Tokyo 2020 Olympics briefing: your moments of the Games


Today in a nutshell: your favourite moments of the Games, the medal table annotated, and a very big sand sculpture in India

Next week’s key moments: we will begin our previews of the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics

Fireworks at the end of the closing ceremony for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. Photograph: Ayman Aref/NurPhoto/Shutterstock

How are you feeling? Our first day without Olympic sport since … well … it feels like for ever. It was a Games many people were dreading, because of the effect it might have on the Covid pandemic in Japan, but it was a Games where ultimately the sport did manage to knock the coronavirus out of the headlines – although not make it go away.

Over the last few days I’ve been asking you for some of your favourite moments of the Olympics we’ve just watched. Simara Pérez got in touch to say: “I’m a Venezuelan-British woman living in the UK, so my favourite moment was Yulimar Rojas winning gold and breaking the world record and Olympic record in the triple jump, on her last attempt. It was perfect.”

Yulimar Rojas, of Venezuela, celebrates after winning gold in the women’s triple jump, in a new world record. Photograph: David J Phillip/AP

I had that on my list of brilliant moments too – not least because Rojas made me realise that even with an empty Olympic stadium, there were going to be athletes determined to whip up whatever atmosphere they could, put on a show, dream big and smash it.

Katie Archibald (left) and Laura Kenny celebrate on the podium. Photograph: Danny Lawson/PA

Robert Pearce suggested that one of his highlights was the devastatingly controlled performance in the women’s madison of Laura Kenny and Katie Archibald, who made what is normally a complex and tense event a relative stroll around the velodrome. One of my abiding memories of the track cycling will be the absolute opposite of that control – Denmark’s Frederik Madsen barrelling into the back of Team GB’s Charlie Tanfield on the cycling track and then absolutely losing it at the Brit for no readily apparent reason.

Frederik Madsen doing his pieces. Photograph: Christopher Jue/EPA

Also with cycling for a second, Michael Ireton confessed he was highly sceptical before the Olympics but his excitement started to build when Anna Kiesenhofer stormed away with the women’s road cycling race. “You don’t get a lot of math PhDs winning Olympic gold,” he added.

Anna Kiesenhofer wins gold in the road race. Photograph: Hollandse Hoogte/Shutterstock

Tumaini Carayol has been in Tokyo for us during the Games, and at the weekend he picked his best 10 moments. Among other things he said:

Mixed-gender events arrived at the Games in a meaningful way, and they were so often deeply entertaining, offering a completely new dynamic to racing formats that have been around for so long. The anarchy of the mixed medley swimming event, which is extremely tactical and never truly clear until the end, was an enormous hit.

Simone Biles in the women’s beam final. Photograph: Mike Egerton/PA

After years of being one of the most dominant athletes in the world, Simone Biles had a realistic shot at five gold medals in Tokyo. Instead, she lost track of herself in the air during the vault in the team final and withdrew. Her willingness to prioritise her mental and physical health, when people around her had initially reassured her that she would be fine, was memorable.

Sakura Yosozumi of Japan and Sky Brown of Team GB at the end of the skateboarding. Photograph: Yohei Osada/Aflo/Shutterstock

Skateboarding made a joyous Olympic debut. The skills on display made it immediately watchable, as did the rise of the teen prodigies in the women’s event. While the presence of such young competitors in the biggest sporting event in the world is up for debate, the camaraderie between the young skaters throughout was not.

Gavin Coopey emailed me to say his absolute highlight had to be the shared gold for Mutaz Essa Barshim of Qatar and Gianmarco Tamberi of Italy at the end of the high jump final. He said: “You could see the huge sense of joy they both had from the win, and each had such a backstory of recovery from injury and missed opportunity – with the Italian’s plaster cast alongside him on the run up even – a wonderful moment that summed up the commitment, time, passion and camaraderie of great athletics.”

Joint gold medallists Gianmarco Tamberi of Italy and Qatar’s Mutaz Essa Barshim. Photograph: Patrick Smith/Getty Images

Some of my other personal favourite moments from the Games included staying up late to watch Team GB triumph in the mixed triathlon relay, the discipline of the equestrian events, the entertainment of the laser run in the modern pentathlon, and the sheer endurance on show in events like the open water swimming marathons and the 50km race walk. I also really loved the introduction of sport climbing – although I can’t say I ever really got my head around the scoring system.

Janja Garnbret of Slovenia on her way to winning the first ever Olympic sport climbing gold. Photograph: Maja Hitij/Getty Images

John De la Cruz wanted me to flag up the retirement after eight Olympics of Spanish race-walker Jesús Ángel García as a notable moment. Although he has been a world champion, he never quite made it to the podium at the Olympics – finishing fifth in 2004 and an agonising fourth in 2008.

There was a sobering assessment of the potential impact of these Games from Justin McCurry, our Tokyo correspondent who has been reporting on the Covid pandemic and the buildup in Japan. He wrote:

The last time Tokyo hosted the Olympics, in 1964, Japan seized the opportunity to demonstrate its transformation from militarist aggressor to fully fledged member of the community of responsible nations, complete with a constitution that would prevent it from waging war again. This time, it will be judged on whether it pulled off what had at times looked like mission impossible: to welcome tens of thousands of visitors for a sports event and simultaneously prevent it from doubling as a virus super-spreader. Reliable answers will have to wait until long after the athletes, journalists, sponsors and officials have left. And only then will the Japanese public be able to decide if a multibillion-dollar Olympics they helped bankroll but were banned from watching – at least in the most immediate sense – were worth the risk.

Tom Daley posing with the knitted Team GB cardigan he made poolside to raise funds for The Brain Tumour Charity. Photograph: @madewithlovebytomdaley/PA

There’s no denying that the sport emotionally engaged the world though. Kevin Foster told me: “I loved seeing all that emotion. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many athletes crying before, either through joy with Tom Daley, despair with Dina Asher-Smith or heartbreak at not being able to continue Adam Gemili. This made it a very emotional Games to watch.”

And this email from Viv Nicholas made me laugh. He picked one of his favourite moments: when the Czech Republic’s gold and silver medallists in the trap shooting, Jiri Liptak and David Kostelecky, sat around afterwards with their coaches, and as he put it: “You just knew that what they really wanted were a couple of cold beers.”

Jiri Liptak (right) of the Czech Republic and David Kostelecky (front) celebrate. Without a beer. Photograph: Xinhua/Shutterstock

I’ll give the last word to Dabney Melia from Dublin though, who in her email to me said: “Like the recent football, the Olympics have helped viewers be positive during the pandemic. Now the Paralympics will be the next beacon of light.”

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As it finished – annotated

Here’s how the medal table ended up after the Tokyo Games:

Team USA topped the medal table on all measures. Photograph: Sergei Bobylev/Tass

1 🇺🇸 USA 🥇 39 🥈 41 🥉 33 total: 113

It is the third successive Summer Olympics that the USA has topped the medal table both for number of golds and overall total of medals

2 🇨🇳 China 🥇 38 🥈 32 🥉 18 total: 88

China excelled in particular in diving, where they won all but one of the eight golds available, and in table tennis, where they took four of the five titles.

3 🇯🇵 Japan 🥇 27 🥈 14 🥉 17 total: 58

Naohisa Takato’s gold on the first Saturday of the Games set Japan on their way to their best ever total medal haul, and their 27 golds out-stripped their previous best ever tally of 16.

Naohisa Takato of Japan shows off his gold medal from the judo. Photograph: Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times/Shutterstock

4 🇬🇧 Great Britain 🥇 22 🥈 21 🥉 22 total: 65

Team GB won medals across 25 different sports, and chef de mission Mark England hailed it, in the circumstances of being away from home during a pandemic, as “the greatest achievement in British Olympic history”.

5 ◽️ Not Russia 🥇 20 🥈 28 🥉 23 total: 71

Athletes from Russia competed in Tokyo under the banner of the Russian Olympic Committee as part of a punishment for the cover-up of a massive state-sponsored doping programme. The original four-year suspension was halved to two, but will continue to apply to the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing.

6 🇦🇺 Australia 🥇 17 🥈 7 🥉 22 total: 46

Australia won more gold medals this Olympics than they did in London and Rio combined, fuelled by an incredible performance of the swimming team with 21 medals including nine golds.

Australia’s Ariarne Titmus competes in the freestyle swimming. Photograph: Joe Giddens/EPA

7 🇳🇱 Netherlands 🥇 10 🥈 12 🥉 14 total: 36

The Netherlands won eight medals in a single day during the Tokyo Games, beating a record of seven in a day which had stood since the 1928 Amsterdam Olympics.

8 🇫🇷 France 🥇 10 🥈 12 🥉 11 total: 33

France equalled the 10 golds they won in Rio, but will hope to do much better when they stage the Games in Paris for the third time. Their section of the closing ceremony really sold me on going to watch Paris 2024 in person.

*LOUD JET ENGINE NOISE* Photograph: Aurélien Meunier/Getty Images

9 🇩🇪 Germany 🥇 10 🥈 11 🥉 16 total: 37

Ten golds and 37 medals overall is Germany’s lowest medal haul since they began competing as a reunified team at Barcelona in 1992.

10 🇮🇹 Italy 🥇 10 🥈 10 🥉 20 total: 40

Forty medals in total is the most that Italy has ever won at a summer Games, including when they hosted it in Rome. Victory in the men’s 100m capped off a summer of success for Italy, who can also count winning Euro 2020 and – most importantly – the Eurovision song contest among national achievements this year.

Selected highlights from the rest of the table:

Ireland’s Fintan McCarthy and Paul O’Donovan with their gold medals. Photograph: Photosport/Inpho/Shutterstock

39 🇮🇪 Ireland 🥇 2 🥈 0 🥉 2 total: 4

Two gold medals is the best performance by Ireland team at an Olympics since Atlanta in 1996.

41 🇶🇦 Qatar 🥇 2 🥈 0 🥉 1 total: 3

Fares El-Bakh won Qatar’s first ever gold medal at an Olympics in the weightlifting, but that was soon to be eclipsed by the amazing moment in the Tokyo stadium where Mutaz Essa Barshim agreed to share high jump gold with Gianmarco Tamberi.

42 🇽🇰 Kosovo 🥇 2 🥈 0 🥉 0 total: 2

Kosovo’s two golds in the judo came so early in the Games that for a while the small Balkans country was in the top 10 of the medal table. It is only the second time it has competed as an independent country at the Olympics.

48 🇮🇳 India 🥇 1 🥈 2 🥉 4 total: 7

Despite its population, India has never been an Olympic powerhouse. Neeraj Chopra’s javelin gold medal was only the second individual gold India has ever won. The country’s total medal haul of seven was its highest ever.

Neeraj Chopra competes in the javelin final. Photograph: Michael Steele/Getty Images

They’ve got a little bit excited about it back in India, too.

Artist Ajay Rawat created a sand sculpture to congratulate Neeraj Chopra. Photograph: Himanshu Sharma/NurPhoto/Shutterstock

50 🇵🇭 Philippines 🥇 1 🥈 2 🥉 1 total: 4

Weightlifter Hidilyn Diaz made history when she became the first Filipino to ever win an Olympic gold. The country had sent athletes to every Olympics bar one since 1924.

63 🇧🇲 Bermuda 🥇 1 🥈 0 🥉 0 total: 1

Flora Duffy’s gold in the women’s triathlon made Bermuda the smallest country in the world by population to have won a gold at the Summer Olympics.

72 🇸🇲 San Marino 🥇 0 🥈 1 🥉 2 total: 3

You wait 15 Olympics to become the smallest nation ever to win a medal at the Games, and then three of them come along at once.

Alessandra Perilli became San Marino’s first ever Olympic medallist. Photograph: Xinhua/Shutterstock

77 🇲🇰 North Macedonia 🥇 0 🥈 1 🥉 0 total: 1

This was the first Olympics that North Macedonia competed under its new internationally recognised name. From 1996 to 2016 they competed as the “former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia”.

77 🇹🇲 Turkmenistan 🥇 0 🥈 1 🥉 0 total: 1

With her silver in the women’s 59kg weightlifting, Polina Guryeva became the first ever medal winner for Turkmenistan as an independent nation. It was their seventh appearance.

86 🇧🇫 Burkina Faso 🥇 0 🥈 0 🥉 1 total: 1

Hugues Fabrice Zango’s triple-jump bronze was the country’s first ever medal. They first sent a team to the Games under the name Upper Volta in 1972.

Hugues Fabrice Zango of Burkina Faso competes during the men’s triple jump final. Photograph: Xinhua/Shutterstock

Wolfgang Schomburg made the point to me via email that while we tend to concentrate on the top of the medal table, there’s an incredibly wide spread of winners at 2020. Of the 205 national Olympic committees who sent competitors to Tokyo, just under half of them – 93 – earned at least one medal.

Get in touch

We’ll be back into the daily swing of it again soon enough, as Tokyo becomes the first city to host the Paralympics for a second time. They start with the opening ceremony on Tuesday 24 August. Do continue to get in touch with me at [email protected] – you might get my out of office, as I’m due a few days break before then, but I’ll read them all when I get back. またね