Newsman: The Tokyo Olympics came to an end with the closing ceremony for the Games on Sunday after 17 days in which the world’s biggest sporting event coped. Tokyo passed the baton to Paris after staging a Games that was delayed by Covid-19 and dismayed a skeptical public but nonetheless still delivered its share of memorable moments.
In a video message to the team posted on Twitter Saturday, President Joe Biden thanked the U.S. athletes “for showing what we can do together as one America and as one team.”
“Beyond the medals and the results, you reminded us that we are stronger than we thought we were,” Biden said.
“I declare the games of the 32nd Olympiad closed,” Thomas Bach, president of the International Olympic Committee, said as the world bid goodbye to a Game like no other.
“See you in Paris.”
In the French capital, crowds gathered to celebrate the handover of the summer games to Paris 2024, dancing and celebrating at the foot of the Eiffel Tower while French aerial patrols fly over the fan village in front of the Eiffel Tower trailing a tricolor of blue, white and red smoke swooped through the sky during the Tokyo Olympics closing ceremony Sunday.
“These were unprecedented Olympic Games,” International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach said at the closing ceremony, adding that it took “an equally unprecedented effort to make them happen.” Yet the Olympics were a far cry from what Japan’s former leader, Shinzo Abe, who brought the Games to Tokyo, said they would be—the Olympics in their full-fledged form, demonstrating humankind’s triumph over the coronavirus. On the contrary, the virus hung over every moment of the Games and asserted its presence in every picture of empty stands.
Cope up with aggressive wave of Covid-19 and a Japanese public however, remained uninterested to the end in the role of host. In an interview with NBC News on the eve of the Tokyo Olympics, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga admitted it was a struggle to sell the event to his people. But he said the Games would go on.
And they did.
Spectators were banned at most events and visitors’ movements’ subjected to unprecedented restrictions in an effort to contain the virus at the expense of its usual celebratory atmosphere.
It worked largely, Even though dozens of athletes, officials and workers tested positive for Covid-19 and the number of infections across Tokyo reached new highs during the Games, there has been little evidence yet that the Games led to a substantial spread of infections either inside or outside the event. That was the biggest fear cited by those who had wanted the Olympics canceled.
The fast-paced and tightly-scripted closing ceremony kicked off at 8 p.m. Tokyo time (7 a.m. ET) and, just like the opening ceremony, was a celebration of sports and Japan. It ended with the word “arigato,” which is Japanese for “thank you,” displayed on a giant screen as the athletes strolled off the field.
And all of it played out at the Tokyo Olympic stadium before an audience of mostly empty seats.
The ceremony began with one athlete from each participating country marching in with their flags. Once the athletes were assembled in a circle, the soundtrack quickly segued into a jazzy number during which those participants still remaining in Tokyo streamed out to take part in the ceremony, their faces covered in masks.
The upbeat extravaganza at one point featured The Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra knocking out a dance version of Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” before the beating of the traditional taiko drum signaled the start of the celebration of Japan’s unique and vibrant culture.
It capped two weeks of Olympic action that was watched by millions of people around the world but seen in person by a select few because of a pandemic that will stalk the host country long after the athletes have left.
It was an Olympics faced with unprecedented logistical challenges and domestic opposition, but also a stage for sporting glory mixed in with geopolitical intrigue, discussions over athletes’ mental health and so much more.
Japan made the top five with 58 medals, nearly half of them gold, according to the latest NBC News tally.
Masa Takaya, a spokesman for the Games who had spent much of the Olympics fielding tough questions on the coronavirus and other controversies from skeptical reporters, did not try to hide his satisfaction at Friday’s daily news briefing.
“It’s important that athletes from every country perform their best, but also good to see athletes from the home soil doing well,” he said.
They secured their most cherished medal of the lot early Saturday, shutting out the U.S. to win the baseball-mad country’s first-ever gold in the sport.
Japan mounted the world’s biggest sporting celebration in the face of a plague that has infected more than 200 million people and killed 4.3 million around the world, and — propelled by the delta variant — began spreading through Tokyo at a record rate just as the Games were getting underway.
The Olympics may be at an end, but the Paralympics in Tokyo are still ahead. They kick off Aug. 24 and run through Sept. 5.
These were the Games where gymnastics star Simone Biles took home a team silver medal, a bronze for the balance beam, and a golden legacy on and off the mat after she shocked the world by pulling out of some key events to focus on her mental health.
These were the Games when established stars Allyson Felix and Katie Ledecky added to their medal hauls and a constellation of new Olympics stars emerged, like swimmer Caeleb Dressel, surfer Carissa Moore, gymnast Suni Lee and runners Sydney McLaughlin and Molly Seidel.
The U.S. women’s soccer team fell short in their pursuit of another gold medal, but veteran striker Alex Morgan — one of many stars of this golden generation who may have played in their last Olympics — told NBC News they’re proud of their hard-earned hardware.
The U.S. men’s basketball team, led by Kevin Durant, defeated a formidable French squad to bring home a fourth straight Olympic gold and cement America’s status as the world’s pre-eminent basketball power.
Then the U.S. women’s basketball team, led by Brittney Griner, defeated a scrappy Japanese team to secure America’s seventh straight Olympic gold medal in this event.
Americans were also introduced to Olympic heroes from unlikely places, like Alaska teen Lydia Jacoby, who won gold in the women’s 100-meter breaststroke and hails from a state with exactly one Olympic-size swimming pool — which she couldn’t train in for months because of Covid-19.
They cheered on the kids competing in the Olympics, like 15-year-old U.S. swimmer Katie Grimes, and a litany of skateboarding teens, including Japan’s 13-year-old champion Momiji Nishiya. They cheered on age-defying athletes, too, like U.S. women’s basketball player Sue Bird, who is 40, equestrian rider Phillip Dutton, 57, and Uzbekistan’s Oksana Chusovitina, who at age 46 is the oldest Olympic gymnast in history.
These were the Games where a Belarusian sprinter defied her country’s authoritarian leader by criticizing her coaches, escaped the handlers trying to send her home at a Tokyo-area airport, and found sanctuary in Poland.
The Games opened to protests in Tokyo and broad opposition from the Japanese people, who feared an influx of athletes from abroad would worsen the Covid crisis at home, but who were nevertheless welcoming to the thousands of visitors in their midst.
There were Olympic displays of kindness and class — runners Isaiah Jewett of the U.S. and Nigel Amos of Botswana helped each to their feet after they got tangled and fell during the 800-meter semifinals, while high jumpers Gianmarco Tamberi of Italy and Mutaz Barshim of Qatar embraced in delight as they agreed to share a gold medal.
But there was also the Olympic meltdown of Serbian tennis star Novak Djokovic smashing his racket in frustration after he failed to medal and blew his chance of becoming the first man to win the Golden Slam — four Grand Slam titles and an Olympic gold medal in the same year.
Algerian judo competitor Fethi Nourine defied the Olympic ideal by withdrawing from competition rather than fight an Israeli. And in what could be an Olympic first, a coach with the German modern pentathlon team was kicked out of the Games for punching a horse that balked at jumping.
Just three weeks ago, the Tokyo Games appeared to be imploding.
Key members of the Tokyo 2020 organizing committee were knocked out by scandal. Polls showed a solid majority of Japanese were still opposed to the Olympics. One of its biggest sponsors, Toyota Motor Corp., pulled its Japanese TV ads lest it be forever bound to an event that seemed certain to be tarnished. And then came the steady stream of reports that athletes were testing positive for Covid-19 and testing the assurances of Japan’s leaders that the Games would be “safe and secure.”