Tokyo hands over Olympic baton to Paris after imperfect and irrepressible matches


TOKYO – Japan bowed out for the Olympics on Sunday.

Tokyo passed the baton to Paris after hosting Games delayed by Covid-19 and dismayed a skeptical public but nevertheless delivered its share of memorable moments.

The fast-paced, tightly scripted closing ceremony began at 8 p.m. Tokyo time (7 a.m. ET) and, like the opening ceremony, was a celebration of sport and Japan. It ended with the word “arigato”, which means “thank you” in Japanese, displayed on a giant screen as the athletes exited the field.

And it all took place at the Olympic Stadium in Tokyo in front of an audience of mostly empty seats.

The rest of the world watched it at home, with the event broadcast live on and re-broadcast on special coverage later in prime time on NBC.

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In the French capital, crowds gathered to celebrate the handover of the Summer Games in Paris 2024, dancing and celebrating at the foot of the Eiffel Tower as fighter jets dragged a tricolor of blue, white and red smoke s darted into the sky.

“I declare the games of the 32nd Olympiad closed,” said Thomas Bach, President of the International Olympic Committee, as the world bid farewell to a Games like no other.

” Meeting in Paris.

French air patrols fly over the supporters’ village in front of the Eiffel Tower during the closing ceremony of the Tokyo Olympics on Sunday.Stéphane de Sakutin / AFP – Getty Images

The ceremony began with an athlete from each participating country marching with their flags. Once the athletes gathered in a circle, the soundtrack quickly transformed into a jazzy act, in which participants who remained in Tokyo flocked to take part in the ceremony, their faces covered in masks.

The upbeat extravagance at one point saw the Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra knock out a dance version of Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” before the traditional taiko drum beat signaled the start of the celebration of the unique culture and vibrant life of Japan.

It capped two weeks of Olympic action that has been watched by millions around the world but seen in person by the privileged few due to a pandemic that will stalk the host country long after the athletes have left.

Performers wave to the crowd at the closing ceremony for the Tokyo Olympics on Sunday.Adek Berry / AFP – Getty Images

It was an Olympics facing unprecedented logistical challenges and national opposition, but also a scene of sporting glory mingled with geopolitical intrigue, discussions about athlete mental health and much more.

The United States once again dominated the world with 113 medals on Sunday morning, including 39 gold, ahead of China and the Russian Olympic Committee on both counts.

In a video message to the team posted on Twitter on Saturday, President Joe Biden thanked American athletes “for showing what we can do together as America and as a team.”

“Beyond the medals and the results, you reminded us that we are stronger than we thought,” Biden said.

Japan is in the top five with 58 medals, almost half of which are gold, according to the latest NBC News tally.

The Japanese Olympians carry the flag of the host nation at the start of a parade of countries during the closing ceremony on Sunday.François Nel / Getty Images

Masa Takaya, a Games spokesperson who had spent much of the Olympics answering tough questions about the coronavirus and other controversies from skeptical journalists, did not try to hide his satisfaction during the press briefing. Friday daily.

“It’s important that athletes from all countries do their best, but it’s also good to see athletes on home soil doing well,” he said.

They secured their most expensive medal of the lot early Saturday, ruling out the United States for the baseball mad nation’s first ever gold in the sport.

Japan hosted the world’s largest sporting celebration in the face of a plague that has infected more than 200 million people and killed 4.3 million people worldwide, and – powered by the delta variant – has started to spread to Tokyo at a record pace just as the Games were getting underway.

The Olympics may be over, but the Tokyo Paralympics are still ahead. They start on August 24 and run until September 5.

History will judge whether these Olympic Games were a success. But this is clear:

These are the Games where gymnastics star Simone Biles won a team silver medal, bronze on balance beam and a gold legacy on and off the mat after shocking the world by withdrawing from some events. keys to focusing on mental health. .

These are the Games where established stars Allyson Felix and Katie Ledecky added to their medal crop and a constellation of new Olympic Games stars emerged, including swimmer Caeleb Dressel, surfer Carissa Moore, gymnast Suni Lee and female runners. Sydney McLaughlin and Molly Seidel.

The U.S. women’s football team failed in their quest for another gold, but veteran forward Alex Morgan – one of the many stars of this golden generation who may have played in their last Games Olympics – told NBC News she was proud of her hard-earned victory. Equipment.

“We are really happy to have won a bronze medal,” said Morgan.

The US men’s basketball team, led by Kevin Durant, beat a formidable French team to win a fourth consecutive Olympic gold medal and solidify America’s status as a world basketball powerhouse.

Next, the US women’s basketball team, led by Brittney Griner, beat a disjointed Japanese team to secure America’s seventh consecutive Olympic gold medal in the event.

The Americans have also met Olympic heroes from unlikely places, like Alaskan teenager Lydia Jacoby, who won gold in the women’s 100-meter breaststroke and is from a state with exactly one Olympic-size pool. – in which she could not train for months. because of the Covid-19.

They cheered on kids who competed in the Olympics, like 15-year-old American swimmer Katie Grimes and a litany of skateboarding teens, including 13-year-old Japanese champion Momiji Nishiya. They also cheered on age-defying athletes like American basketball player Sue Bird, 40, equestrian rider Phillip Dutton, 57., and Oksana Chusovitina from Uzbekistan, who at 46 is the oldest Olympic gymnast in history.

It was the Games where a Belarusian sprinter defied her country’s authoritarian ruler by criticizing her coaches, escaped assistants trying to send her home to an airport in the Tokyo area, and took refuge in Poland.

Other female athletes stood up – or knelt – for Black Lives Matter and #MeToo, and rebelled against having to compete in revealing outfits.

The Games opened to protests in Tokyo and broad opposition from the Japanese people, who feared an influx of athletes from overseas would worsen the Covid crisis at home, but who were nonetheless welcoming to the thousands of visitors who were among them.

There were Olympic displays of kindness and class – runners Isaiah Jewett from the United States and Nigel Amos from Botswana each helped each other up after tangling and falling in the 800m semi-finals, while high jumpers Gianmarco Tamberi from Italy and Mutaz Barshim from Qatar embraced with joy as they agreed to share a gold medal.

Italy’s Gianmarco Tamberi kisses his compatriot high jump gold medalist Mutaz Barshim of Qatar on August 1.Matthias Schrader / AP

But there was also the Olympic collapse of Serbian tennis star Novak Djokovic who broke his racket in frustration after failing to win a medal and missed his chance to become the first man to win the Golden Slam – four titles. of the Grand Slam and an Olympic gold medal in the same year.

Algerian judo Fethi Nourine challenged the Olympic ideal by withdrawing from competition rather than fighting an Israeli. And in what could be an Olympic first, a trainer for the modern German pentathlon team was kicked out of the Games for hitting a horse that was reluctant to jump.

Just three weeks ago, the Tokyo Games seemed to implode.

Key members of the Tokyo 2020 organizing committee have been stunned by a scandal. Polls showed that a solid majority of Japanese still oppose the Olympics. One of its biggest sponsors, Toyota Motor Corp., withdrew its Japanese TV commercials for fear of being forever linked to an event that seemed certain to be tarnished. And then came the constant stream of reports that athletes were testing positive for Covid-19 and testing assurances from Japanese leaders that the Games would be “safe and secure.”

The Olympic cauldron is seen during the closing ceremony for the Tokyo Olympics on Sunday.Léon Neal / Getty Images

Olympics historian Jeremy Fuchs told NBC News at the time that “there has never been an entirely happy Olympics” and that the Games have at times been overshadowed by controversial debates over human rights. man and politics, even by overspending.

“But I think this controversy is truly unprecedented,” Fuchs said. “I think you would be hard pressed to find an example in history where the citizens of a host country are so unhappy.”

In an interview with NBC News on the eve of the Tokyo Olympics, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga admitted it was difficult to sell the event to his people. But he said the Games would continue.

And they did.

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