Winners and losers from Tokyo Olympic Games
Skateboarding, Caeleb Dressel among the positives to take from Japan, but taxpayers left footing a huge bill
After nearly three weeks of competition, assessing the winners and losers from the Tokyo Olympics:
Volunteers: They put on a good face and exhibited omotenashi, the Japanese culture of hospitality amid an Olympic Games they clearly (and understandably) didn’t want to happen. Volunteers are the lifeblood of an Olympics, and usually by week two they’re starting to get cranky. Not in Japan. They smiled and bowed to the bitter end.
Title IX: Women accounted for 66 of the 107 U.S. medals (not counting the six won in mixed events) and out-golded their male counterparts 23-16. That’s directly relatable to gender equity in collegiate athletics and is an enormous advantage over the rest of the world.
Skateboarding: All of the new sports seemed to gain traction with fans, but skateboarding brought a refreshing vibe. After Japan’s Misugu Okamoto fell on her final run of the women’s park competition and finished fourth, the other skaters hoisted her on their shoulders and paraded her around the deck. “You guys are probably used to not seeing people cheer on each other like we did,” said Brazil’s Pedro Barros, a silver medalist in men’s park. “These are our friends. Skateboarding is a community, it’s a lifestyle, it goes way beyond just a sport.”
Russia: For a nation technically suspended from the Olympics, Russia did pretty well in Tokyo, winning 20 golds and 71 total medals. The Russian flag and anthem were banned, but everything else was pretty much the same. And everyone just called them Russia, as if they never got caught juicing pretty much their entire 2014 Winter Olympic team in Sochi.
Italian sprinters: Marcell Jacobs, born in El Paso, Texas, and raised in Italy, was the surprise winner of the 100 meters and the accompanying title of world’s fastest man. A former long jumper who was a middling sprinter before this season, he ran 9.80 seconds in the final. Then the 4x100 relay team also won, eliciting whispers about what exactly is in their carbonara. But unless or until they test positive, they stand on top of the sprint world.
Bobby Kersee: The Los Angeles-based coach had quite an Olympics. Sydney McLaughlin broke the world record in the 400-meter hurdles. Sifan Hassan, an Ethiopian refugee who represents the Netherlands, nearly pulled off the 1,500-5,000-10,000 triple, getting a bronze in the 1,500 and golds in the other two. And he somehow coaxed a bronze medal out of 35-year-old mom Allyson Felix in the 400 after everyone wrote her off.
Caeleb Dressel: He’s about the only U.S. star who delivered, winning five gold medals in the pool and charming media with his articulate, thoughtful answers in the interview room. Without him, we’re talking about a historically awful Olympics by U.S. men.
Christine Sinclair: It took her 21 years, 187 goals and 304 caps with Canada’s national soccer team, but, in her words, “I finally got to the top of the mountain.” Canada ended a 37-game losing streak against the Americans in the semis, then beat Sweden in a shootout in the final.
The underserved: Mental health and LGBTQ rights, subjects that have rarely been broached at past Olympics, gained traction in Tokyo. Neither cause has the prominence in the sporting world that it hopes to achieve, but the conversation has been started.
San Diego: Team USA came from well back to top China 39-38 in the gold medal table with an unexpected win in one of the final events from Jennifer Valente, who learned to ride at the San Diego Velodrome and endured a difficult five years since Rio (that included a teammate committing suicide) to become the first U.S. women to claim gold in track cycling. She was part of a U.S. gold-medal haul that included four others with San Diego ties: Scripps Ranch High and San Diego State University alum Xander Schauffele (men’s golf), former La Jolla Country Day star Kelsey Plum (3x3 women’s basketball), Encinitas resident Michael Andrew (men’s swimming) and SDSU incoming freshman Nevin Harrison (women’s canoe). There was also skateboard gold medalist Keegan Palmer, a San Diego native who was born in San Diego and lives in Encinitas but represented Australia.
Japanese taxpayers: The official cost of these Olympics Games is $15.4 billion but the real tab is expected to be double that, among the most expensive in history. With only a few exceptions, the people who paid for all these pristine venues weren’t allowed inside them into despite being able to cram into subways or restaurants as much as they pleased. They’re definitely the biggest losers here.
The heat: It was New Orleans, shirt-soaked-in-30-seconds hot day or night, which was no surprise for anyone who has been to Tokyo in August. The 1964 Olympic Games here were held in October for that very reason. But NBC didn’t want to go head-to-head with NFL and college football, even if it meant holding outdoor events with a heat index that routinely topped 100 degrees.
Drug testing: There were only two positives out of 11,091 athletes: Brazilian women’s volleyball player Tandara Caixeta and Nigerian women’s sprinter Blessing Okagbare. That’s it. So the other 11,089 were clean? Their samples will be kept for 10 years and retested as new detection methodology is available. But still ...
Mexico softball players: The team with only one Mexico-born player (and some who barely speak Spanish) nearly won a bronze medal and bought an infectious spirit to their games, then screwed it all up by leaving official team apparel in the trash on their way out of the Athletes Village. Whether it was an innocent case of not wanting to pay overweight baggage fees or (as the head of Mexico’s Olympic committee claimed) making room in their suitcases to take bedding from the village, it was a bad look for a team with tenuous ties to a proud country.
NBC: Did you see the ratings?
MBC: South Korea’s Munhwa Broadcasting Corporation took heat for graphics during its opening ceremony telecast that showed images associated with each country as it walked into Olympic Stadium. For Romania, it showed Dracula. For Ukraine, a picture of Chernobyl, site of the world’s biggest nuclear accident. For Haiti, footage of a riot while mentioning the recent assassination of its president. MBC later apologized for “inappropriate images and captions.” You think?
U.S. women’s soccer team: The defending World Cup champions decided to run it back with an aging, injured roster and finished with bronze after winning just two of six games. Whatever the reason — not wanting to cut veterans in the midst of their equal-pay lawsuit or not trusting the next generation — it backfired. The question now is whether this was a bit of mid-air turbulence or the end of a dynasty.
U.S. men’s sprinters: It took until the final event of the meet for the U.S. men to get gold in an event on the track: the 4x400-meter relay. They’ve now gone four straight Olympics without winning the 100, 200 or 4x100 relay (which, predictably, botched an exchange again). They also didn’t win the 400 or either hurdle race, marking the first time in Olympic history they haven’t claimed at least one individual title in a race one lap or shorter.
Belarus: Sprinter Kristina Tsimanouskaya drew the ire of the Belarus government when she was critical of federation officials on social media. Before Belarus could fly her home to face the music, she received political asylum from Poland and flew there instead.
U.S. medal count: On the surface, it looked good: 113 total medals and 39 golds, both topping the table thanks to a late surge. But that’s deceiving. The total was eight short of the Rio haul despite 107 more medals available, and seven fewer golds. In fact, comparing it to the available gold medals, the 11.47 percent won by Team USA in Tokyo is its lowest in modern Olympic history.
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