Tokyo Olympics 2020: Andrew Alderson – Eight things that saved the Games in the first eight days

The Tokyo Games appear to have been saved by the force of humanity.

Ignore the medals, the pomp and the International Olympic Committee’s corporate bulldozer.

The governing body effectively pulled rank on Japanese sovereignty to keep the asterisked event from becoming an historical void.

In hindsight, many sports fans will be grateful*.

Cue the joy of watching wall-to-wall sport, the idiosyncrasies of unfamiliar disciplines and the provision of the best babysitter since grandparents.

Seeing the Games through the eyes of children rekindles why sport can be fun, particularly when there’s a banquet on offer via the TV remote.

The event officially opened eight days ago so here are eight moments which captivated.

1. Dressage dancing

How do these riders and their mounts synchronise routines to music? Clippity-clop, our equine friends boogied their way across the ring to Genesis’ “Follow You, Follow Me”, Barry Manilow’s “Copacabana” and Madonna’s “Holiday”. The human athletes also looked resplendent sporting blazers in dripping humidity as a nod to the sport’s military origins.

2. A hurt box of road cycling analogies

Commentating any sport well for hours on end requires dedication and imagination. Enter New Zealand broadcaster Mark Watson. He’s been a Games regular since Beijing and injected such pep into more than 10 hours across both road races. In an oral breakaway from the verbal peloton he had riders “pedalling in squares”, “breathing razor blades” and experiencing “bonfires in their legs”. The concept of not eating an elephant whole but carving it into small pieces was a touch unpalatable in this era of wildlife conservation yet, ironically, brought the races to life.

Full Kiwi schedule below. Click on a name to see athlete’s bio, upcoming events, past Games performance and medal chance.

3. Dean Boxall's Ultimate Warrior impersonation

Perhaps one for those at primary school in the late 1980s. The sight of the Australian swimming coach thrusting repeatedly against a glass poolside balustrade after Ariarne Titmus’ 400m freestyle victory will have rekindled memories of the former masked professional wrestler throttling the top-ring rope pre-bout. What a hilariously Neanderthal response. However, in the age of Covid and keeping with the Ultimate Warrior theme, he perhaps should have kept the mask on like the late Jim Hellwig as his blond locks drafted behind him.

4. Trailblazers

As New Zealanders are encouraged to get out and enjoy the outdoors, mountain biking is relevant. The skills on show, the stamina required to execute them and the need for alertness to prevent others passing made for compelling viewing. The strategic and occasionally sadistic course design, especially with rock placements, also earned kudos. A close silver on the podium here would be canoe slalom. Kipling’s “heart and nerve and sinew” were pre-requisites as athletes wrestled with their boats and paddles.

5. Encouraging "yoof"

As someone who wouldn’t know an ollie from a nollie, the introduction of skateboarding drew a jaundiced eye. This writer’s initial reaction ranged somewhere between amusement and apoplexy. I now appreciate the IOC were future-proofing their product. The point was underlined when two 13-year-olds, Japan’s Momiji Nishiya and Brazil’s Rayssa Leal took gold and silver in the women’s street event. The only trouble?This is another judgement-based sport leading to subjective rather than definitive – think “faster, higher, stronger” – outcomes.

6.Fairweather friends

Surely Erika Fairweather’s performance at the pool helped turn tepid compatriots into converted Games disciples? On the second night, the unassuming 17-year-old from Dunedin’s Kavanagh College broke the country’s 400m freestyle record to qualify fourth-fastest for the final. Her disbelief and subsequent joy would’ve disarmed cynics.

7. A stab in the light

Normally New Zealanders would expect fencing to feature on Country Calendar with posts, staples and kilometres of wire. Yet every four years at the Games comes a chance to channel your inner Zorro and school up on the epee, foil and sabre. The linear, rather than lateral, movement along the illuminated piste means there’s nowhere to hide for those who riposte, feint and parry.

8. Yusra Mardini

The Olympics are better for stories like that of the 23-year-old. She has competed at the Rio and Tokyo Games for the refugee team. When you’ve fled war-torn Syria, got on a sinking boat across the Aegean Sea, smuggled yourself into Greece and trekked on foot to Germany, two lengths of the pool must seem a doddle.

*With apologies to the Japanese economy.

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