Devoid of crowds yet enthralling in drama, the Tokyo 2020 Olympics delivered rich entertainment, controversy and storylines.
Whether there was joy or despair for the athletes at the center of it, every day of the Games seemed to surface more surprises, with the eyes of the world on the mid-pandemic action in a country whose people had been somewhat reluctant to host an influx of sporting entourages.
Team USA led the way in the medals table with 113, although China’s count of 38 golds was only one fewer than the Americans, with Japan, Team GB and the Russian Olympic Committee – the banner Russian athletes appeared under as a result of a ruling by doping bosses – not far behind.
Here, we look back at some of the most memorable events and incidents from Tokyo 2020, including political outrage, dubious judging and a creative deployment of a condom…
Donald Trump blasts Team USA and ‘woman with the purple hair’
Team USA talisman Megan Rapinoe has no love lost with former US president Donald Trump, and the Republican ranter did not miss the chance to critique the US Women’s National Team’s underperformance at the Games, describing their best-known player as “the woman with the purple hair” who “played terribly” and “spends too much time thinking about Radical Left politics.
Trump savaged the misfiring team’s shock 3-0 defeat to Sweden early in the tournament, which hindsight shows was a warning sign after they were later dumped out by Canada.
At 36, Rapinoe is unlikely to appear at the Olympics again, although she had the consolation of celebrating partner Sue Bird’s basketball gold medal with Team USA, which was Bird’s fifth successive title at the Games.
Archers keep their cool after a start too hot to handle
There were concerns for athletes in the intense heat of the Tokyo region from the outset of the Games, and archery ace Svetlana Gomboeva was an unfortunate early casualty of the conditions, capturing a few headlines after collapsing in the heat.
Gomboeva was soon back to her best and, alongside Ksenia Perova and Elena Osipova, scored a silver medal in the team event, only being denied by the all-conquering South Koreans.
Osipova almost won the individual final, losing 6-5 to An San in the final, while Gomboeva enlightened her new and old fans on her Russian heritage and her approach to dealing with the pesky business of online haters.
The 23-year-old’s happy run continued when she married fellow archer Dashi Dashanimaev in West Siberia after returning from the Games.
Tenacious triathlon champion vomits after earning glory
Norwegian endurance king Kristian Blummenfelt pushed himself to such an extreme in the triathlon that he ended up vomiting and being pushed away in a wheelchair, although he claimed that he had wanted the conditions to be even hotter because his nation had excelled at providing training in strenously demanding warmth.
Brave Blummenfelt had promised himself that he would win gold on a trip to Tokyo several years beforehand, prevailing in temperatures of 29C (85F) and humidity of 67 percent in a figure-gripping outfit that was drenched with sweat.
“Pushing ’til you vom is full on,” observed rowing legend Matthew Pinsent.
Father-and-daughter joy after all-Russian sabre showdown
An all-Russian fencing final between two greats of the sport resulted in a 15-11 victory for Sofia Pozdniakova, handing Sofya Velikaya a third successive defeat in the Olympic final.
Another stirring subplot was also at play: Pozdniakova’s father, Stanislav Pozdnyakov, is the head of the Russian Olympic team, and he rushed to embrace her after she followed in the footsteps of the man who won gold four times during his own decorated career.
? Самое милое видео дня: София Позднякова празднует победу вместе с отцом, четырехкратным олимпийским чемпионом Станиславом Поздняковым.Теперь у них пять золотых медалей Олимпийских игр на двоих [email protected]_Russiapic.twitter.com/xZjbNZLMjb
— Спорт-Экспресс (@sportexpress) July 26, 2021
Pozdniakova ended the game halfway to equaling her dad’s haul after winning the team foil fencing final against France, which meant Velikaya, who was also on the team, did not depart without gold.
Skateboarding sensations provide a podium of prodigies
Of the many teenage talents challenging for honors, few were as young as Momiji Nishiya, the 13-year-old inaugural winner of the first ever women’s skateboard gold medal at the Olympics.
Japan’s youngest ever Games medalist beat Brazilian Rayssa Leal, who turned 13 in January, and compatriot Funa Nakayama, at a relatively ancient 16 years of age. That made for a podium with a combined age younger than some individual competitors.
Gymnasts strike gold – but confusing vault tie-break leads to agony
The Russian men’s artistic gymnastics team went one better than they did in 2016, narrowly edging out Japan to take gold in a victory that left the quartet in tears on the floor.
Remarkably, Artur Dalaloyan had torn his achilles tendon only three months earlier, and there was pain to come for Denis Ablyazin, who had to publicly tell his fans to calm down amid accusations that he had been robbed of vault gold.
There was a note of frustration after Ablyazin collected his third successive silver medal, though: after losing to South Korea’s Shin Jea-hwan on a tie-break that seemed to have been adjudged in somewhat improvisational manner, the five-time Olympic medalist and former world champion admitted to confusion over how the result had been decided.
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‘I urge everyone to calm down’: Gymnast insists medal was not ‘stolen’ from Russian team after South Korea win ‘weird’ tie-breaker
Big guns go out as tennis stars swelter in the heat
Perhaps because of the immense physical exertion required on court, tennis stars seemed to make more noise – and, arguably, suffer more – than most.
Daniil Medvedev took his top off and issued a health warning for the conditions, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova needed ice packs and oxygen and Novak Djokovic argued that matches should have taken place later in the day.
The world number one was on tempestuous form, throwing a racket and hammering a net on his way to being ousted by champion Alex Zverev in the men’s singles semifinals.
Zverev beat Karen Khachanov in the final, and Aslan Karatsev and Elena Vesnina beat Djokovic and Nina Stojanovic on their way to an all-Russian doubles final in which they were edged out by Pavlyuchenkova and Andrey Rublev.
Djokovic on Biles: “If you are aiming to be at the top of the game, you better start learning how to deal with pressure and how to cope with those moments”Djokovic this past Saturday: breaks & throws his racket. Quits his mixed doubles match because he was losing pic.twitter.com/QqLdfI4nV7
— DJ I.M. (@iamdjIM) August 2, 2021
Home favorite Naomi Osaka, who had launched the Games, lost in straight sets to finalist Marketa Vondrousova in the third round.
Electronics gaffe almost stops born hunter from winning gold
Tutored from a young age by her avid hunter grandfathers, Vitalina Batsarashkina’s decades of dedication hit the spot when she made history by becoming the first female shooter to win three medals at the same Olympics.
It might not have happened had she not spotted a freak combination of misfiring technology and judging slackness that nearly caused one of her shots not to be recorded, but she was not to be dnied, claiming gold in the 25m and 10m pistol events and silver in the 10m air pistol mixed teams contest.
As well as the enchanting backstory of a life spent honing her skills, Batsarashkina’s stance also went viral, with fans charmed by an apparently laidback, side-on style that includes keeping one hand in her pocket.
Crash, bang, wallop and early-morning expletives on the cycle track
While the skateboarding and BMX tournaments often looked terrifying – there was relief when American BMX star Connor Fields was announced to be recovering despite a brain haemorrhage following a crash – there were two curious collisions involving Team GB racers on one day in quick succession.
Frederik Madsen was widely condemned for ploughing into the back of Charlie Tanfield and loudly swearing at his team while his rival was in a sorry state on the floor.
The clash caused sufficient commotion for judges to deliberate over whether Denmark should be allowed to proceed to the final, as well as an apology from broadcasters for foul language early in the day.
Katie Archibald then crashed into teammate Neah Evans. “It’s like you turn up to school completely naked,” she said of the fiasco, adding a further strange twist with her choice of analogy.
“You realize you’re not dead, so you continue on.”
Wenn die Goldträume (möglicherweise) von einem Moment auf den anderen platzen ??Brutales Ende für den 4er der Dänen auf der letzten Runde in der Mannschaftsverfolgung.Frederik Madsen fährt in den zurückgefallenen Charlie Tanfield rein…Noch keine Entscheidung von der Jury pic.twitter.com/FDFbgH5zky
— René Bugner (@RNBWCV) August 3, 2021
‘No-sex’ beds made from cardboard
Several former athletes have admitted that the Games can prove a promiscuous setting, so there were rumors that the cardboard beds provided to athletes in Tokyo had been designed to deter them from sex amid concerns about close contact and Covid.
The blue-and-white themed units were actually designed by architect and paper specialist Shigeru Ban to take 400lbs.
Irish gymnast Rhys McClenaghan tested the theory by jumping on his one, and a group of Israeli athletes earned condemnation on social media after filing themselves following suit.
Prevalent Olympic protests draw a mixed reaction from viewers
Arriving during a period when pre-match gestures can seem ubiquitous in elite sport, these Games were prefaced by an amendment to guidelines by organizers that seemed to clear the way for athletes to more readily take part in acts of protest before events.
The Team GB women’s football squad was one of the more high-profile participants, having insisted that they viewed the taking of the knee was more important than ever.
US shot-put silver medalist Raven Saunders is being investigated by the International Olympic Committee over an ‘X’ gesture, and US fencer Alen Hadzic’s own team appeared to protest against him, wearing pink over accusations by multiple women that he had engaged in sexual misconduct.
Broken arm fails to stop taekwondo master from making history
Taekwondo sensation Maksim Khramtcov broke his arm three months before the Games, ate calcium in a bid to recover and continued to feel pain in the build-up and during his campaign.
After taking the taekwondo title at 80kg, he admitted that he had not expected to be able to compete in Tokyo, let alone become the first Russian to win gold in the discipline.
Three months before that, Khramtcov’s mother died. The 23-year-old dedicated the 16th medal of his impressive career to her, beating Jordanian Saleh Elsharabaty in the final.
‘The true essence of sportsmanship’ – high jumpers share gold
What do you do when you can’t separate stratospheric jumpers? Qatari athlete Mutaz Barshim had a novel suggestion during a nerve-wracking final against Italian Gianmarco Tamberi.
Microphones picked up Barshim asking whether both men could be given gold. Following deliberations with officials, the pair prevailed together in a moment of mutual respect that was hailed by many as the best of the Games.
It was worth it for Tamberi’s reaction alone: the overjoyed man known as ‘Halfshave’ leapt into Barshim’s arms on the track in footage that is certain to be remembered forever.
Fury and tears as judges deny gymnast gold despite ribbon howler
Rhythmic gymnast Dina Averina looked highly likely to make the Olympic title her seventh major medal of the year after Israeli contender Linoy Ashram dropped the ribbon in her final routine.
The three-time world champion, alas, was left in tears after judges gave gold to Ashram, with a wave of outrage greeting the decision.
In an unflinching reaction, Irina Viner-Usmanova told RT Sport that the judges had been intent on ensuring that Russian athletes did not dominate, labeling the verdict a “blatant mistake”.
Former champion Karolina Sevastyanov was no more reserved, fuming that the result made training pointless when major errors could still lead to gold, adding that the scandal had “destroyed the future of sports”.
Belarusian sprinter sparks international diplomacy row
A whisper that an athlete had been ordered to return home swiftly escalated into an international incident and a top news story around the world.
Sprinter Kristina Timanovskaya had vociferously voiced her views about a perceived lack of organization around the Belarusian camp, but her views seemed run-of-the-mill for a sportsperson with time on their hands and social media in their palm.
As it was, Japanese police had to come to Timanovskaya’s rescue when she refused to board a flight, leading to widespread condemnation of sporting and political figures in her homeland.
The asylum-seeking 200m specialist has now been given a humanitarian visa to live in Poland, where her boyfriend, who fled from Belarus to Ukraine, hopes to join her.
Concerns remain for her family, with Timanovskaya admitting she feared she would not be safe and face a jail term if she returns.
Brave fencer battles on through injury – then hops to celebrate gold
The Russian team was said to be facing removal from the foil gold medal match when they faced the prospect of losing replacement Marta Martyanova, who injured her ankle early on, requiring sevreal minutes of treatment.
Martyanova did not have time to consider the situation, carrying bravely on to help her team beat France 45-34.
Afterwards, she collapsed in a wheelchair in tears, then hopped on one leg to celebrate the gold medal with teammates Larisa Korobeynikova, Inna Deriglazova and Adelina Zagidullina.
Fox makes waves as condom comes to the rescue for kayak
Olympic athletes are known to be given free condoms, and enterprising Australian Jessica Fox made the most of hers on the way to bronze and gold kayak medals, putting the stretchiness of a contraceptive to inventive use when her vessel was damaged.
Fox used the condom to hold in place a carbon mixture that kept her kayak seaworthy, and her ingenious improvization was rewarded when she became the inaugural winner of the C1 event. Rubber may never have been put to such fine use.
Gymnastics legend brings her career to a close at the age of 46
That one of Oksana Chusovitina’s two Olympic medals is a gold for the Soviet team at the 1992 Games, which were her first, tells only the tiniest part of a career that has lasted almost 40 years.
Already the oldest ever gymnast at a Games when she represented Uzbekistan, where she was born, in 2016, the legendary athlete traveled to Tokyo for what she confirmed would be her final Olympics, having also spent six years performing for Germany, where she moved to in 2006 seeking advanced medical help for her son, Alisher, who was suffering from acute lymphocytic leukemia. Chusovitina won silver for her adopted nation at the 2008 Games.
Seventh heaven for Svetlana as artistic swimmers keep run going
One day, Russian swimmers will surely relinquish their grip on the duet and team artistic events at the Games.
That day did not arrive this year, as the ROC stormed toan astonishing sixth double gold in a row, expertly assisted by Svetlana Romashina, who added a seventh Olympic gold of her career to cement her place as a synchronized legend.
Svetlana Kolesnichenko, the winner of the duet category with Romashina, was one of the seven formidable athletes taking to the water in space-themed swimsuits alongside the 31-year-old.
It resulted in the unbroken clean sweep that begun in 2000 continuing apace.
Covid-19 chaos keeps top stars out of competition
In an area that had just declared a fourth state of emergency amid the pandemic, tensions around Covid infection rates were already high before the inevitable news of positive tests started rolling in.
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Staying putt: More Covid despair for Rahm as positive tests rule world number 1 & contender DeChambeau out of Tokyo Olympics golf
Golf was arguably worst hit, with world number one Jon Rahm – who had only just recovered from the anguish of being ousted from a tournament he was leading when it was discovered that he had the virus – and American star Bryson DeChambeau cruelly ruled out just before the start of their tournament.
The sole Russian karate competitor at the Games, Anna Chernysheva, also tested positive despite being vaccinated, while Dutch skateboarder called hotel quarantine conditions “inhuman”.
Algerian axed after withdrawing because of Israel-Palestine views
Algerian judoka Fethi Nourine was suspended by the International Judo Federation for withdrawing from the Games rather than facing a likely meeting with Israel’s Tohar Butbul, repeating a move he made in 2019. Nourine’s coach insisted that his support for Palestine made the decision the right one.
The federation’s disciplinary panel took a dim view, however, warning that the withdrawal went against its “moral code” and intolerance of discrimination.
Leaders and the National Olympic Committee of Algeria were considering handing Nourine further punishment.
Algerian Judoko Fethi Nourine refused to fight an Israeli opponent saying “We worked a lot to reach the Olympics… but the Palestinian cause is bigger than all of this”. pic.twitter.com/kQTFYzQ9PH
— Amnesty International Aotearoa NZ (@AmnestyNZ) August 9, 2021
Chernobyl for Ukraine, riots for Haiti, embarrassment for broadcasters
In a farce that some viewers guessed had been the product of running with the first image that came up in a Google search for each country, South Korean TV station MBC managed to baffle and offend its viewers with a range of shoddy images to symbolize nations when it screened the opening ceremony.
That led to Ukraine being represented by a black-and-white photo of the Chernobyl power plant, with the decision to link the team to one of the country’s worst disasters reasonably interpreted as stupendously insensitive by most viewers.
Bosses at the station issued an apology for the shambles, which also saw Haiti portrayed with an image of a riot.
lol in the Olympics broadcast in South Korea, the broadcaster there decided the best representation of Ukraine was this picture of Chernobyl post-disaster lol pic.twitter.com/JKphvhGS9Q
— ?️?connor boyfriend summer?️?|| 42 days (@Connor_is_lovly) July 23, 2021
First transgender athlete at Olympics goes out early in weightlifting
As the first transgender athlete to take part in the Olympics, New Zealander Laurel Hubbard had been the subject of fierce debate long before she took part in the super-heavyweight weightlifting tournament, in which she failed to progress to the latter stages.
Softly-spoken Hubbard acknowledged that arguments over the rules regarding testosterone levels will continue, with the IOC’s top medical boss revealing that they are about to be revised.
The 43-year-old said she wanted to encourage people to be themselves, and her detractors will have felt some relief at her suggestion that she is now likely to retire.
When asked to comment on Laurel Hubbard becoming the first transgender athlete to compete in her sport, female US weightlifter Sarah Robles says, “No, thank you.” pic.twitter.com/3CtT2zm3Py
— The Post Millennial (@TPostMillennial) August 3, 2021
Gymnastics star Simone Biles withdraws – then wins bronze
American gymnastics great Simone Biles had been expected to provide major stories, although few would have anticipated that the four-time gold medalist in 2016 would do so by withdrawing from four events citing mental health challenges.
A cheerleader for her team in the events that followed, Biles’ decision caused abundant debate before Team USA excitedly announced that she would return for the balance beam final, in which she took bronze with a return to something like her best in a category that is not her specialism.
“I was just going out there doing this for me,” she smiled afterwards.
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From the whining over Russians winning medals to transgender weightlifting – the Tokyo 2020 Olympics have taught us much