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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.

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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.

Kylie Masse of Canada in action at the women's 100-metre backstroke.

KAI PFAFFENBACH/Reuters

“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.

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Flag bearers Hsing-Chun Kuo and Yen-Hsun Lu of Team Chinese Taipei during the Opening Ceremony of the Tokyo Olympic Games at Olympic Stadium.

Jamie Squire/Getty Images

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.

Day 2 in Tokyo: Michael Woods was milliseconds away from podium finish in thrilling road race

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.

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Tokyo Olympics: Canada’s Humana-Paredes, Pavan win first beach volleyball match 2-0

They stopped briefly to take selfies, with a few staying behind to represent Canada at the beginning of this strange Olympics.

Flagbearers rugby sevens co-captain Nathan Hirayama, left, and basketball player Miranda Ayimin carry the Canadian flag into an empty Olympic Stadium at the opening ceremony of the Tokyo Olympics.

Melissa Tait/The Globe and Mail

After about 30 Canadian athletes entered the Olympic Stadium, just a small group stayed inside as the parade of athletes continued. Owing to COVID-19, spectators were banned from the stadium.

Melissa Tait/The Globe and Mail

A small group of Canadian athlete stayed inside the stadium.

Melissa Tait/The Globe and Mail


Day 0 in Tokyo

The entrance to the Tokyo Big Sight, the largest convention centre in Japan where the press centre is housed for the Tokyo Olympics. On July 22 – one day before the opening ceremony – it seemed quieter than expected, and by the end of the day was practically empty.

Melissa Tait/The Globe and Mail

Melissa Tait

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.

Staff wait to direct press members to COVID-19 testing inside the press centre.

Melissa Tait/The Globe and Mail

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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Staff prepare vials for COVID-19 testing kits at the Tokyo Olympics. The space appears to be ready for lines, but was empty for most of the day.

Melissa Tait/The Globe and Mail


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