Reflections on what might have been the weirdest, most vital Olympics in modern history.
1) The Olympics were the last thing the city of Tokyo needed right now and, conversely, exactly the thing the world
needed. That's a sweeping and possibly patronising statement but all the polls and headlines leading up to the Olympics highlighted the public-health irresponsibility of hosting these Games in this city at this time. Yet both anecdotally and by the analytics to hand, I cannot remember the public, outside Tokyo, being quite so engaged by an Olympics as this one.
There's an opportunity here to devolve into some trite observations regarding sport's ability to rise above the issues of the day and for it to be a binding agent in fractured and fractious times. You can read that somewhere else. All I'll say is these Olympics have been a bit of a hoot and the world was probably ready for a hoot about now.
2) It would serve the craven International Olympic Committee well to offer the next available Summer Olympic slot to Tokyo, which would be 2036. The city might not want them, but having invested so much in infrastructure alone, the city and its residents deserve the opportunity to reap whatever benefits there are in a "non-pandemic" environment.
3) In a related cautionary tale, it is estimated that insurers lost upwards of US$400 million on Tokyo 2020, a fraction of what they would have if the Olympics had been cancelled rather than postponed. It is still a big hit, however, and will see premiums skyrocket for future Olympics.
4) With that in mind, we are probably edging towards a time where there are a few "Olympic" cities placed on rotation. The costs of hosting are so high and the disruption so extreme for what is less than three weeks of action, it makes no sense to do it unless you have upgradeable sporting infrastructure already in place.
5) Rowing and kayaking saved a lot of heartache and possibly jobs at High Performance Sport New Zealand. The 20 medals look great on the surface but scratch a little and it is evident how many came from "outside" the system. In reality, of those sports that rely heavily on HPSNZ's outmoded funding model, only the aforementioned provided any evidence that a systems-based approach works (and given the sports are based on uniform technical expertise, they lend themselves to systems).
6) The system, as it stands, is little more than an exercise in self-fulfilling prophecy. Ten medals came from the gilded Tier One sports, five from Tier Two, while four came from sports accessing "campaign" funding.
7) This is what high-performance sport in New Zealand is now: win medals and the taxpayer tap stays on; lose and it's turned off. And we wonder why top-level school sport has turned into such ghoulish, unethical morass when this is message it gets from the Government: win medals or you're kicked to the kerb.
8) Given those funding imperatives, three "tiered" sports in particular will be nervous: sailing, equestrian and women's hockey. The only sailing medal came from Team New Zealand's can't-miss duo Peter Burling and Blair Tuke. There was nothing to cheer about in equestrian.
9 The medal obsession has awful consequences. Sports like badminton and basketball, which do a great job engaging New Zealand youth across a range of demographics, had no locals to look up to at the Olympics. This must be rectified.
10) Hockey warrants a special mention. Both campaigns were flat and dreary and, in the case of the women, the problems had been signposted some way out.
This is a sport that needs to reclaim its soul. Last year, after writing about problems within the Black Sticks' camp, a lot of correspondence arrived from the regions all singing the same song: that hockey in the provinces had been ignored, that community hockey and the lower rungs of representative hockey were in poor shape and that the national body did not care about anything that wasn't happening within a kilometre radius of the fecal sludge ponds of Albany.
There is a belief that hockey has been a protected species with names such as Maister and Miskimmin prominent in the upper echelons of sports administration. It is past time for hockey to focus on what matters – which is not the increasingly futile pursuit of two medals every four years.
11) While some genuinely bright prospects emerged in swimming, a gazillion medals are handed out in the pool and, again, none are coming back to New Zealand. Truckloads of money, a lot of it Owen Glenn's, has been spent on the National Aquatic Centre at AUT Millennium, yet the real results seem to be emerging from more basic facilities elsewhere. Makes you think, doesn't it.
12) The 16-day window for the Games is close to perfect. Two whole weeks, three weekends, little time for spectator fatigue to set in. Sport tragics might disagree, but my biggest issues with the rugby, cricket and football world cups is the fact they go for the best part of two months and the last couple of weeks, when the tournament should be reaching a crescendo, drag on with multiple down days.
13) We might not have had a sensational drugs "catch" yet, but the spectre of doping has hovered over the Olympics, with plenty of online chatter that certain countries – think, a new sprinting powerhouse – and athletes have used the reduced testing during Covid very well.
15) Russian Olympic Committee… what a farce. If Thomas Bach spends the rest of his days helping orphaned children in the slums of Mumbai, his legacy will still be the expedient and simpering way he "punished" Russia's grotesque state-sponsored doping programme.
15) The only place for 12- and 13-year-old children at the Olympics is in the crowd watching and dreaming. I don't care how talented the kid is or how cool the sport is, if the best proponents of the sport are early teens or even pre-teens, then that sport has no place in the Games.
16) Yes, I know an arbitrary age cut-off comes with its own set of difficulties – what makes somebody that might be born one day earlier than another more capable of handling the spotlight, for example – but 15 by the day of the opening ceremony seems reasonable.
17) There are sports that just don't fit, others that give out far too many medals, and some that are just flat-out dull.
Granted, much of this comes down to personal taste and sensibilities but I will lose nothing if I never see another taekwondo bout in my life. Speed climbing, fine; bouldering, yawn.
The only interesting thing that has ever happened in the inappropriately named modern pentathlon is a German coach being banned for punching a horse. Given they don't hand out equine medals, there are far too many horses at the Olympics (which is in no way, should it be misconstrued, a reason to punch them).
Surfing and skateboarding? I do not for a second doubt the skills, but I'm yet to be convinced they're a good Olympic fit.
New Zealand won a medal in both so this might not be a popular take but if tennis and golf are to continue, they need to do something to differentiate themselves from their other, more important tournaments. To make the golf more Olympic-like, perhaps the 60 starters should be cut by 15 each day, to make it more like the heats, quarters, semis and final that mark most of the other sports.
How is downhill mountain biking not an Olympic sport?
18) I made a commitment to steer clear of vinagary intra-media bitchiness, so I will not comment on the standard of many of the post-event interviews.
19) My favourite New Zealand moment was… Emma Twigg exorcising the ghosts of Olympics past by not just winning the single sculls, but demolishing the field. Honourable mention to Campbell Stewart, whose performance in the points race of the omnium was full of apple.
20) Bring on Paris. Can't wait.