Tuesday, August 10, 2021

2020 Olympics: The setup and frame

This is not a detailed professional analysis of a massive sports festival but more an obsessed fan's observations that revolve around the festival that occurs every (mostly) two years. This has been difficult time for me to get anything done.  Of course being retired means there are many options and few deadlines, but the Three Ring Circus is very distracting.  To be honest like many people I would ordinarily not go out of my way for 90% of what I do feel compelled to watch during the Olympics.  In some cases there is a novelty, in other cases there is something significant.  Other times it is a time filler, but the whole is  more important than the pieces.

My obsession began in 1960 at age 12 for the Rome Olympics.  I was a news carrier and would take a look at the paper before actually starting delivery.  I ended up cutting out the stories and results.  There wasn't much television coverage and certainly none live.  The 2020 Olympics was very unique.  For starters it didn't happen in 2020.  Despite the delay the pandemic was still a major concern.  While that was very obvious, only slightly less obvious was that climate change can no longer be ignored.

The pandemic caused a lot of adjustments.  Almost all athletes had their training  disrupted--a few got Covid 19 and recovered to participate, but others didn't recover good enough.  Some decided it was too risky and participating would send the wrong message.  In a sense everyone has been affected.  In some team sports they allowed rosters to increase from 18 to 22.  Also reduced the amount of social interaction between athletes and support staff.  The stands were to be empty with no paying customers.  The other athletes and staff coming to cheer on their team mates were forbidden to sing or cheer and of course were expected to wear a mask.  Although protocols seemed to have been adhered to, the Olympics cannot avoid being a spreader event.  In fact Japan was in the midst of another pandemic wave.

When showing the Canadian winners of women's synchronized diving because the presenter is not permitted to place the medals around the neck of the winners, the two women in turn put them over each other with this procedure becoming normal wherever possible.  

The heat often reached 30 degrees Centigrade.  Heat management is a key to improving one's performance when it most counts--in the final.  Most noticeable in track especially in the longer distances.  It is always position that qualifies for the next step, but time also may qualify.  The wisest movement is not extend yourself more than necessary, but is subject to risk that someone else will extend themselves enough to qualify at your expense.  This strategy probably effected the final outcomes more than usual.

Confused about Sapporo being the site for the marathon and long distance walking events as it is well north of Tokyo on another island.  It was a complicated issue at first seemingly dictated by health concerns for athletes.  Television was a major factor as organizers realized previous long distance running and walking events in 30 + degree weather resulted in massive withdrawals during the event and great suffering of those who survived.  Late July and early August are normally the hottest time of the year, but avoided overlapping with major sporting events in Europe and America.  Again television dictates important details.

Because of the heat many outdoor events had to be rescheduled.  At one point there was talk of changing sailing events because of a possible cyclone which hit China.

For most of us the only access was through television.  Canadians are fortunate in that the CBC traditionally goes all out.  NBC was a lot more restrained in hours, but most Canadians had access to whatever might be of interest there.   NBC was more worried about upsetting their regular advertisers. This year CBC really expanded, using other networks like TSN to co-ordinate coverage plus offering free streaming services for many events.  Not quite 24 hours, but sort of.  As Tokyo is 13 hours ahead the Eastern Time Zone found 10 am to about 7 am. with no live events, but plenty of tapes, interviews, analysis. The challenge of coverage and accessibility was more difficult because of more events.

Actually staying at home with television has advantages over actually attending.  We can flip from event to event almost as our fancy dictates.  The camera has become more innovative than ever with more tantalizing views than ever with lots of replays.   

I was struck by underwater and slow motion views that apparently are denied to diving judges.  Water polo sometimes included underwater shots of what goes on which often is more violent that what we see on the surface.  Check out  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2016/04/in-praise-of-water-polo.html  Perhaps I am just jealous, but at home you can appreciate the athleticism and artistry better, but of course the emotions of the crowd are irreplaceable.

This is  most gender equality Olympics yet  There were mixed gender events with a track relay, and with shooting and tennis amongst others.  Male and female flag bearers for most nations.  Altogether 49% of the athletes were women.  Equestrian is the only event where the sexes compete as equals with women often winning as it takes  more than brute strength to control a horse that might weigh half a ton.

For the first time openly transgender women were included, but it's complicated.  Some of the inclusions were a New Zealand weightlifter, a Brazilian volleyball player, a  member of Canadian gold medal soccer team.  In these cases consideration is given to hormone treatment focusing on testosterone levels allowing that some is natural in women.  Another factor is time from transition as in many cases there is a temporary muscle retention.  There is also a concern over cis females (those normally considered female) with their testosterone levels.  Two teenagers from Namibia had such high testosterone levels they were not allowed to run the 400 her best event, but one of them did win silver in 200 meters.  The International Olympic Committee  is attempting to balance inclusiveness and fairness.  It seems likely there will be further classifications in the future.

Sexism is prominent.  Women's Beach Volleyball requires skimpy bikini like outfits.  Prior to the Olympics the Norwegian handball team was fined for rejecting the skimpy outfits that had been standard.  An American celebrity offered to pay the fine, but fortunately the handball association retracted the fine.   The German gymnastics team protested with full length leotards.  Ironically other women, especially in the past had been required to cover more of their bodies.  I assume that skimpy outfits used in other women's sports are for their comfort.  Although men will always enjoy bare skin and form fitting outfits we are starting to better appreciate the skills and efforts required.

Back in 2011 the World Anti-Doping Agency banned Russia from international sporting activities including the Olympics.   As a compromise the IOC allowed Russian athletes to participate as the Russian Olympic Committee with a few restrictions.  They cannot use the Russia name, or use their flag or have their national anthem played.  It was suggested that should one of them win a gold medal  they could play the Tchaikowski Piano Concerto Number One (which is much more impressive).  The Russians missed a few athletes, but maintained some of their national prestige with a respectable haul of medals.

Surprised to learn that Hong Kong participates (since 1952) including 2021.  Puerto Rico has long had its own team.   Refugee Olympic team was first allowed in 2016 and has continued with limited success in medal events, but are making a statement.  

Taiwan presents a special problem for the IOC because China objects strongly to any implication that Taiwan is an independent country.  They were banned for several years, but in 1981 agreed to a compromise that required them to use the name Chinese Taipei and forgo use of the national anthem and flag for medal presentations.  A few foreign media have decided to use "Taiwan" in their coverage of the games, but this rouses stern rebukes from Beijing authorities.

Tokyo not only wanted to represent Japanese culture, but wanted to incorporate more environmentally friendly elements.  The torch lit in Greece was designed with a cherry blossom motif and made partly from recycled aluminum.  The cauldron that houses the Olympic flame was designed by Canadian architect, Oki Sato.  It was made to represent five separate flames coming from a flower.  For the first time it was fueled by hydrogen which does not emit carbon dioxide.

For the medals, electronic devices such as mobile phones were collected from Japanese citizens and metals drawn from there including gold, silver and red brass (95% copper and 5% zinc).  Junichi Kawanishi designed the medals.  Each of the medal winners was also given a small bouquet made from flowers that had been grown in the areas affected by the tsunami and nuclear disaster symbolizing Japan rising again.

Perhaps music has been considered masculine for too long, but it adds enjoyment to some of the women's events such as gymnastics and synchronized swimming. 

The Olympics has inspired a lot of memorable music.  I remember the Celine Dion choice for the Atlanta Games in 1996 was criticized, but the organizers defended saying they wanted the best.  I think the best and the most appropriate was Whitney Houston singing "One Moment in Time."  Unless I missed it on a bathroom break there were no catchy original songs.  I had read that the composer had been charged with a sexual crime and his music taken out of the program.  

Personally I decided to do musical posts on Facebook to commemorate gold medal winners from countries that don't always get a lot of attention.  Ones I found time and space for were the Netherlands, Philippines, Jamaica, Morocco, Ethiopia, Latvia, Italy, Puerto Rico and Fiji.

The opening ceremony was more subdued than in the past.  The athletes paraded in and speeches were made.  Naomi Osaka lit the flame.  A moment of silence was observed for the first time during the Opening Ceremonies for the murder of 11 Israeli team members (plus one German police officer) during the 1972 Munich Olympics.  At the time this caused the first disruption of 34 hours, overcoming some opposition to continuing.  Palestinians used the Olympic platform to make a violent political statement that backfired on them.  But it made security a much higher priority for future Olympics.

The marathon did attract a lot of spectators behind guard rails, but they all have masks on.  With the walking events it provided opportunities for local and visitors to watch something without buying tickets.  The Japanese were encouraged to watch on television.

For the closing athletes paraded in and speeches were made with the Olympic flag being handed over by the female Tokyo mayor to the female Paris mayor.  There was some entertainment by dancers and singers (I think lip synched).  The French part of the closing was very impressive, a big part of it staged in Paris, itself with jets leaving colored streams for their flag around the Eiffel Tower.  Skateboarding around the skyline and with break dancing (to be added 2024).   To me the ceremony seemed more subdued from the point of view of athlete's participation which has traditionally been rollicking.

Tokyo will be paying off the debt for decades.  They had hoped to present themselves as a modern city with many attractions for visitors.   One aspect that is unique is that the Japanese have a fondness for forest or tree bathing and have integrated elements into Tokyo itself.

Fareed Zakaria commented on the logistical masterpiece of organizing.  Many athletes and officials had no direct flights, supplies from different parts of the world (eg. sand from Vietnam), horses.  It demonstrates that international co-operation can be impressive.  Fareed wishes that dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic was as good.

For my post on Brazilian Olympics/Paralympics  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2016/09/olympic-impressions-for-2016.html

There is too much for one post so if you are interested in my humble opinions there will be a second post. within a day or so.  Followup here:  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2021/08/2021-olympics-part-two-people-who-made.html

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