The pandemic-delayed Tokyo Olympics came to an end on Sunday with Japan successfully wrapping up one of the most challenging Games in recent times. But despite being a year late, Tokyo 2020 was memorable for the sporting and human spirit on display.
In the 17 days, we witnessed the true essence of the Olympic motto of citius altius fortius – faster, higher, stronger – with ‘together’ being a new addition for the event held behind closed doors due to the pandemic.
For India, the record-breaking Tokyo campaign came to an end on Saturday with a historic first medal in track and field when Neeraj Chopra won gold in men’s javelin throw. It was the seventh medal for India, surpassing the previous best of six set at London 2012. It was also perhaps the highlight of the Games for every Indian.
The medals won by Indians were all momentous, be it Mirabai Chanu winning a silver on the very first day, banishing the Rio nightmare in style, or PV Sindhu becoming the first Indian woman to win multiple Olympic medals, be it Lovlina Borgohain roaring with joy after stunning a former world champ or Bajrang Punia playing with an injured leg.
But the Olympic experience goes beyond medals and victories, the most striking moments also include the heartbreaking narrow misses, the underdogs punching above their weight, the breaking of stereotypes, the triumph of human perseverance, the emotions.
Here’s a look at some of the Scroll.in team’s favourite moments from Tokyo:
Unforgettable few hours of golf
By Aditya Chaturvedi
Aditi Ashok plays a sport that not many in India are familiar with. The widespread appreciation received by The Field for putting out a brief golf explainer was a testament to that. But at the time she finished her campaign, golf was one of the top trends on social media in the country.
Her arrival in Tokyo went largely unnoticed. Had she suffered a poor run, her exit would’ve been too. Golf isn’t a sport India was expecting a medal from and perhaps, her world ranking - No 200 - played a part in that too.
But Aditi’s determination forced the world to sit up and take notice of her remarkable talent. It may seem otherwise but golf at the Olympics is an incredibly demanding sport physically. The athletes played four rounds of 18 holes each over for days. That’s close to six hours of play under the sun each day for four days straight. This is important to note because, for the first three days, Aditi toiled away with hardly any attention on her. There wasn’t really a chorus of support from back home.
However, once she fought her way to second position at the end of day three, it was a different picture altogether. Out of nowhere, we had a medal possibility. And in no time, all eyes were on Aditi. She began the final round at 4:48 am and as it progressed, the buzz on social media only grew stronger. It was hilarious yet heartening to see people try and make sense of golfing jargon. But her newfound supporters didn’t give up, and neither did she. Every putt she made was celebrated.
Fourth place finishes are perhaps the most difficult to accept. And India had its fair share of them in Tokyo. But while the women’s hockey team, for instance, was being willed on by millions from start to finish, Aditi made her path towards the top with hardly anyone watching.
But once she did reach that final round in a medal-winning position, when she took the fight with the current world No 1 and a former world No 1 right to the end - with the endearing image of her mother being her caddie - it won the hearts of all those watching. She may have missed out on a medal, but she elevated her sport.
Those few hours of golf early in the morning will be unforgettable.
A comeback for the ages
By Kaushal Shukla
Ravi Dahiya’s march to the semi-finals in the men’s freestyle 57kg was quite emphatic. He had won his earlier bouts by technical superiority and had looked ominous.
But for most Indian athletes the going gets tough once they reach the semi-final stage or are on the cusp of a medal. It’s a stage where most Indians just struggle to cross the line, at times finding ways to fail.
It seemed to be following a similar script in Dahiya’s case as he was 2-9 down with around a minute left to go in his bout. In wrestling, turnarounds happen in seconds and sometimes even in fractions of a second, but it was a semi-final at the Olympics featuring an Indian. Miracles just don’t happen.
But Dahiya in those dying seconds played like the wrestler that had breezed past his opponents in the earlier round, he played like how Indians have rarely played when a medal is on the line. Bringing the gap down to 5-9 with seconds left, Dahiya pinned his opponent to finish the contest in a flash. The score was 9-7 in his opponents’ favour but it didn’t matter as he was down and out. Ravi Dahiya had made his way into the semi-final with a moment of magic.
He was the second Indian wrestler to reach an Olympic final. Dahiya eventually won silver. A massive achievement. But Dahiya wasn’t too pleased, he rarely smiled. He wanted gold and he will try again in Paris in three years’ time.
He may have the best moment of the next Olympics too. He may still not smile.
By Priyali Prakash
Even though the Tokyo Olympics were India’s best campaign at the international games, my absolute favourite moment from the last couple of weeks was when Qatar’s Mutaz Barshim and Italy’s Gianmarco Tamberi decided to share the gold medal in the high jump event.
Since it is nearly impossible to keep track of all the events happening at the Olympics, I only chanced upon a viral video of the two players hugging each other and celebrating their joint gold medal on Twitter. The video in itself was instantly heartwarming, and once you delve a little deeper into the story of the friendship of these two athletes, you realise that this is what sportsmanship in a utopian setting would be like. Two competitors, who are also great friends, agreeing to share the highest honour in their sport is not something we see often.
I have watched this video over and over multiple times, and it continues to give me the same warm, fuzzy feeling it did the first time I saw it.
By Rohan Venkataramakrishnan
Tom Daley is an Olympics gold medalist. Tom Daley also enjoys knitting. So, naturally, Tom Daley decided to knit at the Olympics. The 27-year-old British diver was seen cheering his teammates on the sidelines of the women’s 3 meter springboard final, while also knitting.
Daley instantly went viral – even though most did not know the even more compelling detail that he was putting together a sweater for his friend’s French bulldog. His knitting then seemed to show up regularly at the Olympic games, not least after he managed to haul in a gold medal in synchronised 10-m platform diving, after which he knitted a little pouch to put his medal in. For an event in which narratives tend to focus on how athletes put aside everything in their lives to focus entirely on competition, the sight of one – a gold medalist no less – bringing a much less aggressive hobby into hallowed halls was a nice little reminder that, inhuman as their feats may seem, Olympians are allowed to have other interests too.
Drag-flick it like Gurjit
By Tabassum Barnagarwala
One of my favourite Olympics moment is the drag flick by Gurjit Kaur in the Indian women’s team hockey match against Argentina. Although India lost that semi-final, the early goal kept hopes high all throughout the match. India lost 1-2 but Kaur’s ability to convert the penalty corner so early on in the game hooked me. There was a sheer force in her strike, it gave no time to goalkeeper to block that goal.
An epic upset
By Ashish Magotra
To the Australians, this was supposed to be just another match… an easy win. They would have prepared no doubt but India were supposed to be easy. Win and into the semis. As simple as that. But India stood firm as they almost never have before. To all those watching, given the opponent and the importance of the game, this was the best the women’s team had ever played.
The moment was special because they won. But what made it even more special were the reactions of pure unadulterated joy that followed in its wake. Coach Sjoerd Marijne and analytical coach Janneke Schopman were hugging in the dugout, the players were hugging on the turf, dancing with joy, some were just lying around in disbelief. Moments later Marijne was shown on our TV screens making a phone call and his emotions were just overflowing. It was impossible to not be affected… to not feel like you were a part of it all. In the middle of all this, the Australian players seemed to just standstill. Shocked. Broken. Sad. It was a tantalizing contrast. The joy of the victor, the silent cries of the defeat.
The Indians, meanwhile, moved to the centre of the turf and continued to revel in the joy of the unexpected but famous win. There were perhaps ‘bigger’ moments but I’ll remember the win and it is the celebrations that will remain with me for a long time to come. The tears, the joy, the madness and the unexpected nature of it all. Sport.
By Vinayakk Mohanarangan
This has been an incredibly tough choice to make. Obviously, there is Neeraj Chopra’s gold. Unforgettable for as long as I follow sport. Then there is the Indian women’s hockey team’s win over Australia that quite frankly opened up a dam because it was just one of those moments that hit you. PR Sreejesh’s incredible save with seconds left on the clock (should there have been?) and his celebrations atop the goal will remain iconic.
But those honourable mentions aside, I would go for the day PV Sindhu won bronze medal, to finish on the podium at back-to-back Olympic Games. This is not something I would have picked on the day of the event... but the more I think about, the more amazing it is that Sindhu has delivered at the biggest stage once again in her career. India is a country that still celebrates every Olympic medal like it is the greatest achievement there is, and it very much is. But the flip side to that is, winning one Olympic medal can often be seen as a finishing point.
The drive to keep going and keeping performing at multiple Games is in itself a fairly big deal, but for Sindhu to pick herself up mentally after her dream of winning a gold (she left no doubts about the fact that was indeed her dream in Tokyo) came to an end... and to produce a performance of such high quality against a player who was playing close to her best and had a good record against the Indian... to push herself to clinch that bronze and make sure she will go down as one of the greatest Olympians the country has ever produced... to celebrate it with coach Park Tae-Sang in a manner that made it clear how much it meant to both of them... but most of all, an hour or so later, to bring herself to offer a shoulder to the person who ended her dream of winning a gold by consoling her that a silver was pretty darn good.
Sindhu is a special athlete who gave us another special sporting moment to remember.
Thank you, Simone
By Zenia D’Cunha
Simone Biles wins bronze
In any gymnastics competition, the above statement would have been an aberration, a one-off. One of the greatest gymnasts of all-time winning bronze in what might be her Olympic farewell feels odd. But at the Tokyo Olympics, Biles bronze was a symbol of triumph that goes much deeper than sport. Because it came after a battle against herself. After the American couldn’t land her first vault in the all-round team final, she pulled out of the event. The fear was physical injury, but she later confirmed that the reason was to safeguard her mental health.
She was suffering from the ‘twisties’, a condition where her mind was not responding to her body and she was unable to get herself to perform. She subsequently missed individual apparatus finals, in three of which she was the defending champion. Biles was still there at the gymnasium, cheering her teammates and rivals from the sidelines, being cheerful in the face of inner demons, pressure and a storm of negative opinions back home. Till she felt well enough to participate in the final event, the balance beam.
After she finished her routine, she let out an evident sigh of relief; hand on her heart and broad smile. She had done it, she had performed. Even without the bronze, she had won an important battle.
The world we live in today, it probably takes more courage to leap off the ground and twist in the air than to admit mental illness and ask for space. Imagine being as scrutinised by the media as Biles is, pulling out of an Olympics final and then facing the media to answer that she was putting mental health first. Imagine reading countless posts of people calling her quitter and weak when she’s fighting to perform again for an event she has worked hard for five years. An American woman of colour doesn’t have it easy, we have seen that. But Biles is strong and brave, you can’t be a gymnast otherwise. And the biggest proof of her bravery is not the many routines named after her, but it is this bronze.
Midway through Tokyo she tweeted that reading the messages of support, she only now believes she has value beyond gymnastics. That was another important win.
Neeraj Chopra’s golden moment
By The Field team
Collectively, the best moment for the team covering the Tokyo Games had to be the grand finale – when Neeraj Chopra finished India’s campaign at the top of the podium and the national anthem was played.
From the moment the 23-year-old had topped the javelin throw qualification days earlier, ahead of red-hot favourite Johannes Vetter while several other in-form competitors had also fallen short, the hope of a first-ever athletics medal at the Olympics had turned into justified anticipation. That the final was India’s last event in Tokyo, starting minutes after wrestler Bajrang Punia had helped India equal its best-ever tally at the Olympics, only added to the theatre.
Chopra was in pole position from the first throw of 87.03m and that’s when you knew, in your heart, that a medal is confirmed. His second throw of 87.58 strengthened the belief – he raised his arms in triumph soon as the spear left his hand. And when Vetter pulled up seemingly injured on his second attempt, the watch for a gold, not just any other medal, was real.
In a matter of minutes, it was decided that India had sealed a historic first track and field medal and only the second individual gold in Olympic history. His next two throws – where he later said that he was going for an Olympic record and personal best of 90m – were sub-par and he cancelled them. By the time he came in for the final one, the gold was already his. The length of the throw didn’t mater, he hurled it, collapsed on the ground and celebrated. Neeraj Chopra had done it!
The rest are flashes of emotions and history etched into the hearts of Indian sports fan – wrapping the Indian flag, the raw relief and delight on his face, the reverence with which he picked the gold and touched it to his forehead first, the Indian national anthem at a medal ceremony after 13 years.
A fittingly golden finale.
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