So finally a line has been drawn beneath the delayed 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. The closing ceremony was awash with the usual impressive pyrotechnics and entertainment ranging from the mind-numbingly dull, through the frankly bizarre to the jaw-droppingly spectacular and thus neatly encapsulated a Games which has been like no other. Or like any is likely to be again. The predictions of doom regarding the increased spread of Covid appear to have been largely unfounded and the result of the lack of spectators often resulted, not in an empty sterile environment, but a more intense atmosphere of sporting competition stripped bare of the usual razzmatazz which surrounds such events. And, was it just me, or did there seem to be a greater respect amongst athletes for the achievements of their rivals and a genuine joy in the success of others? Certainly one of the abiding images from Tokyo came at the end of the 200m women’s breaststroke final. Won by South African Tatjana Schoenmaker in a new World Record time of 2.18.95 she was embraced by compatriot Kaylene Corbett as well as Americans Lilly King and Annie Lazor whom she had beaten into the Silver and Bronze positions and the delight on the faces of all four women was beamed around the world.
The Tokyo Olympics saw its fair share of drama and determination, highs and heartaches many of which will live long in the memory. The aquatics centre was no exception to this rule with many outstanding performances. 880 athletes competed and 21 countries won at least one medal with the standout performance coming from the United States who brought home a total of thirty medals, eleven of them gold. The Australians took the second spot with nine golds amongst their twenty medals with the third most successful team being Great Britain and Northern Ireland with eight medals, half of them golds.
Established stars defended their records and their reputation for being at the very top of their game whilst rising stars emerged and are certain to dominate the sport for years to come. But there was still room for one or two shocks and heartwarming success stories.
At 27 the US swimmer Kate Ledecky is hardly over the hill, indeed she is almost certain to feature prominently at the Paris Games in 2024, but compared to some of her youthful rivals she is becoming one of the more experienced performers in the pool. Tokyo represented a personal triumph for her as she won two golds, one of them in the new freestyle distance of 1,500m. These, added to the four she had already won at previous Games makes her the most decorated ever female Olympic swimmer.
However, 21-year-old Ariarne Titmus gave notice to the old guard that new talents were emerging as she beat Ledecky to gold in the 400m freestyle as she also bagged gold in the 200m event plus silver in the 800m and bronze as part of the 4x200m relay. Another 20-year-old Kaylee McKeown a backstroke specialist won gold in the 100m and 200m individual event as well as the 4x100m women and mixed relays.
Other notable Australian successes were recorded by near namesake Emma McKeon who added to the four medals she had won in Rio with a further seven in Japan. This matched the record for the number of medals won by a woman at a single games. Together these three formed the backbone of the Aussie dominance in the pool.
For the men, no-one came near the man constantly compared to Michael Phelps, the amazing Caeleb Dressel. With five golds he was a commanding presence whilst still remaining refreshingly modest and grounded during interviews. Undoubtedly his most impressive performance came whilst setting a new World Record of 49.45 in the 100m butterfly. At just 24 years old he still has plenty of time to overhaul Phelps’s record of 23 Olympic medals.
For the Brits, Adam Peaty, James Guy and Tom Dean all won two golds with Peaty and Guy also bringing home a silver medal. They were both winners of one of the new events for Tokyo, the mixed 100m relay along with Kathleen Dawson and Anna Hopkin.
Possibly the most unexpected victory however came in the 400m men’s freestyle event. Starting in lane 8, Tunisia’s Ahmed Hafnaoui was hardly known and certainly not one of the favourites for the title. But in a winning time of 3.43.36 he proved that dreams can indeed sometimes come true.
So as Japan’s rising sun becomes its setting sun we can reflect on some truly incredible performances, not only by those I have mentioned but by every athlete who has spent years training and toiling away from the spotlight for their brief moment to shine and to entertain us as they chase their target of glory. Roll on Paris, it’s going to be spectacular!