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Torches & Twisties: My Top 10 Takeaways from Tokyo 2020*

*Note: Tokyo 2020 took place in 2021.

With Tokyo 2020’s very Japanese transformer cauldron extinguished once more, it’s time for a quick look back at the games. Like past years, I was pretty thoroughly engrossed in the proceedings for the two week span with plenty of excitement to go around. It’s perhaps slightly melancholic to notice one of my top takeaways from Pyeongchang 2018 was the athletes’ smiles, something we were robbed of this go around due to safety precautions. And while those masks and empty stands will always serve as a time capsule from these games, I’ll do my best to move past them and talk about a few of the other things we’ll remember in years to come. So in no particular order, here are my top ten takeaways from the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.

10. Surfing is the Best

Ask me now what I’ll remember most about Tokyo 2020 and I’d have to guess it would be staying up late and watching the totally awesome surfing competitions. I doubted this would work but the head to head format of knockout rounds with 30+ minutes of watching these guys and gals try to catch the right wave, throw the biggest trick, and then block their rivals was somehow both peaceful and exhilarating.

9.Mixing It Up Works

There was a trend this games towards mixed gender competitions and generally I was a big fan. This was particularly the case in the Mixed Relay Triathlon which had two men and two women, each competing in a 300m swim, 6.8km bike, and 2k run. Mixed swimming, table tennis, and archery events were also successful. When the Olympics try new things, they tend to lead to more entertainment, so I say, mix it up even more. This doesn’t apply to just gender. Tweaking the rules of sports to make them slightly different in the Olympics can lead to very fun results as we saw in the track cycling events. I called for it after Rio but the Golf tournament should be altered a bit to make it stand out (match play, stableford, something just a bit different). And there are other events ripe for the mix up as well.

8. Sport Climbing is a Great Spectator Sport

New on the menu at this Olympics was rock, aka “sport” climbing. For its inaugural bow, the main three disciplines were put together into a “combined competition.” Speed had the climbers racing up a pre-set course in 7 or 8 second bursts. Bouldering had them trying to solve difficult but low to the ground climbing puzzles. Lead found them trying to get as far up a course as possible, setting their rope as they went. The scoring system for the final was an awesome ranking system where the climber’s place was multiplied across the three disciplines and the lowest score won. So if a climber finished 2nd in speed and 5th in bouldering, they would be on 10 and their final place would be up in the air until all the climbers had finished the lead, meaning there was all kinds of drama throughout that final. Unfortunately Paris is going to split speed off into its own medal event and bouldering and lead will be combined, which is too bad as it’s fun to have specialists competing in events they aren’t the best at. What will (hopefully) be much better about Paris is the fans. It turns out sport climbing competitions are big parties with a DJ spinning music while the climbers do their things, making for a what looks to be a super fun spectator sport.

7. Not a Good Year for Soccer

Both the Mens and Womens soccer tournaments were pretty uninspiring. It could have been scorching hot humid weather or the empty stands, but it just seemed like very few of the matches ever got out of first gear. That was certainly the case for the USWNT who turned their Rio quarterfinal exit into a Tokyo bronze, but looked downright awful in three of their six matches. As for the men, I don’t think anyone, even the Brazilians, think that this gold medal-winning Brazil wouldn’t get blown off the pitch by the 2016 gold medal-winning Brazil. Blah.

6. A Few Sports are Actually Better in Prepackaged Segments

I know that sounds controversial. Almost all of the events are better when you can watch them as intended and let the drama naturally unfold. This is particularly true with surfing and sport climbing and the cycling events. But it isn’t the case with all Olympic sports and I actually found that NBC did a good job of packaging the swimming and track events for general consumption. Unlike almost every other event, I don’t think I would have gotten more had I just watched the full version of those on the app.

5. Gymnastics = Still Great

Gymnastics is starting to feel like the NFL. You know you aren’t supposed to enjoy it because of the damage it does to the athletes, but it’s just so freaking awesome to watch. Obviously this games’ storyline was dominated by Simone Biles and her twisties, but c’mon how amazing is it that Suni Lee still won Gold? And then MyKala Skinner, who wasn’t even supposed to get a chance at a medal, won the Silver on Vault? And then Suni got another medal?! And then Jade Carey got a freakin Gold on floor?!? and then Simone came back and got a Bronze on beam after all that?!?!?! If that isn’t what the Olympics are all about… man.

4. Athletes as Spectators: a Missed Opportunity

One thing that’s always fun about the Olympics is seeing the big stars at other sports’ events (remember Bubba Watson at Beach Volleyball at Rio?). So it seems like a big opportunity missed that the already in-bubble athletes were only allowed to attend their own sports’ events. Seeing Megan Rapinoe at fiance Sue Bird’s gold medal match, or Shaun White inexplicably at the skateboarding events (assumedly as part of NBC’s team) really pointed that out. Had more athletes been able to attend events more widely, those 98% empty stands could have been just 70% empty which could have made a pretty big difference to both the competitors, and the audience watching at home.

3. The X Games are Now Olympics

The X Games were a major highlight of my summers back in my late teens and early 20s. Thinking about it, I guess it was kind of like how I watch the Olympics now. While I know they’re still happening, I really haven’t paid much attention for the last decade and a half. But it doesn’t matter because the competitions have now just become part of the Olympics. This Olympics saw the first medals handed out for Skate Park, BMX Park, and Skate Street, all mainstays of the old X Games. And there were even a few names from those old days. Take a bow Rune Glifberg and Daniel Dhers. I know the response to Skate Street was a bit tepid, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. The big question now is if we are going to see the vert pipe or big air arrive sometime soon. I wouldn’t be surprised, but I’m okay with leaving the moto events at home.

2. We Should Indeed Talk More About Mental Health

I don’t have anything particularly insightful to say here, but it makes sense to me that if you put a ridiculous amount of pressure on yourself to be the best in the world at something, there will be some pretty nasty side effects. And when the collective pressure of a nation and commercial television and media infrastructure get into the mix, it gets worse. It’s complicated, but we can do a better job.

1. Big Wins by the Women Sealed It

The USA trailed the Chinese in the gold medal count for most of the games — but huge wins by the USA Women’s Basketball, Water Polo, Beach Volleyball, and most notably Volleyball (their first) — as well as a surprise win by Jennifer Valente in the track cycling Omnium event pushed the USA past the Chinese by one single gold. The Olympics are not singularly about getting more gold medals than the Chinese… but that was a pretty awesome comeback.

Posted by enderzero at 3:49pm on Aug. 10, 2021