Track and Field at the Olympics Was in a Word: Extreme
TOKYO – It was a week and a half of extremes.
Extreme heat. Extreme spikes and an extreme track, two technological advances that have combined to produce extreme times. But also an extreme absence of spectators, a void that the athletes sought to camouflage with extreme performances.
Athletics at the Tokyo Games helped fill the last 10 days of the Olympic calendar, and five years – in many ways – were worth the wait. Members of the Old Guard took on leading roles again, some of them for their last time, and a new generation stepped forward, many of them in events that had so often been overshadowed in the past.
It’s the Shot Put Games, which Ryan Crouser of the United States turned into a staple TV. It was the Pole Vault Games, as Mondo Duplantis – the Louisiana-born Swede – narrowly missed the jump higher than any human in history as a postscript to his performance to win the gold.
It was the Games of the 400 meters hurdles, a is experiencing a revival. Karsten Warholm of Norway and Sydney McLaughlin, the young American star, broke their previous world records, producing midday shows in Tokyo that were broadcast in prime time in the United States – a nod heard from executives of television than hedges have never been so cool.
And these are, of course, the Games for Sifan Hassan of the Netherlands, a singular athlete who arrived in Tokyo with her eyes set on a breathtaking feat: three medals in three grueling events. She walked away with Olympic gold in the women’s 5,000 and 10,000 meters, a bronze in the 1,500 meters and a great understanding that the improbable is possible.
“I think I’m a little crazy,” she said.
But her most palpable emotion, she said, was relief: relief at having stepped through the maze of pandemic protocols; the relief of surviving the humidity and his qualifying laps; Relief that she was able to put the pieces together at the most important moments possible, even though the Olympic stadium felt more like a cavernous soundstage.
Many of these feelings were common. The athletes cried together and celebrated together. So many of them had trained in relative isolation during the pandemic and the postponement of the Olympics for a year, describing it as the most difficult 18 months of their lives. Now there was an opportunity to share their silent pain.
“It was by far my most difficult year, mentally and physically,” said Noah Lyles through tears after winning bronze in the men’s 200 meters.
Yet there was also joy – a joy that was expressed most transparently by Gianmarco Tamberi, an Italian who jumped into the arms of Mutaz Essa Barshim of Qatar after agreeing to share the Olympic title in vault. in height. “He’s one of my best friends,” Barshim said.
And there was the joy of Allyson Felix, who, at 35, won two medals in her last Olympics to become America’s most decorated track athlete in Olympic history.
“I’m a fighter,” she said. “In recent years, that’s what I’ve been doing. I just needed a chance.
Retired from family and friends, Felix was on FaceTime with his young daughter, Cammy, after winning bronze in the women’s 400 meters. It was all part of the weirdness of the experience, devoid of family and friends ready to hug loved ones at the finish line.
Only marathoners and walkers had the privilege of competing in front of fans, but they did so in Sapporo, about 500 miles north of Tokyo, where locals lined the streets to cheer on athletes like Molly Seidel, an American. 27-year-old who walked away with a bronze medal after running only his third marathon.
“I just wanted to put my nose where it didn’t belong and take care of it,” she said. “The Olympics are only held every four years, so you might as well give it a try.”
The last word, however, belonged to Eliud Kipchoge, the soft-spoken Kenyan who continues to redefine the boundaries of human performance as the greatest marathon of all time. Sunday he ran straight to his second consecutive gold medal in the men’s marathon and his fourth Olympic medal overall, a legacy that dates back to the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, where he ran the 5,000 meters.
This being 2021, Kipchoge shared his post-race thoughts on Twitter, describing how the Olympics are a special dream for athletes. Sport is like life, he says. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose.
“But today,” he wrote, “was a day I won.”
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