Philip Patrick Philip Patrick

Was the Tokyo Olympics a success?

Leon Neal/Getty Images

Yoshihide Suga, Japan’s Prime Minister, is a hard man to read. He has a sum total of one facial expression and lives up to the national stereotype of inscrutability. Still, I’m pretty sure I know what was going through his mind at the closing ceremony of the Tokyo Olympics on Sunday night: ‘Thank God, that’s over.’

The games were not the disaster that many, including this writer, feared. Two weeks’ ago in Coffee House I wondered if Tokyo 2020/1 would be the worst ever Olympics – and for a brief panicky period, when an astonishing 11th hour cancellation was mooted, that actually looked optimistic. But in the end, the show did go on. And it was, just about, all right on the night.

The organisation was certainly impressive: admitting, processing and manoeuvring around Tokyo 11,000 athletes and their entourages at a time of Covid restrictions, without significant problems, took some doing. Those beavering away behind the scenes, dealing with the million and one tiny details essential for a smoothly run games, deserve great credit. The athletes seem to have been well looked after and generally happy – save for a few grumbles (e.g. the ‘anti-sex’ beds in the village).

The actual sport was also better than many expected and for a few golden moments all the negativity surrounding this Olympics was banished from our minds by sheer athletic excellence. Norway’s Kirsten Warholm’s preternatural triumph in the 400 metre was the stand out, but there were tremendous performances from the phenomenal Sifan Hassan, Eliud Kipchoge and many more. And very few positive drugs tests have been reported (at least so far).

Nor, as had been feared, were the games seriously marred by politics. These may been have been the wokest Olympics ever, with a number of Japanese officials purged for speech crimes going back decades but political protests from athletes didn’t overwhelm the athletic achievements.

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