Since this year’s games are being held without the backdrop of spectators, that strange feeling of intimacy sometimes stretches all the way to the event floor. Remember when US gymnast McKayla Maroney’s unimpressed face became an immortal meme in 2012
? It’s like that, all the time, with side conversations and reactions that would usually blend in to the surrounding din on full display. It’s the little things, like being able to overhear US gymnast Jordan Chiles on a broadcast, during a tense round of competition, bemoan losing a nail. Amid the grit and the drama is so much … normalcy.
Ironically, that just underscores the weirdness, and perhaps anxiety, simmering just beneath these games. After all, a large portion of the Japanese public wasn’t in favor of holding the Olympics this year at all
. Athletes have had to withdraw, or not even attend, because of pandemic-related issues
. Conversations around stress and mental health reached a new tenor when US gymnastics icon Simone Biles pulled out of multiple events
in the first week of competition. We say we want to know more about the Olympic stars who become our long-distance best friends for a few weeks every other year. What we’re discovering is, being an Olympian is hard, for many reasons that have nothing to do with running very fast or throwing things very far.
But despite the politics, the pandemic and the personal challenges, it’s also a lot of fun. And there’s something about seeing Olympic athletes being amused and amazed — by each other, by where they are — that is strangely comforting. Because we’re amazed, too.