Medals Continue and Masks Removed at Tokyo Olympics


TOKYO – The Olympics every four years is filled with moments of athletic excellence and unbridled celebration. That’s what happened in Tokyo.

Much to the growing disappointment of the organizers.

As the games take place against the backdrop of rising coronavirus cases – Tokyo recorded a record number Strict social distancing measures were put in place for two weeks of competition, organizers eager to respect the concerns of new infections – and a worried Japanese public on Tuesday. No detail was spared.

Chunky playbooks groan under the weight of protocols. Athletes wear masks at competitions and press conferences. Floor stickers encourage proper desk space, and hundreds of volunteers spend their days dutifully wiping chair backs, table tops, doorknobs and microphones.

But when it came to the medal stand, these rules were often forgotten.

At these Olympics, the bliss and sheer joy and emotion of being a medalist has fueled fears that some of the happiest moments of the Games have the potential to turn into micro-diffuse events.

Just this week, an unmasked American taekwondo fighter hugged his Russian opponent after collecting his medals. shining austrian cyclist and a burly British swimmer took to arms with defeated opponents, and on Wednesday, Fiji’s winning rugby sevens team performed a song from the top rung, followed by a smiling (and largely unmasked) group photo with teams from New Zealand and Argentina.

And each time, Olympic organizers and public health officials were cowed.

“It’s not nice to have that,” said Mark Adams, spokesman for the International Olympic Committee, about the virus security measures implemented for the Games. “This is an absolute priority.”

But after the first weekend saw a parade athlete ignoring the mask rules after receiving their medals, the IOC revised its protocols trying to find a middle ground between personal joy and public health.

Acknowledging that the traditional medal stand photo for athletes is a “unique moment in their sporting career”, the IOC said it would “allow a physically distancing image on the podium without masks for 30 seconds and a group photo with a mask on it.” my gold medal step.” Olympic officials said monitors would monitor the clock.

Yet within hours, even these looser rules were forgotten.

On Sunday night, at the Makuhari Messe, the taekwondo field, Anastasija Zolotic became the first American woman to win a gold medal in the sport.

After his unexpected success – even his own team had not seen Zolotic as a contender for gold – the 18-year-old from Florida gave a final ear-piercing scream and then, donning a mask, stepped onto a podium to claim his award. However, almost as soon as he got it, Zolotic took off his mask and put his medal in his mouth, pretending to take a bite.

Zolotic’s mask would never be worn again. Not during the United States anthem. Not during his celebratory parade in the arena for the photos. Even when he and defeated Russian rival Tatiana Minina got into a short argument and – with a shrugging like what the hell – started to embrace themselves in a friendly, unmasked embrace.

As the evening progressed, the scene was repeated over and over, as on Monday when countless athletes on the pitches in Tokyo ignored the podium rules and a fed up Adams issued a new call to do their part to ensure safety. environmental organizers had promised Japanese homeowners.

“We need to reassure everyone,” Adams said. “Not just our Japanese partners and hosts, but all the other stakeholders here. We are making a really special effort today to remind all of our groups and all of our people to wear masks.”

But even as he spoke, rules were being broken. In the swimming pool, members of the winning United States 400m freestyle relay team alternated between masks during and after the podium ceremony. The silver and bronze medal-winning teams from Italy and Australia did the same.

It remains unclear what organizers can do to ensure compliance. When asked if the IOC plans to penalize repeat offenders, Adams objected, saying there would only be interviews with teams and individuals who broke the rules. Athletes have previously been threatened with temporary disqualification or even disqualification if they fail to comply with coronavirus regulations.

“This is a very important issue for us,” Adams said.

Tokyo 2020 organizers reported 16 new coronavirus infections among Olympic staff on Wednesday, bringing the total number of people connected to the Games who have tested positive since July 1 to 174. Arrival in Tokyo.

Even if the organizers took a cautious look at the medal stand, not all moments were troubled. The new do-it-yourself nature of the medal ceremony – athletes are presented with their medals on a small platter and are asked to wear them around their own necks – led to some poignant moments. For some teammates and couples who have been training together for years, the chance to award each other medals in recognition of their hard work and achievements has brought tears of joy. Still, most athletes were happy to have them, given the circumstances.

“It’s a tough time, isn’t it?” British Lauren Williams said after receiving her silver medal in taekwondo. “You have to adapt. I was on the podium and enjoyed it, so it doesn’t matter how I got the medal.”

James Wagner and Andrew Keh contributed to the reporting.


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