10 Best Moments of the 2020 Olympic Games
Despite the Coronavirus pandemic and ongoing protests threatening to cancel the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, the sporting event still managed to push through. And it was truly an Olympics unlike other— fans were barred entry in stadiums, athletes were placed in strict health protocols, and medals were handed out in boxes, among other things. But despite the struggles, the Summer Games still completed its run and again proved that the world can be united through sports even during a pandemic. Here are the 10 best moments of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics:
1. Two high jumpers share the gold medal
One of the best moments not just in the 2020 Olympics but in the entire history of the event, Qatar’s Mutaz Essa Barshim and Italy's Gianmarco Tamberi shared the gold medal in the high jump final after failing to beat each other for over two hours.
Olympic officials were determined to name the winner via a tie-breaking jump-off, but Barshim suggested if the medal could be shared instead. Officials eventually agreed and the gold was thus shared between the two high jumpers. Barshim and Tamberi have been close friends for years and both have been competing since the 2012 London Games.
2. Simone Biles withdraws, then returns to win bronze
Olympic gymnast Simone Biles had already cemented herself as one of the greats after finishing with four gold medals in the 2016 Rio Games. She was expected to put on another majestic performance in Tokyo, but things took its turn for the worst as Biles withdrew from four events due to mental health issues.
Biles specifically mentioned that she was suffering from a phenomenon called the “twisties”, a feeling where gymnasts lose awareness while in the middle of a routine. Massive support poured in for the 24-year-old gymnast which helped her get back in the competition. She eventually competed in the balance beam final and bagged a bronze medal.
3. Canada triumphs for the first time in women’s soccer
Although Canada finished in the top 15 in the overall Olympic medal tally, no other medal seemed to provide more jubilation and excitement than its first-ever gold in women’s soccer. Having lost in heartbreaking fashion in 2012 and 2016, the team finally turned it around, beating Sweden in the final 3-2 on penalty kicks.
The Canadians had to battle their way through the finals, surviving against Brazil in the quarterfinals and narrowly beating rivals and 2016 Olympic gold medalists U.S.A. in the semis. Christine Sinclair, Stephanie Labbe, Jessie Fleming, and Janine Beckie led the way with Quin also making history as the first non-binary to win Olympic gold.
4. Caeleb Dressel dominates men’s swimming
With Michael Phelps retiring after the 2016 Rio Games, many were wondering who would replace him as the face of not just U.S. men’s swimming but the entire sport in general. Fans got their answer in the Tokyo Games with 23-year old Caeleb Dressel winning five gold medals in six different events, also breaking multiple world records in the process.
Dressel had already won two golds four prior years prior but this was the first time that the Florida-born swimmer won in his individual events. The medal count makes him the fourth male next to Phelps, Mark Spitz, and Matt Biondi to win five golds at a single Olympic Games.
5. Emma McKeon is the queen of the pool
Dressel’s counterpart in women’s swimming, Emma McKeon, also had an Olympic Games to remember as she won seven medals (four golds) tying the record for most medals won by a woman at a single Olympics.
The record was previously set by former Soviet Union’s Mariya Gorokhovskaya way back in 1952 and no swimmer has gone close until today. McKeon, who has a total of 11 Olympic medals, is now the most successful Australian Olympian ever and joins Phelps, Spitz, and Biondi as the only swimmers with seven or more medals.
6. Lamont Jacobs is the fastest man alive
It’s hard to imagine anyone breaking any of Usain Bolt’s world records but any athlete who attempts to do so deserves all the praise no less. Italy’s Lamont Jacobs set a new national and European time in the 100m final (9.80 seconds), becoming not just the first Italian to qualify but also win gold in the said event.
Jacobs takes up the mantle as the “fastest man alive” after Bolt retired in 2016. The former high jumper bested American Fred Kerley and Canadian Andre de Grasse who were tagged as the early favorites.
7. Celebrating the first-time gold medalists
Much like Jacobs and the Canadian soccer team, many athletes also took the podium as first-time gold medalists in the 2020 Tokyo Games. Canada’s Jessica Fox (canoe slalom), Great Britain’s Tom Daley (diving), Bermuda’s Flora Duffy (triathlon), Thailand’s Panipak Wongpattanakit (taekwondo), and the Philippines’ Hidilyn Diaz (weightlifting) are just some of the athletes who claimed their first gold after suffering difficult losses in previous Olympic Games.
Fox and Daley had competed in two prior Olympics but only settled with either a silver and bronze. Fox is a seven-time world champion but only finished with a silver in London and bronze in Rio. Diaz, who settled with a silver in Rio, also claimed the Philippines’ first-ever gold (55 kg weightlifting) since the country joined the Summer Games in 1924.
8. Skateboarding and karate make successful debut
Five sports made their debut in the Olympic Games but skateboarding and karate made the most headlines as athletes from the host nation dominated the two events. Climbing, surfing, and 3-on-3 basketball are the other sports that had their inaugural competition.
Yuto Horigome, Momiji Nishiya, and Sakura Yosozumi racked up the first-ever skateboarding golds with 13-year-old Nishiya becoming the youngest Japanese athlete to win a gold medal. In karate, three-time world champion Rio Kiyuna claimed gold in men’s kata. He dedicated the momentous win to his mother who died in 2019, holding a framed photo of her during the medal ceremony.
9. U.S.A. Basketball silences doubters
With two exhibition losses and another loss in the opening round of the Olympics, the U.S.A. men’s basketball team was at the receiving end of harsh criticisms from thousands of fans. But critics only proved to be motivation for the star-studded team as it capped off the tournament with a gold medal; its fourth consecutive and 16th overall.
Kevin Durant, who competed in his third Summer Olympics, provided most of the scoring punch and overtook former teammate Carmelo Anthony as the top scorer in the Olympic history (435 points). Damian Lillard and Jayson Tatum chipped in with the scoring while Jrue Holiday and Draymond Green lead the team in defense.
10. Naomi Osaka lights the Olympic flames
No other Olympic Games had suffered huge setbacks than the one held in Tokyo. From the ongoing pandemic to nationwide dissatisfaction towards the event, the Olympics were seemingly set for cancellation.
But the Olympic committee was determined to push through, and the result was a two-week celebration of competition, unity, and determination officially commencing with Japan-born and seven-time Grand Slam champion Naomi Osaka lighting the Olympic cauldron in the opening ceremony. She is the first tennis player and one of the few active athletes to set the Olympic flame in the event’s 125-year history.
Despite some setbacks and controversies, the 2020 Tokyo Olympics still produced some great moments. Now it’s Paris’ turn to host the games in 2024 with early preparations now underway in the French capital.