Tokyo 2020: What I’ll Remember

Each time the Olympics comes around, I am reminded why I love them so much.

In my post about Olympic Memories from a couple of weeks ago, I shared some of my favorite and most inspiring memories from the Olympics during my lifetime.

Now that another Olympic Games has come to an end in Tokyo, a few things have really stuck out to me as to why the Olympics continue to be so inspirational to myself and many others around the world.

Why I Love the Olympics

The first reason I love the Olympics is the humanness of it – the back stories of so many of the athletes can seem very relatable and this inspires people to go after their own goals. 

Also, there is the raw emotion of the athletes immediately after their competitions – whether excitement or disappointment. From breaking a world record and winning a Gold Medal for your country to being disqualified, every emotion plays out for the world to see.

Finally, particularly in these Olympics with no fans at most of the events, it was really great to see the athletes reactions and emotions when they talked to their families and friends after their event. After years of being supported by family and friends, not having anyone present at the events must have been very difficult for the athletes.  Never mind missing the emotional lift of having a full stadium cheering you on during your event.

Photo by CHARLY TRIBALLEAU/AFP via Getty Images

From these Olympics in Tokyo, there have been several athletes, events or moments that I will remember for a long time.

Great Showdowns on the Track

Every Summer Olympics comes with new rivalries on the track between the best athletes in the world at their respective events.

This year was no different.

In the men’s 400 meter hurdles final, a race where the top 2 finishers broke the world record time going into the race, Norway’s Karsten Warholm won the Gold Medal by beating out American Rai Benjamin’s late push to overtake him. The celebration at the end might be just as memorable as the race itself! Some have even called it the ‘Best Race in Olympic History’. What a race by Warholm, but it’s hard for Benjamin to be disappointed with a Silver Medal having broken the previous world record coming in to the event.

Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images

In the women’s 400 meter hurdle two Americans went head to head for Gold. The favorites coming into the race were Sydney McLaughlin and Dalilah Muhammad. Muhammad, who is 31 years old and won the Gold Medal in the event in 2016 was hoping to defend that title. McLaughlin, who broke Muhammad’s world record at United States Olympic Trials in June, had other ideas of winning her first Olympic medal. In the race, McLaughlin passed Muhammad in the final 50 meters to break the world record again and take home gold! And at just 21 years old, McLaughlin could have more chances at gold in the years to come!

Sydney McLaughlin holds a U.S. flag by a screen with her winning 400-meter hurdle time of 51.46 at the Tokyo Olympics.
Photo by Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times

Devastating Disappointments

Unfortunately, with the great races sometimes come some hugely disappointing moments for some athletes. When everything that you train for comes down to one moment or event, the emotions are multiplied.

In the semifinal of the women’s 400m hurdle, Great Britain’s Jessie Knight tripped and fell over the 1st hurdle.  The thought of training for, in this case, five years to fall over the 1st hurdle is devastating.  Equally as devastating, another Great Britain sprinter, Zharnel Hughes, was disqualified after a false start in the men’s 100m final and his chance at gold was over before the race even started.  And yet another Great Britain sprinter, Adam Gemili, who pulled up with a hamstring injury in the men’s 200m heats.  Different kinds of disappointment, but all equally devastating to watch.

After years of dominating the men’s 4 x 100 meter relay, the American relay team continued their recent struggles in the event. The American men’s 4 x 100 meter relay team failed to qualify for the finals of the event. A team that consistently has some of the fastest sprinters in the world has not won a medal in the event now since 2004 in Athens. In an event that USA has won so many times – 15 Olympic Gold Medals since 1920, it’s incredible that they have now gone 5 Olympic Games without winning it and the last 4 without a medal at all!

The Spirit of the Olympics

The ‘Olympic Spirit’ is a phrase often used during the Olympics and there were several examples of this during these games.

The first example came from the men’s high jump competition. After the final round of jumps, two athletes, Qatar’s Mutaz-Essa Barshim and Italy’s Gianmarco Tamberi, had the option of having a ‘jump-off’ until one of them cleared the bar or sharing the Gold Medal. Both immediately chose to share the Gold Medal.  

Another good example of the Olympic spirit was in the men’s 800m hurdles race, where American Isaiah Jewett and Botswanan Nijel Amos fell over each other rounding the final turn.  Out of the race now, they both got up and jogged across the finish line together.

It’s difficult to say or know how I would have reacted in the same situations, but it was nice to watch it play out during the events.

TOKYO, JAPAN - AUGUST 01: Isaiah Jewett of Team United States and Nijel Amos of Team Botswana react after falling in the Men's 800m Semi-Final on day nine of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Olympic Stadium on August 01, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

The Greatest of All Time

Over the years, I have gained a huge appreciation for the marathon. Not just the mental and physical challenge of completing the distance, but also the commitment and sacrifice that it takes to properly train for it.

So, when the Olympics comes around and the opportunity is there to watch the best in the world run a marathon with what looks like ease, I will always watch. This year included the added bonus of watching the greatest male marathon runner of all time – Eliud Kipchoge.

The women’s marathon had conditions that will make any runner question if they want to run – 77F(25C) at the 6:00am start and 86F (30C) at the finish – especially for the marathon distance.  For most of the race, three runners were at the front of the frequently-dwindling pack. Peres Jepchirchir (Kenya), who also holds the world record for half marathon won the Gold Medal with a time of 2:27:20.  Brigid Kosgei (Kenya), the world record holder for the marathon won the Silver Medal with a time of 2:27:36.  Those two could be expected to contend for the medals, but the Bronze Medalist was a huge surprise. 

Molly Seidel (USA), whose 1st marathon was the United States Olympic Trials held in February 2020, was competing in just her 3rd ever marathon in Tokyo. Amazingly, she stayed with the front pack until the last few miles and finished with a time of 2:27:46 to win the Bronze Medal and become just the third American woman to ever medal in the marathon!

Image: Molly Seidel crosses finish line
Photo by Shuji Kajiyama / AP

The men’s marathon had similar weather conditions. While the men’s marathon field was loaded, most people were just watching to see what Eliud Kipchoge could do. He set the official world record for the marathon of 2:01:39 in Berlin in 2018, but as a lot of you might know, he ran faster (1:59:40) in Vienna in 2019; however, that didn’t count as an official race due to it being a closed course and his use of pacers.

Coming in to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics as the defending Gold Medalist, Kipchoge had won 12 of the 14 marathons that he had competed in – including eight of the World Marathon Majors. In the race itself, Kipchoge separated himself from the leading pack at about the 20 mile mark and continued to increase his lead until the finish. He won the Gold Medal with a time of 2:08:38, 1 minute and 20 seconds ahead of the Silver Medalist – Abdi Nageeye from the Netherlands and the Bronze Medalist – Bashir Abdi from Belgium. It was a great race to watch and incredible to see how Kipchoge controlled the race and won it without ever really looking uncomfortable!

Kenya's Eliud Kipchoge delivers masterclass to retain Olympic marathon title
Photo by Lintao Zhang/Getty Images

Until Next Time – Paris 2024

Even though the themes remain the same from Olympics to Olympics, the memories that each edition provides are what keeps me watching every time the Olympics come around.

While we had to wait five years to see what would happen in Tokyo, the good news is that there is only three years until the next Summer Olympics in Paris in 2024!

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5 thoughts on “Tokyo 2020: What I’ll Remember

  1. Great article again, Pat. For someone who doesn’t care much for the Olympics, I enjoy reading your articles about them and to feel the enthusiasm you have for the events.

    An interesting point.

    “After years of being supported by family and friends, not having anyone present at the events must have been very difficult for the athletes.”

    I honestly feel this isn’t a HUGE deal to these athletes. I’ve heard people say similar things in other sports as well. But, when you consider just how much these people have trained for their event/sport, most of that was alone anyways. I think these athletes are used to this feeling, and some may even thrive on it.

    It’s definitely different, no doubt. But I truly wonder just how much of an impact it has had.

    As is an oft-quoted line about Kobe, “You wasn’t with me shooting in the gym.” Haha.

    Thoughts on this, Pat?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Kyle! I understand what you’re saying but I meant it more from the standpoint of someone to share the experience of winning or losing with in-person. In terms of the actual performance it might not have made much of a difference except for in the last seconds of a race. I always think of Usain Bolt and other sprinters who fed off of the crowd at the finish.

      Liked by 1 person

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