The Tokyo Olympics will be the strangest Games on record.
No fans in the crowd, no cheering allowed, an Olympic village devoid of its usual boisterous energy, and a host city under a state-of-emergency because of COVID-19 infections – Tokyo will be unlike any previous Games.
Here, we will collect behind-the-scenes moments – the odd, offbeat and heartfelt moments – from our reporters on the ground at the Summer Games.
Day 3 in Tokyo
Nathan VanderKlippe, U.S. correspondent
Olympic glory is fleeting at the best of times. But Canadian swimmer Kylie Masse hadn’t yet caught her breath in the time it took her to set an Olympic record – and then lose it, twice. In 100-metre backstroke heats Sunday, Masse set a record with 58.17 seconds, only to have it eclipsed in the very next heat by U.S. swimmer Regan Smith, with 57.96 seconds – and then again a moment later by Australia’s Kaylee McKeown, with 57.88 seconds.
“The Olympic record is amazing and I’m super happy to have achieved that for one or two minutes or however long it was,” Masse said. “But it all comes down to the final,” which is scheduled for Tuesday.
Day 2 in Tokyo
Nathan VanderKlippe, U.S. correspondent
Dogged by scandal, unwanted by a hostile public, saddled with a pandemic and empty seats: this has been the narrative of the Tokyo Games. But the Japanese public, it turns out, remains broadly interested in the Olympics on their soil. Nearly as many people tuned into the Opening Ceremony this year as did the 1964 Games, which were a landmark in modern Japanese history.
The television audience for the Opening Ceremony, according to data provided to the Globe and Mail by measurement company Video Research:
- Tokyo 2020: 56.4 percent of households with televisions in the Kanto area, where Tokyo is situated
- Tokyo 1964: 61.2 percent of households
The Olympics are nothing if not deferential to Chinese sensitivities. The International Olympic Committee denies Taiwan, which Beijing claims as its own, the right to use its own name or emblem. Instead, Taiwan – a self-governed nation – appears at the Olympics as Chinese Taipei and is represented by a special flag.
Even then, China’s nervous online gatekeepers – who operate in a constant state of panic that they might let past something that provokes official ire – were pushed into action by the sight of the Taiwanese team at the opening ceremony Friday. Tencent, the online streaming giant that carries the NHL among other Western sports, interrupted the parade of nations to ensure it kept Chinese viewers safe from the sight of Taiwanese athletes. It broadcast comedy programming instead of the team’s entrance.
But if the idea was to placate a nationalist public, it backfired when the censorship lasted too long, accidentally covering up part of the Chinese team’s entrance as well. Online viewers were not pleased.
The angriest parts of the Chinese press, meanwhile, stewed about an NBC commentator urging viewers “not to forget Hong Kong and Xinjiang.” Beijing is the next Olympics host and its human rights record is a major issue for the Winter Games. The Chinese Consul-General in New York issued a statement condemning NBC for broadcasting a “wrong map” that showed Taiwan in a different colour from mainland China. “Politicizing sports and violating the Olympics charter spirits will only do harm,” the Consul-General wrote on Twitter. Chinese commentators, meanwhile, urged reprisals against Japanese broadcaster NHK for uttering the word “Taiwan.”
China nonetheless staged a strong start in the geopolitical Olympics, notching the first gold medal of the Games in 10-metre air rifle and giving the nationalists something to smile about once again.
Day 1 in Tokyo
Melissa Tait, Globe and Mail photographer
Aside from the empty seats and quiet clapping, a moment that will stick with me from the muted opening ceremony was realizing the tiny contingent of Canadian athletes who’d been looping around the stadium were continuing right out the exit.
They stopped briefly to take selfies, with a few staying behind to represent Canada at the beginning of this strange Olympics.
Day 0 in Tokyo
The first day I spent in Japan preparing for what has to be the strangest Olympics of modern times was about 300 times less hectic than I’d imagined.
The lead-up to the Olympics was full of spreadsheets and PDFs about COVID-19 predeparture requirements. We were full of confusion and anxieties over co-ordinating where our team would get tested in Canada, setting up health monitoring apps, and ordering test kits for when we were actually in Tokyo. It’s been intense. I half expected crowds of people to be running past, each person clutching bundles of test kits and yelling about being locked out of an infection control system once we arrived at the main press centre.
Instead, the testing area was nearly empty. For much of the day the entire centre seemed empty. So quiet. I haven’t been to a press centre at the Olympics before, but after experiences at other major sporting events, I expected a lot more yelling and running around. I’m really hoping this is good foreshadowing for the rest of the Games.
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