TOKYO, Aug.8 (Reuters) – Tokyo on Sunday extinguished its Olympic flame in a ceremony that echoed the restraint of a Games held without spectators and transformed by the global pandemic, dazzling sport and deep human turmoil.
After postponing the Tokyo 2020 Games for a year, organizers said the event would serve as a symbol of the pandemic’s global triumph. But with strict pandemic countermeasures and as COVID-19 variants have made a big comeback around the world, the Olympics have not achieved the triumph and financial windfall that Japan wanted.
The ceremony, though dull, gave athletes a glimpse into everyday Tokyo life as the Olympic stadium was transformed into a park with grass, buskers and BMX racers.
The stage was designed for visitors to “experience Tokyo,” organizers said, a poignant reminder of the Games’ many restrictions.
It was a duly strange ending to an unprecedented event. Japan is now grappling with a bill of $ 15 billion, double what it initially expected, and no tourism boom.
The president of the International Olympic Committee thanked the Japanese people and recognized the difficulty of organizing the Games during the pandemic.
“For the first time since the start of the pandemic, the whole world has come together,” said Thomas Bach. “No one has ever hosted a postponed Games before.”
Public anger over the pandemic response and the slow launch of the vaccine have seriously damaged the reputation of Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga. Opinion polls have shown that most Japanese people oppose hosting the Games during the pandemic.
Still, organizers appear to have prevented the Tokyo Games from turning into a COVID-19 superspreader event, notable given that some 50,000 people have gathered amid the pandemic.
As a sign of the measures, the winners accepted their prizes on platters, putting the medals around their necks, although social distancing protocols such as hug prevention were largely ignored throughout the Games.
While the bubble – the collection of venues and hotels to which Olympic visitors were largely confined – seemed to hold, elsewhere some things collapsed. Fueled by the Delta variant of the virus, daily infections reached more than 5,000 for the first time in Tokyo, threatening to overwhelm its hospitals.
Japan’s medal record also helped take some of the sting out for the organizers. The United States finished first with 39 gold medals, one more than their Chinese rivals at 38 and Japan at 27. read more
The Games also highlighted the Olympic Games’ effort for more diversity.
For the first time, a victory ceremony was held for the women’s and men’s marathon. The Kenyan anthem twice filled the 68,000-seat stadium for gold medalists Peres Jepchirchir and Eliud Kipchoge.
COLD WAR & ‘TWISTIES’
And when they arrived, the Games themselves were rich in drama.
In a moment more reminiscent of the Cold War, Belarusian sprinter Krystsina Tsimanouskaya refused to board a return flight after being taken to the airport against her will. She has since applied for refugee status in Poland.
American superstar gymnast Simone Biles shocked the world when she withdrew from five of her six events, including abruptly dropping out of the women’s team final after attempting a single jump, citing concerns for her mental health and physical.
His candid admission, combined with earlier comments from Japanese tennis star Naomi Osaka, has focused on the mental health issues of athletes.
In athletics, Italy provided a different kind of shock with their incredible run. Their victories included a stunning gold in the men’s sprint relay, bringing their gold total in track and field to five.
In swimming, a team from the United States without 23-time Olympic gold medalist Michael Phelps still finished the game at the top of the medal table.
Ending five years of intense preparations for the athletes, some of them lay down on the grass placed in the stadium. Some seemed to relax as they watched a flurry of fireworks light up the Tokyo sky.
In the end, two giant screens in the stadium projected a retro display reminiscent of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics: the word “ARIGATO” or “thank you”.
Reporting by David Dolan, Mari Saito and Chang-Ran Kim; Additional reporting by Karolos Grohmann, Billy Mallard, Antoni Slodkowski, Sakura Murakami and Nick Mulvenney; additional reporting by Richard Lough in Paris; Editing by Pritha Sarkar, Peter Rutherford, Himani Sarkar, Clare Fallon and Christian Radnedge
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