Athletes unite to go "Faster, Higher, Stronger - Together" at Tokyo Games
After 16 days filled with breathtaking moments and touching behind-the-scenes stories, the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games closed on Sunday despite all the challenges brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic.
-- The Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games closed on Sunday after 16 days of thrilling and touching sport moments.
-- China made a string of breakthroughs, while the U.S.'s traditional dominance in athletics and swimming waned slightly.
-- Athletes give Tokyo 2020 a great Olympic soul, standing together against challenges brought about by the pandemic.
Prior to the opening of the Tokyo Games, the Olympic motto was revised for the first time in over 120 years, with the inclusion of the word "together" to highlight the importance of solidarity.
The new motto, which now reads "Faster, Higher, Stronger - Together," was unanimously approved at the 138th session of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) on July 20.
"Solidarity fuels our mission to make the world a better place through sport. We can only go faster, we can only aim higher, we can only become stronger by standing together - in solidarity," said IOC President Thomas Bach.
Jerseys were exchanged, emotional embraces were shared, and congratulations were expressed; memories of those touching Olympic moments will remain fresh in many people's minds for a long time.
In gathering in Tokyo against all odds, athletes around the world showed their mutual respect and willingness to strive for the goal of becoming "faster, higher, stronger", and this has been achieved by staying "together."
NEAR MISS ON TOP SPOT -- BREAKTHROUGHS FOR CHINA
China claimed 38 gold, 32 silver and 18 bronze medals at the Tokyo Games, equaling its previous best haul of gold medals at any overseas Olympics, by finishing second, just one short of the United States' winning gold tally.
As usual, Chinese Olympians dominated in weightlifting, diving and table tennis, missing out on only one gold in each sport. The country's shooting squad won a record 11 medals in Tokyo, including four golds. China's badminton players reached finals in all five categories before snatching the women's singles and mixed doubles gold medals. There were also three gold medals in gymnastics, in which China had previously excelled but hadn't won any golds at Rio 2016.
China's haul of gold medals in those six sports, considered the country's traditionally strong events, has reached 28, more than its gold total five years ago in Rio.
There were also remarkable breakthroughs in athletics and rowing.
Four-time Olympian Gong Lijiao claimed the women's shot put title after renewing her personal best twice. The 32-year-old veteran gave China its first Olympic gold in field events, and was soon followed by Liu Shiying who won the women's javelin gold.
Despite missing out on a medal, star sprinter Su Bingtian wowed many with his new Asian record 9.83-second performance in the men's 100m semifinals, becoming the first Chinese sprinter to appear on the starting blocks of the Olympic 100m final. He came in sixth in 9.98, the best ever result for an Asian sprinter.
In rowing, the team of Chen Yunxia, Zhang Ling, Lyu Yang and Cui Xiaotong won gold in the women's quadruple sculls in world-record time, with bronze medals coming in the women's eight and men's double sculls.
At 32 years old, Ma Long became the most decorated table tennis player in Olympic history with five gold medals.
Men's 81kg weightlifting gold medalist Lyu Xiaojun, who turned 37 on July 27, broke the record for the oldest Olympic champion in the sport set by Rudolf Plukfelder of the Soviet Union, who was 36 years old when he won gold at Tokyo 1964.
Veterans defended their glory, while "Generation Z" athletes also heralded an era to come.
Yang Qian, Jiang Ranxin and Zhang Changhong, all born in the 2000s, were present in Chinese shooters' four golds in Tokyo.
14-year-old sensation Quan Hongchan, the youngest member in the Chinese delegation in Tokyo, collected full marks in three out of five dives en route to her triumph in the women's 10m platform event.
CHANGES IN GLOBAL SPORTING LANDSCAPE
Athletics and swimming are the main draw of any Olympics with their large medal hauls. Both sports witnessed significant changes at Tokyo 2020, which partly explains why the previous gold medal dominance from the United States did not occur at these Games.
With Michael Phelps and other outstanding swimmers, the U.S. has long been the dominant force in Olympic swimming. Despite securing the top spot on the swimming medal tally in consecutive Olympics, finishing with 30 medals including 11 gold at Tokyo, American swimmers faced sterner challenges from other countries and regions in Tokyo.
The 11 American gold medals were the country's fewest in swimming since the 1992 Olympics, while Australia won a record-high of nine gold medals to finish in second place, capping off its best-ever Olympic Games in the pool. Britain in third won four gold medals, while Chinese swimmers won three events - two more than five years ago in Rio.
Caeleb Dressel was the leading American swimmer under the spotlight, setting two world records on his way to five gold medals at Tokyo 2020.
Like Dressel in the men's draw, Emma McKeon from Australia was the best female swimmer in Tokyo. The 27-year-old became the first female swimmer to win seven medals at one Olympics, including four golds.
In athletics, another traditional gold-bagging sport of the U.S., they were feeling greater pressure too, not just from Jamaica in sprint events, but Italy in the sprint and race walk.
Italy captured five golds in athletics. Following his surprising victory in the men's 100m, Lamont Marcell Jacobs led Italy to a 4x100 relay gold medal. Italian race walkers Massimo Stano and Antonella Palmisano claimed the men's and women's titles over the 20-kilometer distance.
Once setting a target of 30 gold medals for its home Olympics, Japan managed a third-place finish with 27 golds, with a big part coming from its traditional sport of judo, with nine golds. Wrestling and the newly-added skateboarding contributed five and three respectively for the host nation.
Compared to the Rio Olympics, the Netherlands was the only newcomer in the top 10 of the medals table, thanks in part to its glittering performance in cycling.
TOGETHER AT PANDEMIC-HAUNTED OLYMPICS
After losing to Danish shuttler Viktor Axelsen from Denmark in the men's badminton singles final, defending champion Chen Long from China walked straight to Axelsen on the court and congratulated him on his victory. The two also exchanged their jerseys.
"Obviously I respect Chen Long a lot. He's been a big inspiration to me," said Axelsen.
The friendly interaction between Chen and Axelsen also drew wide appreciation online. "Awesome moment and classy act by the two Olympic champions," one web user wrote.
After Gong clinched her maiden Olympic gold, 36-year-old bronze medalist Valerie Adams from New Zealand gave the Chinese shot putter a big hug.
"I often watched her winning the championship, and now it's finally my turn," Gong told a press conference, triggering friendly laughter from two-time Olympic winner Adams.
"We competed together for many, many years. I have won a lot of medals, and it's your turn. Big respect to you. You are a great competitor, and I'm really happy for you," Adams told Gong.
Those moving moments were not limited to winners and medalists. The standing ovation received by the legendary Oksana Chusovitina when she completed her Olympic finale in the vault competition, and the tears shed by Chinese shuttler He Bingjiao for her injured opponent Zhang Beiwen were also snapshots of fair play and mutual respect at Olympic venues, and they became more valuable for the Olympic movement against the backdrop of a pandemic.
As the Olympic Games drew to a close, Bach confessed at a press conference that he personally had concerns over a soulless Olympic Games as spectators were barred from entering the vast majority of venues.
"But fortunately, what we have seen here is totally different, because the athletes give these Olympic Games a great Olympic soul," said the IOC chief.
Echoing Bach's view, Yiannis Exarchos, CEO of Olympic Broadcasting Services, said, "Once the athletes walk onto the field of play, they filled all the space, emotionally they made up for everything we may have made from spectators. They created an incredible environment, they became their own fans of their own events, of their own colleagues. For me, it's something that I have never experienced in my life before."
Bach acknowledged the progress in staging a "safe and secure games," citing that as of August 5, there were 42,500 arrival tests at a positivity rate of 0.08 percent, and 571,000 screenings at a positivity rate of 0.02 percent.
"I think it's fair to say that the Olympic community here in Tokyo has been the best tested community anywhere in the world during the last few weeks," he said.
The great competition and sportsmanship demonstrated by the Olympians won over many suspicious locals. During the Games, many lined up patiently under the blazing sun in a small garden near the Olympic Stadium in Tokyo, to take photos with the Olympic Rings inside the park and the Olympic Stadium as the backdrop in a way to feel the Olympic atmosphere.
"The fact that the Games could be held despite the pandemic is something we should be happy about. I feel proud," said 63-year-old Tokyo resident Masami Kato.
When the Olympic flame was extinguished in the Tokyo Olympic cauldron on Sunday, exactly 13 years have passed since the opening of the Beijing Olympic Games.
With about six months to go before the 2022 Winter Olympics opens in Beijing, some dual Olympians are already eager to take to the snow.
"I'm going to switch to snowboarding soon," said two-time Olympic snowboarding silver medalist Ayumu Hirano after he had a run in his Olympic skateboarding debut on home soil. "I will continue to challenge myself."