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Final Takeaways from the Tokyo Olympics

Four writers reflect on what they'll remember most about these Games, outside of the athletic competition.

TOKYO — After 16 days of competition across Tokyo and its surrounding areas, the Olympics have reached a conclusion. On Sunday evening, the Closing Ceremony took place at National Stadium, marking the official end of these pandemic Summer Games. Below, Sports Illustrated's team of writers give their final takeaways from Tokyo.


In the past year and a half, the phrase “imagine if there were fans” has been repeated so often, it feels redundant. Yes, when sports came back after COVID-19 hit, the games felt strange, with cardboard cutouts in the stands and piped-in crowd noise. Every game I attended in the NBA bubble felt strange to me. And so, while it has been said a million times, it’s still true: The Olympics, like any sporting event, would have been much better with fans.

What struck me as different this time is how much better the Olympics would have been with families. Almost every athlete here was a long way from home, surrounded by people who don’t speak the same language. Olympians also generally get paid much less than American professionals and have fewer opportunities to compete at the highest level.

When Noah Lyles cried talking about his brother Josephus after the men’s 200-meter dash, he couldn’t hug him. If Simone Biles looked in the stands for her family, she couldn’t see them. There were exceptions (hello, Brooke and Pat Forde!) but they were rare. The missing families added a layer of sadness to the whole Olympics. Just making it to the Games is an incredible achievement. It is something an entire family should celebrate. —Michael Rosenberg

I don't know. Maybe I'm old. Maybe it was the quarantine. Maybe boredom. Maybe all the spit tests. Maybe all the stories. Maybe heatstroke. Maybe a combination of everything. But over the three weeks we spent here, my favorite part of the Tokyo Games—beyond the bonkers number of elite female athletes I wrote about—was ... wait for it ... walking.

For two weeks, we couldn't walk, like anywhere, unless we were at the cavernous Main Press Center, visiting an Olympic venue or signed out by those poor security guards to visit the closest  for 15 minutes, max. So the very day that I escaped from quarantine jail, despite the heat, I decided I would walk both ways to National Stadium for the track and field events I covered.

The walks there might not have been the best idea. But the walks back? Life changing. Imagine one of the most bustling cities in the world, except it's like 2 a.m. during a global pandemic. The streets are empty. Eerily quiet. I saw more rats than people. I stopped at vending machines and tried everything from plum juice to pear juice to bottles that weren't easy to identify via label. I saw stragglers walking around, imbibers stumbling around, taxi cab drivers waiting around. I saw the golden lights, still lit, even in the early-morning hours. The skyscrapers that towered overhead looked lonely. But all of that combined to give me a sense of peace, a feeling that I was actually in Tokyo, not just across the world at another Olympics where I spent most of my day writing or catching a few hours of sleep in my hotel cell. The walks, late but not at all lonely, made the Olympics feel like an actual Olympics, which is to say eye-opening, memorable and distinct. I imagine that's what I'll remember most when I look back. —Greg Bishop

I will not miss the empty arenas. I will not miss the masks. I will not miss the celebratory FaceTimes with parents who want so badly to be here while their children live their dream. The Olympic flame was extinguished on Sunday night and I hope we leave behind most of the concessions we made to the pandemic. But one change has been unexpectedly delightful.

At past Games, an International Olympic Committee member has draped medals around medalists’ necks. This time, the IOC member gives the medals to the medalists, who are supposed to put them on themselves. But in the team sports, something wonderful has happened instead: The medalists have put them on their teammates. Enforced social distancing has robbed these athletes of so much of the camaraderie they usually enjoy at this event, but that moment is so tender. When all the other adjustments are gone, I hope this one remains.

The only downside is that no one seems to be able to agree which way is forward. (For the record, the image of Nike, the Greek goddess of victory, goes in front.) —Stephanie Apstein

I have developed a Stockholm syndrome situation with my Tokyo hotel room. It's tiny, it lacks drawers and shelves, the window offers a majestic view of the side of a drab building ... and yet I've almost come to love it.

The room offers three must-haves for a long hotel stay: a good bed and a good shower, plus a serviceable desk. I've been able to sleep, work and groom just fine. And the adjacent 7-Eleven has proven to be a 24-hour lifeline as needed.

The hotel experience has been a metaphor for this Tokyo Olympics: entering with dread, leaving with satisfaction. Aside from my very obvious personal excitement for being here, this had the makings of an arduous business trip. More logistical hurdles and less cultural experience than any Olympics before it. But in the end, despite all the predictions of disaster, it all worked. Japan's superhuman effort to pull this off was successful.

I will always remember the unfailing good cheer of all the staffers and volunteers who made it all go. They were ubiquitous—you couldn't walk 10 feet without encountering someone tasked to do the same job as the person before them—and they were tireless. My experience in nine other Olympics is that the host country's welcoming attitude steadily wanes as the Games progress, to the point where you can tell they're tired of us being there. I never sensed that in Japan. They were as polite and helpful on the last day as they were on the first.

They gave me a good bed, a good shower, a good desk and they showed me a good time. Can't ask for anything more, other than a fat cheeseburger when I land in America. —Pat Forde

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