historically; despite being Austria’s reigning national champion. Kiesenhofer’s day job? A researcher and teacher at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, having obtained a PhD in Mathematics from the Polytechnic University of Catalonia in 2016 and previously studying at TU Wein and the University of Cambridge.
Kiesenhofer said she hoped her win would inspire others “to not give up, to persevere”. She attributed her impressive breakaway to other riders not believing she would be a threat and therefore letting her get ahead. The self-coached 30-year-old proved with her impressive Tokyo 2020 win that you can never underestimate an underdog.
3). Sharing the spoils in Men’s High Jump – Jonny Tiplady
The ultimate act of sportsmanship. After over two hours of intense competition, Mutaz Essa Barshim of Qatar and Italy’s Gianmarco Tamberi made history by becoming the first athletes in 113 years to share a gold medal in Athletics. Neither of the two competing for glory in the Men’s High Jump could reach an Olympic record of 2.39m, both settling for a tie after three attempts.
There was joy and relief for both sides; Barshim won what was only Qatar’s second-ever Olympic gold medal after enduring injury problems over the last five years. And for Tamberi too, it capped off a wonderful comeback from a career-threatening injury that had ruled him out of Rio 2016. As Barshim asked the official ‘Can we have two golds?’, neither athlete could contain their joy at the thought of having done both their countries proud. This was two athletes displaying unity and solidarity, a perfect memento from Tokyo 2020.
4). Georgia Taylor-Brown clawing back silver in the Women’s Triathlon – Abi Curran
In the face of much adversity, Georgia Taylor-Brown’s mental, as well as physical strength, powered her through a gruelling 40km cycle and 10km run to gain silver. The Leigh-born triathlete started strong, putting herself in front during the 1.5km swim of Tokyo Bay. However, a nightmare puncture to her bicycle, with 1km of the cycle to go, left her 20 seconds behind in fifth at transition. It seemed like it was just not the 27-year-old’s day. Though Taylor-Brown had faced bigger hurdles already, coming into Tokyo suffering a leg injury which left her on crutches just 12 weeks prior to the games.
Closing the gap on her opponents ahead would certainly be no easy feat; the commentator described the close of her cycle as a ‘heartbreak for Georgia Taylor-Smith.’ And what a comeback it was over the course of the 10km dash. Taylor-Brown seemed to glide past her teammate, Jessica Learmonth, then the German Laura Lindeman, and, not forgetting, American Katie Zaferes until she reached the second position and bagged the silver.
Resembling somewhat of a swan, Taylor-Brown described the panic she felt at falling behind and having to ride on the flat. Despite many barriers in the run-up to The Games, Taylor-Brown proved her spirit and determination with such a memorable race.
5). Karlis Lasmanis winning the Men’s 3×3 Basketball for Latvia – George Simms
After an Olympic games packed with incredible stories, I really struggled to pick just one. Kimia Alizadeh beating her former teammate and then double Olympic champion Jade Jones, despite competing as a refugee after speaking out against exploitation of female athletes in her native Iran, was definitely up there. As Jonny mentioned, the ‘Can we have two golds’ helped restore a bit of my constantly-waning faith in humanity. Amongst all this brilliance, I’ve chosen a story that helped remind me why I love sport. Why I sat up at 4am watching judo, despite not having the foggiest what was going on.
One lunchtime, sheer boredom led me to be greeted by eight grimacing giants, all trying equally hard to convince people they weren’t Russian anymore. It was the Men’s 3×3 Basketball final, ROC vs Latvia. Now, I enjoy the NBA, but I couldn’t help but agree with my sister’s expert opinion on 3×3 Basketball; that this was, ‘a very silly sport’. What felt like ten very long minutes later, we were both screaming at the TV as beloved Latvian talisman, Edgar Krumins, a man-mountain who redefined the word ‘grizzled’, finally succumbed to what may well have been a broken angle.
When Karlis Lasmanis sealed the win with seconds to go, from a shot which Steph Curry would’ve proudly put on his highlight reel, I was utterly besotted with 3×3 Basketball. Of course, there’s every chance I’ll never watch a game again, but that’s what the Olympics are for. For ten minutes, I was absolutely lost in the life’s work of some suspiciously genetically-gifted former Soviets, and completely forgot what was going on in my life. See you all in Paris.
Image: Dick Thomas Johnson via Flickr