Covering a Weird Olympics – The New York Times

Covering a Weird Olympics – The New York Times
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Covering a Weird Olympics – The New York Times

Covering a Weird Olympics – The New York Times

New York Times staff at the Tokyo Olympics reflected on the moments they will have left after a Games sapped by the pandemic but filled with emotional twists and turns.

When a great athlete scored a victory in an event, the culmination of years of training, dedication and sacrifice, there was a polite applause from a few scattered volunteers, or maybe a scream from a coach. Not the roar of a crowded stadium excited by the spectacle they had witnessed.

But in BMX cycling a man tried to overcome this. Kye Whyte of Great Britain had just won a silver medal and stopped to watch the women’s event. Her teammate Bethany Shriever had turned to crowdfunding two years earlier after her public funding cut. Now, as Shriever edged out the other contestants, Whyte became a one-man cheering squad, shouting approval and hitting the air as they rushed to the line. When she won, he lifted her up in a bear hug, as happy with his gold as he was with his own silver.

“Bethany Shriever is absolutely the best in flipping,” he said afterwards.

The Olympics, with their masks, coronavirus protocols and oceans of empty seats, were missing some of their familiar joy. Whyte managed to bring him back, at least for a while.


It was the women’s 3-meter diving semi-final and my first time watching the sport live.

Aside from one obvious flop, it was hard to say how the judges could make the fine distinctions between all of these athletes whose twists, somersaults and sharp entries into the pool seemed so incredibly difficult to me.

Then, on her third or fourth dive, Canada’s Pamela Ware came to the edge of the board and just jumped, feet forward.

Five years of training, persisting during a pandemic, following restrictive protocols to get to Tokyo, all ending with a score of 0.0 on his last attempt. What must she have felt? I watched her dash out of the water, her coach trailing behind her. She dove into a tub in the corner of the aquatic center, with her back to the pool. My heart went to her. I hope she gets another chance.


Basketball star Diana Taurasi strolled through a makeshift conference room inside the Saitama Super Arena on Sunday afternoon. Before sitting down in front of a swarm of reporters, she demonstratively removed a bottle of water from the table and held up the large glass bottle in her hand.

“No water,” Taurasi said with a smile. “Champagne, Ronaldo!”

It was not clear if everyone in the room understood the joke. Soccer star Cristiano Ronaldo created a viral moment this summer during the European Championship when he removed two bottles of Coca-Cola from a table ahead of a press conference.

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“Agua! Ronaldo said, holding up a water bottle for the cameras.

Taurasi had every right to have a little fun. Moments earlier, she had won her fifth gold medal with the United States after beating Japan. It was clear that a weight had lifted from his shoulders.

Indeed, a predominant emotion among the athletes at these Games, whether they won or lost, was the relief that a long journey, under trying circumstances, was over.

Taurasi said when the Olympics were first postponed last year, she put a countdown on her phone for the opening ceremony. In the fall of her career, Taurasi, 39, was unsure of how to get there.

“Can you imagine how long this countdown lasted?” ” she said.

Taurasi did, however, and for a moment she could revel in the finish line, sipping champagne, throwing one-liners.


I learned two years ago, when I was in Tokyo for the pre-Olympics, that Japanese skateboard star Yuto Horigome grew up in Tokyo and his father, Ryota, was a taxi driver who learned to his son to skate. My vague plan was to come back before the Summer Games and write a story about the dad, maybe ride around in his cab. Then the pandemic came and I didn’t return to Tokyo until the eve of the delayed Olympics.

I tried reaching out to Ryota Horigome when I arrived, using contacts to nudge him, but had no response for several days. It turned out that he was working nine days in a row in the taxi. Finally, late one evening, I received a response: “Sorry to answer so late. Nice to meet you. I am not good at English. But I will answer possible. Are you OK ?

What resulted could be my favorite story from the Olympics, and a bit prophetic: Yuto Horigome won gold the day the story was published.

That evening I received a note from his father: “Thank you, thank you, thank you”


For an Olympics focused on restrictions, social distancing and masks, what I will remember most from my first Summer Games are the people I met.

The taxi driver who, in an hour-long conversation facilitated by two translation apps, told me about his hometown of Yokohama, where I often went to play softball and baseball. The man who worked with the Belgian men’s field hockey team and briefed me on the sophisticated training techniques they used for the Tokyo heat ahead of their eventual gold medal run. Olympic volunteer from Japan who spoke Spanish and was assigned to help out the Mexican baseball team.

There was also the American wrestler whose humanity and personality shone on the mat and every time she spoke. The French judokas who, several minutes after winning a mixed team gold medal, couldn’t help kissing, posing for photos, jumping up and down and smiling.

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Dominican baseball players were so excited to bring home the country’s first Olympic medal in the sport that they punched some volunteers as they made their way to the team bus. The Ivorian bronze medalist in taekwondo explained how much it meant to her that she had received so many messages of support not only from her home country but from all over Africa. A Polish wrestler was so happy to win a bronze medal that he did a back flip and laughed when his 53-year-old trainer knocked him down and slammed him to the mat.

The Philippines, a country of 110 million sports enthusiasts, had never won Olympic gold until Hidilyn Diaz unlikely to surpass a Chinese champion in the 55-kilogram women’s weightlifting division.

Diaz’s pleasure was contagious. And her story – of a strong girl who grew up in poverty, then worked hard overseas as part of the Philippine Army of Foreign Workers – has been to me one of the most uplifting stories of the Games. . When we chatted after her victory, she started by saying, “Can we talk? I really want to talk. And she did it for 20 minutes, before Olympic officials dragged her to her press conference, where she spoke a little more.

For a story on why India underperforms at the Olympics, I continued to see Indian athletes who were seen as medal hopefuls. And, with one exception, they all collapsed.

It got to the point where Indian journalists joked – or maybe they weren’t kidding – that I, the only foreigner to follow the Indian team, was out of luck. It may be true. One day, I chose between going to women’s field hockey and women’s boxing. I went to boxing. She lost. Without me, the Indian hockey team won.


The Olympics are all about making you uncomfortable, covering up something you’ve never done before. You can spend two weeks doing the same old one, or you can do something wacky like raise your hand to cover an equestrian competition.

I had never been to an equestrian event and showed up to write about Jessica Springsteen, the daughter of a pretty big rock star whose music was the soundtrack of my life. If the key to being a decent reporter is asking lots of dumb questions, I got more than my share that night.

A sample of some of the zingers I asked a few benevolent souls in the equestrian press who took pity on me: What’s going on here? Who is good ? How long will this last? Are they thoroughbreds? Do horses like to jump?

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Lots of discomfort. What joy.


Upon entering the stronghold of sumo wrestling that is Kokugikan Arena, the Olympic boxing venue, it became immediately clear that among the sumo crowd, it stirs the kind of affection that some American sports fans have for. places like Madison Square Garden, Wrigley Field in Chicago or Hinkle. Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.

Boxing may have borrowed the Kokugikan for nearly 300 Olympic bouts, but throughout those Games it still belonged squarely to sumo, and it was a welcome touch among Olympic venues that can take on a standardized allure.

Enough touches remained to remind us of what this place really looks like when the rail-divided Red Box seats – known as masuseki – are filled with fans paying by the band. Portraits of 32 great champions – yokozuna – line the rafters (others in the nearby metro station).

As the Olympians waited in the bowels of the arena for buses to and from the Athletes’ Village, wrestlers who live and train nearby could be seen strolling outside in bathrobes and slippers, not for tourists. but just to move between workouts, hoping to someday become yokozuna too.


As I was walking home from the gymnastics arena at 11:30 am one evening, two women stopped me and asked me, “Are you here for the Olympics?

I told them yes, and we started talking. They were big fans of the Olympics. One had been at the 2000 Summer Games in Sydney, Australia, and the Athens Games in 2004.

“We are sad that we cannot go to the Olympics in our own city because of Covid,” said the other, who told me that she had worked in a New York hospital for two years as a autism researcher.

The other woman worked at a store called Ginza Mitsukoshi, calling it the Harrods of Japan.

They asked me if I was having a good time. And they had other questions: Have I had the chance to visit Tokyo? Were the athletes nice? How was it in theaters? After 14 days of quarantine, this was my first interaction with ordinary Tokyo citizens.

I told them, yeah, I was having a good time, especially after meeting them. Meeting the local residents is one of my favorite parts of the Olympics. Under a dim lamp, we took a selfie and exchanged contact details. They sent me with a bag of Ginza Mitsukoshi. Inside was a slice of gluten-free chocolate cake and beautifully wrapped vegan vanilla cookies. The cookies had smiling faces on them.


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