At Tokyo Olympics, Medals Go On and Masks Come Off
TOKYO – Every four years, the Olympics are filled with feats of athletic excellence and moments of unbridled celebration. This was also the case in Tokyo.
To the chagrin of the organizers.
As the Games unfold amid rising coronavirus cases – Tokyo saw a record number of new infections on Tuesday – and with organizers keen to respect the concerns of an anxious Japanese public, strict social distancing measures have been taken. been in place during the two-week competition. No detail has been spared.
Bulky playbooks groan under the weight of protocols. Athletes wear masks during competitions and press conferences. Floor decals encourage proper row spacing, and hundreds of volunteers spend their days dutifully wiping chair backs, table tops, doorknobs, and microphones.
But when it comes to the medal stand, those rules have often gone out the window.
Across all of these Olympics, the feeling of elation and sheer joy and excitement of becoming a medalist has raised fears that some of the happiest moments of the Games have the potential to turn into micro-broadcast events.
Just this week, an unmasked American taekwondo fighter hugged her Russian opponent after collecting their medals, a beaming Austrian cyclist and beefy British swimmer joined the arms of their battered rivals, and on Wednesday the Fiji’s rugby sevens team sang upper stage, then took a smiling (and largely unmasked) group photo with teams from New Zealand and Argentina.
And each time, Olympic organizers and public health officials cringe.
“It’s not nice to have,” International Olympic Committee spokesperson Mark Adams said of virus security measures in place for the Games. “It’s a top priority.”
But after the first weekend saw a parade of athletes ignoring mask rules after receiving their medals, the IOC revised its protocols to try to strike a balance between personal joy and public health.
Recognizing that for athletes, the traditional medal booth photo was “a unique moment in their athletic career”, the IOC said it would allow “a physically distant image on the podium without their masks for 30 seconds, and a photo group with masks on the gold medal stage The monitors would watch the clock, Olympic officials said.
Within hours, however, even those looser rules were forgotten.
Sunday evening at Makuhari Messe, venue for taekwondo, Anastasija Zolotic became the first American to win a gold medal in the sport.
After her unexpected feat – not even her own team had viewed Zolotic as a gold contender – the 18-year-old from Florida gave a final screeching cry and then, wearing a mask, stepped onto a podium to receive his price. Almost as soon as she got it, however, Zolotic removed her mask and brought her medal to her mouth, pretending to take a bite out of it.
Zolotic’s mask would no longer last. Not during the American anthem. Not during his celebratory walk around the arena for the photographs. Not even when she and her defeated Russian opponent, Tatiana Minina, engaged in a short chat and – shrugging as if to say, what the heck – threw themselves into a friendly, maskless embrace.
As the evening wore on, the scene repeated itself over and over again, just as it did on Monday, when countless athletes at venues across Tokyo ignored the podium rules and Adams exasperated. issued a new appeal calling on them to do their part to ensure the safety environmental organizers had promised their Japanese hosts.
“We have to give everyone confidence,” Adams said. “Not just our Japanese partners and hosts, but all the other stakeholders here. We are making a really special effort again today to remind all of our groups and all of our people to wear their masks. “
Yet even as he spoke, the rules were broken. At the pool, members of the winning US 400-meter freestyle relay team hesitated between masks and masks during their podium ceremony and its aftermath. The silver and bronze medalist teams from Italy and Australia followed suit.
It is still unclear what organizers can do to ensure compliance. Adams objected when asked if the IOC plans to impose sanctions on repeat offenders, only saying there will be discussions with teams and individuals who break the rules. Athletes had previously been threatened with temporary exclusion or even disqualification if they disobeyed coronavirus regulations.
“This is a very important question for us,” Adams said.
Tokyo 2020 organizers on Wednesday reported 16 new coronavirus infections among Olympic staff, bringing the total number of Games-related people who have tested positive since July 1 to 174. No new infections have been reported among the athletes, but at least 20 have tested positive since arriving in Tokyo.
And although the organizers take a careful look at the medal stand, not all moments have been problematic. The new DIY nature of the medal ceremony – athletes receive their medals on a small platter and are invited to place them around their necks – has led to some poignant moments. For some teammates and doubles pairs who have trained together for years, the chance to present each other medals – a recognition of their hard work and success – produced tears of joy. Most athletes, however, were just happy to have them, given the circumstances.
“It’s a tough time, isn’t it? Briton Lauren Williams said after winning her silver medal in taekwondo. ” You have to adapt. I was on the podium and enjoyed it, so no matter how I got the medal.
James Wagner and Andrew Keh contributed reporting.
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