TOKYO (Reuters) – Tokyo extinguished the Olympic flame on Sunday in a ceremony that echoed the restraint of a Games without spectators transformed by the global pandemic, dazzling sports and deep personal turmoil.
After the Tokyo 2020 Games were postponed for a year, organizers said the event would be a symbol of the world’s victory over the pandemic. But with the strict anti-epidemic measures and with the return of COVID-19 variables around the world, the Olympic Games did not bring the victory and unexpected financial gains that Japan wanted.
The ceremony, while not glamorous, gave the athletes a glimpse into daily life in Tokyo as the Olympic Stadium was converted into a park with lawn, motorcyclists and BMX riders.
Organizers said the scene was intended to enable visitors to “experience Tokyo,” in a poignant reminder of the many restrictions imposed on the Games.
It was a strange ending to an unprecedented event. Japan is now saddled with a $15 billion bill, double what it initially expected, and without a tourist boom.
The IOC president thanked the Japanese people and acknowledged the difficulty of holding the Games during the pandemic.
“For the first time since the pandemic began, the whole world has come together,” said Thomas Bach. “No one has ever organized a postponed Games before.”
Public outrage over the pandemic response and the slow pace in rolling out a vaccine have severely damaged Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s standing. Public opinion polls showed that most Japanese were against holding the Games during the pandemic.
However, organizers here appear to have prevented the Tokyo Games from turning into a super-spreading COVID-19 event, notable given that around 50,000 people gathered amid the pandemic.
Referring to the measures, the winners accepted their prizes from trays and placed medals around their necks, though social distancing protocols such as a hug ban were largely ignored throughout the games.
While the bubble here—the collection of venues and hotels that Olympic visitors were trapped in—seemed to hold, some things have collapsed elsewhere. Because of the Delta type of virus, daily infections rose to more than 5,000 for the first time in Tokyo, threatening to flood its hospitals.
Japan’s record-breaking medal record here also helped take some of the sting out for the organizers. The US topped the standings here with 39 gold medals, one time ahead of rival China with 38 and Japan with 27.
The Games also showed the Olympics’ push for more diversity.
For the first time, a victory ceremony was held for both the women’s and men’s marathon races. The 68,000-capacity stadium was twice filled by the Kenyan anthem, for gold medalists Beris Jepchercher and Eliud Kipchoge.
The Cold War and the “Sprains”
And when they came, the games themselves provided plenty of high drama.
In a moment reminiscent of the Cold War here, Belarusian runner Kristina Tsimanskaya refused to board a flight home after being taken to the airport against her will. She has since sought refugee status in Poland.
Famous American gymnast Simone Biles shocked the world when she withdrew from five of her six events, including abrupt abandonment of the women’s team final after attempting to jump only once, citing concerns about her mental and physical health.
Her outspoken admission, combined with previous comments by Japanese tennis star Naomi Osaka, has led to a heavy focus on athletes’ mental health issues.
In athletics, Italy delivered a different kind of shock with their amazing running. Their victories included a stunning gold medal in the men’s relay race here, taking their gold tally in athletics to five.
In swimming here, the US team who didn’t collect 23 Olympic gold medals Michael Phelps still finished the encounter at the top of the medal table.
At the conclusion of five years of intense preparation for the athletes, some of them stretched out on the grass on the field. Some looked relaxed as they watched a hail of fireworks light up the Tokyo sky.
In the end, two large screens of the stadium showed a retrospective of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics: the word “ARIGATO” or “Thank you.”
Additional reporting by David Dolan, Mari Saito and Chang Ran Kim. Additional reporting by Carlos Grumman, Billy Mallard, Anthony Slodkowski, Sakura Murakami and Nick Mulvaney; Additional reporting by Richard Love in Paris. Editing by Pritha Sarkar, Peter Rutherford, Himani Sarkar, Claire Fallon and Christian Radnedge
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