The weird Tokyo Olympics

posted by Jeff | Sunday, August 8, 2021, 5:46 PM | comments: 0

I've always been a huge fan of the summer Olympics. It's strange to think that, even at my age, there have only been 12 games in my lifetime, so they are kind of rare. I became particularly interested starting in 1992, with the Barcelona games. In college at the time, and deeply fascinated with television production, I was just amazed at NBC's coverage and its storytelling around Spain. To this day Barcelona is a city that I want to visit. The other thing was my growing love for volleyball, and you just didn't get to see the indoor game on TV much in those days (beach volleyball wasn't added as a sport until 1996).

A part of me wanted to figure out how to work the 1996 games in Atlanta, but regrettably, I never let it go much beyond a few random thoughts. By that time, I had more volleyball experience, playing club in college, and I started my coaching career a year after that. But I just loved the idea that sports could bring people together from all over the world, and we could learn about each other's culture in the process, all through television.

Then 2020 came along, and with the pandemic, the games were reasonably postponed by a year. As global vaccination roll out has been glacial, and inconsistent where it has been available, the games were at risk for further delay or cancellation. Finally, it was decided the games would happen, but with no spectators. The first few contests I watched, I think gymnastics and swimming, it was completely strange to see empty arenas. It was even more weird when we got to basketball, volleyball and the gigantic track and field stadium. It felt like you were watching a scrimmage. Then, in the ultimate weirdness, NBC would cut in shots of crappy Zoom video from the homes of the athletes back in the US.

Blatantly missing from the coverage was the usual series of reels about the host country and city. Tokyo is undoubtedly a beautiful place, as you can see from any movie where it has been featured (I adore Lost In Translation). We saw none of it outside of the event venues. Japan is having its worst Covid wave yet, and unsurprisingly, they've insisted that the Olympics be a bubble with people coming from all over. The lack of features about the people and city of Tokyo is such a loss. You can't buy that kind of tourism advertising, and while they obviously can't host tourists right now, it would have been good for Japan long-term.

The depth and quality of the athlete profiles hasn't been great either, even for the US athletes. I know it sounds a little ridiculous, but I value all of that more than the sports themselves in some cases.

Something awesome did come out of this one though, in that the USA volleyball women won their first gold. Despite my general frustration with streaming availability, I did get to see all of their matches, and what a great team. Coach Karch Kiraly is pretty much the most important figure in all of American volleyball, and what a great way for him to check another box after decades of indoor and beach player experience. He built a team, not a collection of superstars, and they earned that gold.

We only have to wait three years for the games in Paris. Hopefully things will resemble something more normal then.


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