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Tokyo 2020 – athletes take centre stage

Tokyo 2020 – athletes take centre stage

Tokyo 2020, an Olympic Games like no other. For many, an event that should never have taken place, for others an opportunity for some positivity against the ongoing backdrop of the persistent pandemic. Whatever your take, there have certainly been plenty of talking points in recent weeks.

It’s been an Olympics that hasn’t afforded much for IOC sponsors. Activation opportunities have been limited with the obvious sensitivity around COVID-19, and the need to take a compassionate and respectful approach. Scaling back involvement to maintain a dignified presence at a time when the pandemic is still a very real threat to so many is understandable, and unquestionably the right decision. This is a time when public relations and reputation management overrules the marketing chequebook. 

The Games itself has delivered its fair share of virtual watercooler moments. From debates over female athlete attire and competitor mental health to shock withdrawals and unexpected defeats. It’s been an Olympics where athlete voices have been heard louder and prouder than ever before.

We’ve seen exciting new sports, some of which put equality firmly on the Olympic agenda: mixed swimming and triathlon events, as well as the women’s C1 canoe slalom, pioneered by gold and silver medallists Jess Fox and Mallory Franklin respectively. Wonderful stuff!

From the casual excellence of the teenagers in the skatepark to the older generation who are continuing to defy the ageing process with impressive displays across many disciplines – it’s an inclusive and eclectic mix of talent and we’re here for it.

On the topic of mental health, the sensational Simone Biles has handled herself with utmost grace and candour, tackling a very sensitive and personal issue on the world’s most scrutinised sporting stage. Adam Peaty has also announced a break to protect his mental health, and why the hell not. The quicker we normalise this invisible illness, the better for everyone’s sake. 2016 gold medallist Chris Mears gave an impassioned insight into his post-Olympic depression to BBC Breakfast, which should be a wake-up call to anyone struggling to ‘get it’.

As post-competition reactions go, the response by the awesome GB rower Helen Glover – the first mother to row for Team GB in an Olympic Games – to her fourth-place finish in the double sculls, with Polly Swann, was also pretty nailed on. Addressing her three children, watching at home with daddy Steve Backshall, Helen said: “trying and failing is no problem as long as you try, and that goes out not just to my children but everyone out there.” Well said, and what an inspiration both her and NHS doctor Polly will have been to women – and men. 

In Team GB land, we’ve overcome the limitations on BBC coverage and embraced Eurosport’s deep-dive content (and our friend Louise Beckett putting her dulcet tones to good use on the voiceover comms). The BBC itself has faced criticism not only over the sports it is able to cover – and those it chooses to prioritise – and its presenting team. Alex Scott – who we’re a big fan of at SQN Towers – was subject to a torrent of abuse online from Lord Digby Jones over her accent. Alex more than held her own, but why should she have had to?

Speaking of deep dive, a word for Tom Daley. Team GB’s diving – and knitting – sensation who finally took gold in the men’s synchro with Matty Lee. He said: “I am a gay man and also an Olympic champion. And I feel very empowered by that because when I was younger, I felt I was never going to achieve anything because of who I was.”

It’s hard not to be impressed by our athletes. The dedication and unwavering effort that goes into performing – and reaching peak performance – on a global platform with the world watching is something most of us can’t understand. Isn’t it wonderful, then, that we are finally getting to hear their views and thoughts, and have the insight that will ultimately allow us to understand – and hopefully treat them – a bit better? Now, where are our knitting needles…