A Brief Look Back At Tokyo 2020

The Olympics are over again for another year with a successful finish for Team GB despite the Games taking place amidst Covid struggles, big scandals and dramatic results. 

However, in spite of the controversies, the Games delivered all the highs, lows and emotional moments that we’re used to. If you’ve felt a little bit out of the loop though, with most events taking place in the early morning for us, we’ve got you covered with a breakdown of some of the biggest moments for GB and beyond.

Record-Setting Games

With their huge haul of 65 medals, Team GB became the first team to equal or surpass their home games haul in the two following Olympics, they collected 65 in London and 67 in Rio. It wasn’t just GB that saw medal records broken, Italy (40), the Netherlands (36), New Zealand (20) and Brazil (21) all saw their highest totals ever whilst Australia returned to the top six of the medal table for the first time since 2008. Speaking of the most medals, GB saw a new outright most-decorated British Olympian and a new joint most-decorated female Brit in husband and wife cycling duo Jason and Laura Kenny, who are the most successful Olympian family of all time. 

Jason also became the outright most decorated cyclist after winning a silver in the team pursuit event and a gold in the Keirin, his seventh win and ninth medal in total while Laura became the outright most decorated female cyclist with her silver, also in the team pursuit, and the first British woman to get a gold in three consecutive Olympics with her and Katie Archibald’s win in the first-ever women’s Madison, Laura’s fifth gold and sixth medal overall. Another athlete to make history was skateboarder Sky Brown who’s bronze medal made her Team GB’s youngest ever Olympic medallist at just 13 years and 28 days old. Overall, GB won 22 gold medals in the final count, you can see a roundup of all of them here.

In terms of world records, the Olympics is usually one of the best places to see them broken, and this year was no different with 22 records surpassed in Tokyo, including by GB’s 4x100m mixed medley relay swim team. However, they only came from six different sports with three of the four weightlifting records broken by the same person, Georgian athlete Lasha Talakhadze. Although this is down from the 27 records broken in Rio, there were still some incredible attempts including in cycling where the Italian team continued what had previously been a very British tradition of breaking the men’s team pursuit record at the Olympics. Italy set a new world best time in qualifying before smashing it again in the final though the women’s event went a step further as they set a new world record four times. Germany set the standard in qualifying before their time was whittled down by them and Team GB with the Germans finishing 6 seconds faster than the pre-Olympics time in the final.

Sporting Variety

Though GB didn’t top the table in outright or gold medals, they did collect the biggest variety of them with medals from 25 different sport disciplines, up from 23 in Rio and the most of any country. Though GB didn’t have the best time in the rowing (normally a gold medal surety), it was their best performance ever for swimming, including four medals from Duncan Scott who became the first Brit to collect as many in one Games. There was another groundbreaking performance from Adam Peaty who became the first British swimmer to successfully defend their title with his second win in the 100m breaststroke. Swimming was one of five sports that the team won at least four medals in with the others being track cycling, sailing, boxing and athletics.

Mental Health Spotlight

It wasn’t just Covid that took athletes out of the Games this year with the mental health of Olympians brought into the spotlight. US gymnast Simone Biles dropped out of most of her events with what she called the ‘twisties,’ a mental block leaving her unable to safely and successfully complete her complicated routines. She wasn’t the only athlete to open up as Holly Bradshaw, who became GB’s first Olympic pole vault medallist, spoke about the body image issues she still faces thanks to social media trolls body shaming years ago. 

Japanese gymnast Mai Murakami, who gained a joint bronze in the floor event, also spoke about the pressure she felt as her country fought over whether the home Olympics should have happened at all. US runner and 200m favourite Noah Lyles, who had previously revealed he was taking antidepressants, opened up after his bronze medal in the event saying: ‘I knew there was a lot of people like me who were too scared to say something or event start that journey … I want you to know it’s okay to not feel good.’ The intense media discussion around the issue of athletes mental health, and especially on Simone Biles in particular, led many to realise that though Olympians may be super, they’re still only human.

Rainbow Olympics

Despite anti-LGBTQ+ laws in a large number of countries taking part in the Olympics, Tokyo saw the largest number of out athletes ever with at least 182 taking part from 30 different countries, over three times more then in Rio. 55 of the out athletes won a medal with some, like diver Tom Daley, bringing attention to LGBTQ+ issues after their wins. Daley spoke of his husband and son after he won his first ever gold in the 10m synchro event with diving partner Matty Lee and said: ‘I feel incredibly proud to say that I am a gay man and also an Olympic champion, when I was younger, I didn’t think I’d ever achieve anything because of who I was. To be an Olympic champion now just shows that you can achieve anything.’ Even athletes from countries with discriminatory laws spoke on their pride, with rower Katarzyna Zillman thanking her girlfriend after a silver medal win and saying she wanted to help the LGBTQ+ community in her native Poland. The country has seen a rise in ‘LGBT free zones’ recently and saw President Andrzej Duda pledge to ban same-sex marriage, adoption and teaching on LGBTQ+ issues in schools.

There was also history made for trans athletes with three competing in Tokyo, including weightlifter Laurel Hubbard who made history as the first athlete to openly compete in a gender category different to that they were assigned at birth. Non-binary trans footballer Quinn became the first trans person to win an Olympic medal after their gold with the Canadian women’s team, they had also previously won bronze in Rio before they came out.

Emotional Games

As we look back on the moments of Tokyo 2020, arguably one of the most interesting Olympics in history, and prepare to do it all again with the Paralympics in a weeks time, we leave you with this emotional BBC montage.

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