Tokyo 2020: After 16 Days

As the final medals are being handed out, I’m realizing that the last two weeks have gone by way too fast. I don’t want the Olympics to end.

Fortunately, the Winter Olympics are only six months away and all eyes will be on Beijing.

For now, you know the drill – here are some Olympians and events that caught my attention since the last time I did a post like this.

CANADA’S GOLDEN GIRLS
The Canadian women’s soccer team did it. THEY DID IT. They won the gold medal against Sweden in a penalty shootout that I still can’t process.

Each team missed three penalty kicks in a row at separate points in the shootout. When Sweden had a chance to put us away, they kicked it over the net. And then up stepped 20-year-old, Julia Grosso, for Canada.

She put it in the back of the net and the celebration was on. Boy, has it been a great couple of months for Italians in penalty shootouts.

When she was 11, she watched the Canadian women win bronze at the 2012 Olympics in London. She was inspired by that moment. Nine years later, her goal won them the gold.

Of course it happened this way.

We all talk about Christine Sinclair being the greatest soccer player in this country (and the world). We talk about the impact she’s had on inspiring generations of young girls to play soccer.

Well, Sinclair didn’t have a dominant tournament. She didn’t carry the team like she had in the past. And that was okay because there were a lot of younger players – who idolized Sinclair growing up – right there to pick her up.

In the semi-final, Sinclair handed the ball to 23-year-old, Jesse Fleming, to take a penalty kick, rather than taking it herself. Fleming scored. The same thing happened in the final. Sinclair gave the ball to Fleming, who connected once again.

Fleming had ice in her veins.

If not for Sinclair putting in over 20 years of commitment to the Canadian national team, Canada Soccer is nowhere near that gold medal game. It was all those years of growth, coupled with disappointment, that made this possible.

So, it’s only fitting that after Sinclair carried the burden of success for so long, it was her teammates – the ones she inspired – who stepped up and helped get the job done.

It’s a beautiful story, really.

If you don’t live in Canada, you might not fully understand. When it comes to team sports at the Summer Olympics, we don’t do well. I believe this was our first gold medal in a team sport.

We get used to celebrating bronze medals and seeing those as massive achievements. We get used to celebrating effort and saying, “Well, 6th in the world is pretty amazing when you put it in perspective.” We get used to settling for less because the idea of striving for more seems impossible.

This team went to the Olympics with the goal of changing the colour of their medal. They were no longer satisfied with bronze. They knew they could achieve something greater. And they did.

I need to mention Goalkeeper, Stephanie Labbé. In the first game of the tournament, she went down with an injury after a collision. She stopped a penalty kick, before being subbed off and missing the next game.

These were her last Olympics. The gold medal game was her last stand. She was incredible.

Labbé played mind games in the penalty shootout. When a Swedish player came down to take a shot, she was right there to greet them with a smile.

WHY IS SHE SMILING???

Exactly. Now she’s in your head. Now you hit the post. Now you kick it over the net. Now you don’t get enough power on the shot. Now you lose. That’s why she was smiling.

No one will forget that performance, or that maniacal Canadian smile.

Labbé and Sinclair, along with Allysha Chapman and Desiree Scott have been through it all with the national team. I’m happy they finally got to stand on the top step of the podium.

I’m also happy for Sophie Schmidt and Erin McLeod, who were reserves on this team, but have been such big contributors in the past for Canada Soccer. They deserve this moment, and that gold medal, as much as anyone.

What a team. What a game. What a memory.

CLOSING CEREMONY FLAG-BEARER
I alluded to this in a previous post – athletes have 24-48 hours to leave Japan once their event is over. That’s only because of COVID. As a result, a lot of the heroes and medal winners have already come home.

That’s okay because Canada still had plenty of options to choose from when it came to selecting the flag-bearer for the Closing Ceremony. In the end, they went with Damian Warner, the winner of the men’s Decathlon. It’s an excellent choice.

Andre De Grasse and, literally, the entire women’s soccer team were probably strong contenders, too.

Christine Sinclair was the flag-bearer at the Closing Ceremony in 2012, so I kind of figured it wouldn’t be her, or a representative from the Canadian soccer team, again.

I have no inside knowledge, whatsoever, but I get the sense that the Canadian Olympic Committee likes to spread the love around to various national sport organizations when selecting the flag-bearer. As they should.

That’s just my guess.

The athletes who are chosen are always deserving and for Rugby Canada and Canada Basketball at the Opening Ceremony, and now Athletics Canada at the Closing Ceremony, this recognition is a feather in all of their hats. It’s something they can proudly point to and say, “That was us.”

I wouldn’t be surprised if De Grasse is one of the flag-bearers at the Opening Ceremony in Paris in 2024. As for which woman he’d be paired with, Penny Oleksiak comes to mind right away.

However, Swimming is normally right at the beginning of the Olympics. I recall Swimming analyst, Byron MacDonald, talk about a swimmer who was the flag-bearer for their country and he thought it was a big mistake because the Opening Ceremony is a long night and swim events start the next day. It’s more important to be well-rested.

So, if Penny isn’t named as one of the flag-bearers at the Opening Ceremony in 2024, that’s probably why.

MARA-MARA-MARATHON
I’m going to type this before I look it up on Google: I really hope the cars and motorbikes, that drive in front of marathon runners, are electric. Otherwise, those runners are breathing in exhaust for hours.

*Googling in progress, please hum to yourself*

I’m 98% sure the short answer is, “yes, they are electric.” Toyota seems to have made a lot of electric vehicles specifically for these games. You can look them up, they’re neat.

Anyway, that’s good. Because running for over two hours is hard enough, you don’t need to be filling your lungs with exhaust.

You just know that it wasn’t always this way. Same with bicycle races.

Now I’m thinking back to when I used to watch the Tour de France on a regular basis. Those riders were definitely breathing in car/motorcycle exhaust. A lot of them were also doping, but let’s not get into that.

An interesting tidbit one of the commentators mentioned during one of the marathons was that if runners couldn’t get their own custom drink from their designated drink station, there were “generic sport drinks” elsewhere on the track. However, that could be a risk because they don’t know how their body would react to it.

That’s how much precision goes into running a marathon, I guess.

Along the side of the marathon course were big boxes that said, “Dust Box”. I had no clue what a Dust Box was, but assumed it was some sort of garbage bin.

I looked it up. Apparently, the Japanese translation was off and it is, essentially, a garbage bin. Perhaps, a dust bin?

CRASHES AT THE VELODROME
The bikes used for Track Cycling do not have brakes. It is safer that they don’t because if somewhere we to tap the brakes, while travelling at such a high speed, the entire field behind them would be wiped out.

As it is, there are already crashes. And they aren’t pretty. There was a big one in a women’s race last night . One woman was sliding across the track and her stomach was run over by a cyclist, who was then ejected from her own bike.

It was chaos. I think a race official also got taken out. I saw a man curled up on the ground.

Anyway, I like learning things about different sports and when it comes to Track Cycling, I learned what a Keirin, Omnium, and Madison are.

They all sound like a medication you’d hear about in a commercial where someone is near a toilet, but I promise you they aren’t.

Keirin: Not pronounced like “Karen”, but rather, “Keeran”. This is a six lap sprint race where riders must stay behind a pacer, who is riding a motorbike. The pacer is there for three laps, before getting out of the way. Yes, you read that correctly.

Omnium: No relation to Imodium, stop it. This a a multiple race event, consisting of different formats. At these Olympics, it was four different formats. It’s basically like the Decathlon, but for Cycling.

My favourite format was the Elimination Race. There were 19 riders and every two laps, the rider to cross the finish line in last place, was eliminated. Wild stuff.

Madison: It is named after Madison Square Garden and has been around since 1898. So, bow down.

It’s essentially a tag team event. There are 16 teams (countries) of 2 on the track at the same time. The riders take turns during the race. So, one member will go all out and have their laps counted, while the other goes around at a slower pace, recovering.

Think of it like a short-track speed skating relay.

And when it’s time to switch, the teammates have to find each other on the track, amongst 30 other riders. They pull up next to each other, hold hands (this is how they tag in and out), and the outgoing member launches their teammate forward. It looks very dangerous and scary.

I expect you to impress your friends with this new-found knowledge.

SIFAN HASSAN
I mentioned her in my last post. She’s the distance runner from the Netherlands, who won gold in the 10,000m and 5,000m, and a bronze in the 1500m. No one had ever won a medal in all three events at the same Olympics.

She ran six races in eight days, covering 24.5km.

Thanks to the World Athletics Instagram page, I learned more about her story today. She is an Ethiopian refugee who went to the Netherlands in 2008 when she was 15.

Here are her own words:

“When I arrived in the Netherlands as a refugee it was terrible. I cam from a background where everything, even the door is open. And in the Netherlands, everything was shut, and I was so stressed. I thought I have to do some sport, something outdoors.

So I told them (at school) I needed to do sports. I wanted to do swimming but (they told me) it costs money. I wanted to do volleyball, but it costs money. But running is free, and I said I loved that.

For some reason I have so much energy – especially this year. I feel like when I was young. I have so much energy and that if I don’t use it I can’t sleep easily and I’m getting crazy.”

After the 10,000km race, she collapsed on the track and was gesturing to the cameraman that she needed water. Finally, medics came out to help her.

Her performance in Tokyo was legendary. She gave absolutely everything she had. She is my new favourite athlete.

I’ll end it there and be back tomorrow with a post-Olympics post.

Thanks for reading!

About Paul

I think of my blog as an all-you-can-read buffet. There's something for everyone and complimentary mints at the door as you leave.
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