Highs, lows and burritos: the Guardian’s standout Tokyo moments

Sean Ingle

Best moment of the Games

The sight of the high‐jumpers

Mutaz Barshim and Gianmarco Tamberi hugging each other

after agreeing to share a gold medal will live long in the memory. What made it extra sweet was they were friends who had helped each other through career-threatening injuries. “When we both ended up at that 2.37, the referee came to explain to us and I just turned and asked him, ‘Can we have two golds?’” Barshim said. “And he’s like, ‘Yes.’ And he was trying to actually continue and explain at that moment. We didn’t really care. I looked in [Tamberi’s] eyes. He looked at my eyes. And we started celebrating.” They weren’t the only ones.

Tokyo 2020 Olympics briefing: your moments of the Games

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Toughest thing to watch


Simone Biles walk away

from the women’s all-around gymnastics after one vault. But her speaking so powerfully and eloquently

about her mental health difficulties

is a landmark moment for sport.

Star of the Games

Not sure there was one. But

Sifan Hassan winning 5,000m and 10,000m gold plus 1500m bronze

, in the space of a week, was pretty incredible.

Outside the arenas highlight

Eating a burrito in a Tokyo metro station after 14 days in quarantine.

One to watch for Paris 2024

Erriyon Knighton turned 17 in January but was fast enough to finish fourth in the 200m. If there is to be a new Usain Bolt it could be him.

What I’ll miss most about Tokyo 2020 is ...

The sport, the late nights and early mornings and the waves of adrenaline that helped me power through. And the people. Just wish they could have seen the Games.

Elaine Thompson-Herah retains her 100m Olympic title.

Photograph: Paweł Kopczyński/Reuters

Barney Ronay

Best moment of the Games

That I was there for: Yulimar Rojas of Venezuela breaking

the triple‐jump world record

with her final leap and spending the next half-hour celebrating.

Yang Jian’s quadruple somersault dive

to briefly wrest the platform gold‐medal spot from Cao Yuan. And Gianmarco Tamberi and Mutaz Barshim sharing the high‐jump gold. Watching from 100 yards away I thought Tamberi had snapped his achilles and was about to be airlifted to hospital. He was just happy.

Team GB chiefs applaud joyous Tokyo 2020 and promise more to come

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Toughest thing to watch

The modern pentathlon horse Saint Boy being

slapped by a German coach

leaning over a fence while his weeping rider frantically whipped his flanks. Not an elevating moment for the human race. Otherwise, quite a few athletes struggling with the strain of a horrible year and the glare of competition.

Star of the Games

Elaine Thompson-Herah.

Double gold in the sprints

, effortless technique and power, plus fearless competitive spirit. Thompson‐Herah said she did not sleep a wink between the 100m and 200m, a rare glimpse of the stress endured beneath that warrior-like facade. Do not bet against a (sigh) three‐peat aged 32 in Paris.

Outside the arenas highlight

The warmth and stoicism of the people of Tokyo, rightly uneasy at the prospect of this contagion, but unfailingly courteous and welcoming. Also dutiful: particular respect to the volunteer at the Makuhari Messe Hall who sat for six hours holding a laminated sign reading “Please take your belongings”. Although, on reflection, maybe get a stick next time. And to the primary schoolchildren who left such lovely notes with their asagao flowers at the venues. My favourite encouraging message, from the equine arena: “Overcome any obstacle with a horse”.

Venezuela’s Yulimar Rojas on her way to the gold medal in the women’s triple jump final.

Photograph: Andrej Isaković/AFP/Getty Images

One to watch for Paris 2024

Erriyon Knighton. The American sprinter is still a boy at 17. Expect him to return with the usual layers of shredded muscle. Still at school, he was distraught at finishing fourth in the 200m final. It is unlikely to happen again.

What I’ll miss most about Tokyo 2020 is ...

Nothing. We were here long enough and it went as well as anyone could have hoped. Thank you Tokyo: hopefully we can return in happier times.

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Andy Bull

Best moment of the Games

My favourite medal was

the bronze won by Allyson Felix

in the women’s 400m. It was the 10th of her 17-year Olympic career. The rest were all gold and silver, but hell did she earn this one with her sprint finish. It was her fastest time since she and her child almost died in 2018, when severe pre‐eclampsia meant she needed an emergency c-section 32 weeks into her pregnancy.

Toughest thing to watch

The beach volleyball, where it got so hot they had to suspend play because the sand was scorching people’s feet. The temperature peaked at 54C and there were no awnings over the court or the seats. Watching the game was hard enough and writing about it was impossible because you could not keep your laptop on.

Star of the Games

Tough, this. Elaine Thompson-Herah won three gold medals in the sprints, Momiji Nishiya became the youngest Olympic champion since 1960

in the street skateboarding


Caeleb Dressel won five gold medals

in the pool. So maybe I’ll just go for

Dallas Oberholzer, the 46‐year‐old “misfit”

who had the time of his life when he came last in the heats of the park skateboarding. Oberholzer, who happily confessed he had never had a regular job, was a new kind of Olympic hero.

Skateboarder Dallas Oberholzer made his Olympic debut at 46 years old.

Photograph: Yutaka/AFLO/Shutterstock

Outside the arenas highlight

The great shame of these Games was they were so shut off from the city, which you could only really see from behind bus windows, security barriers and steel fences. In the circumstances it couldn’t be any other way. But the unfailing politeness, patience and hospitality of all the volunteers who had to suffer tens of thousands of highly strung sleep-deprived journalists was a lesson in good grace for the rest of us.

Tokyo says goodbye to the Games with grace and sense of relief | Barney Ronay

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One to watch for Paris 2024

The way Erriyon Knighton ran the straight in his 200m semi-final, when he spent so much time looking around it was like he was on a sightseeing tour rather than the biggest race of his life, told you plenty about how good he could be. He finished fourth in the final, but when Bolt was the same age he got knocked out in the heats at Athens in 2004.

What I’ll miss most about Tokyo 2020 is ...

The sport, of course, as well as all the people you meet watching it, and the irresistible sensation that you are lucky enough to have a ringside seat at the greatest show on earth. All these just beat the fun of spitting into a small plastic tube every morning to provide a saliva sample and installing a GPS tracking device on your phone so the authorities know you are obeying the many signs telling you where not to go.

Tumaini Carayol

Best moment of the Games

Simone Biles’s journey. After everything that had happened, a serious mental block that forced her to withdraw from five finals, being the biggest cheerleader in competitions she desperately wanted to compete in and the absurd criticism that followed her decision to prioritise her mental health over medals, she returned to win an extremely satisfying bronze medal on the balance beam on the final day of gymnastics.


'Put mental health first': Simone Biles reacts to exit from Olympic team gymnastics final – video

Toughest thing to watch

The fans being shut out of their own Olympics. On a street outside the sport climbing competition, about 50 people set up deckchairs to watch the action. As Japan won two medals in the women’s event, the spectators could barely see any of the action from so far away and, as they watched, volunteers stood by the road constantly telling them to move on. Not only were the Games held against the will of a large amount of the public, but they did not get to see it when it arrived.

Star of the Games

The women’s sprints were hyped as the big events and Elaine Thompson-Herah delivered. She defended her 100m and 200m titles from Rio with two mindblowing times. She is the second-fastest woman over 100m, 200m and her Jamaican relay team are also second in the all-time list. And she did it all with such impressive self-assurance.

Outside the arenas highlight

The friendly volunteers. Despite all the frustration from Japanese people before the Games, they welcomed foreign arrivals with nothing but kindness and respect. I’ll miss the kind gestures, the bowing, the frequent laughter and moments of levity that transcended language.

One to watch for Paris 2024

Janja Garnbret. Sport climbing was a fun addition to the Olympics and few athletes were as dominant as Granbret of Slovenia. One of the most unforgettable sights was her competitors trying and failing to solve all the problems in the bouldering competition during the qualifying round. It all seemed to be extremely difficult ... until she walked out and completed all four at the first attempt with ease. She is 22 and considered the greatest of all time – where will she be at 25?

Janja Garnbret was above everyone else in climbing, which made its debut in Tokyo.

Photograph: DPPI/Photo Kishimoto/LiveMedia/Shutterstock

What I’ll miss most about Tokyo 2020 is ...

The raw emotion. It is not always clear from back home but everyone cries at the Olympics. Winners wept through numerous interviews in the mixed zone, losers sought out dark corners of the arena to sob out their despair, teammates in the crowd cried for other teammates. Elite level sports are always emotional, but this competition transcends them all.

Suzanne Wrack

Best moment of the Games


the 13-year-old Sky Brown

dropped into the bowl for her first run in the skateboarding I was standing on the bridge to Enoshima harbour trying to shield the sun from my phone to watch. It was captivating. My heart was full for all the young girls able to watch these little athletic, baseball-cap-wearing superstars defy gravity, fall and pick each other up – something I didn’t have.

Training for Tokyo: how athletes prepared and how they did – in pictures

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Toughest thing to watch

When Ellen White walked into the mixed zone her eyes were red and her face was blotchy. Team GB had a 2-1 lead against Australia until the 89th minute of their quarter‐final, but a Sam Kerr strike took the game to extra time and

Australia won 4-3

. White’s hat-trick took her tally to six in four games. She was devastated and I was devastated for her.

Star of the Games

The understated Canada footballer Quinn, who became

the first non‐binary athlete to win an Olympic medal

, a gold one. In 2020 the midfielder announced they were transgender, would use Quinn as their full name and would use they/them pronouns. After the final they said “just making sure kids know that they have a place in this sport” was hugely important to them.

Outside the arenas highlight

The medals won by the those who had to fight to get to the Games.

Beth Shriever stands out

. Why is one of the most talented BMX riders having to crowdfund and work in a school to make her Olympic dream a reality? Why is more money not being put into sports that are more easily accessible to those most in need of engagement through sport? Hopefully, these Games spark a rethink on what funding goes where and does more to unearth working-class talent.

Team GB’s Eilidh McIntyre (left) and Hanna Mills celebrate winning the women’s 470.

Photograph: Gregorio Borgia/AP

One to watch for Paris 2024

The incredibly likable sailor Eilidh McIntye coaxed Hannah Mills away from thoughts of retirement and back into the boat to

defend her 470 title

. Having been cagey in the mixed zone the 27‐year‐old, who had to look at her dad’s 1988 Olympic sailing gold medal hanging on the wall outside her bedroom when she was growing up, slowly snuck her hand into the air with an “Oh go on then” when the medallists were asked to show who was considering a 2024 return.

What I’ll miss most about Tokyo 2020 is ...

Turning quarantine meal times into culinary adventures by selecting random dishes, without English translation, off a popular delivery app and sending video updates of myself unpacking and sampling the hit-and-miss meals.

Justin McCurry

Best moment of the Games

The introduction of mixed-gender events.

Swimming has rarely been this compelling

and watching

the triathlon relay

was the perfect way to spend 1hr 23min 41sec.

Toughest thing to watch

The effects of Tokyo’s crushing heat and humidity – I mean “mild and sunny weather” – on athletes, staff and volunteers. This is what happens when climate emergency meets sport. And

Geraint Thomas

coming a cropper ... again.

Star of the Games

Laura Kenny. It’s hard to know where to begin when writing about

the most successful female Olympic cyclist

, So let’s just leave it at that. And Ruby Tui, a

gold‐medal winner in the women’s rugby sevens

and a dream interviewee. She even managed to slip in a


– Japanese for “excuse me” – among the Samoan and English.

Laura Kenny (left) and Katie Archibald won the Madison in style.

Photograph: Shutaro Mochizuki/AFLO/Shutterstock

Outside the arenas highlight

A lowlight at the time, but being caught in a police roadblock on the way to the men’s cycling road race and telling the officer in charge that I would be in serious trouble with my boss if he didn’t let me through. “And I will be in even more trouble if I do let you through,” came the reply: 1-0 to Japan’s boys in blue.

One to watch for Paris 2024

Miserable git alert: anyone who tries to convince me that

competitive breakdancing at the Olympics

is a good idea.

What I’ll miss most about Tokyo 2020 is ...

The daily chats with my visiting Guardian colleagues, even if all but a few minutes of our encounters were online. I’ll even miss the recurring themes of spit and sandwiches.

Kieran Pender

Best moment of the Games

The duel in the pool between American swim-queen Katie Ledecky and Australian prodigy Ariarne Titmus had been hyped ever since Titmus upstaged Ledecky at the 2019 world championships. The match-up delivered in spades –

Titmus beat Ledecky in a thrilling 400m freestyle

and then bettered her again in the 200m, before Ledecky struck back in the 800m (and won gold in the 1500m, where Titmus was absent). The 4x200m freestyle relay was supposed to be the decider, but both teams were beaten by China. A draw, then, between the world’s two best female swimmers.

Toughest thing to watch

The Australian men’s team pursuit squad miss out on the opportunity to battle for gold when

Alex Porter’s handlebar snapped mid-race

was heartbreaking. Five years of effort up in smoke due to a rare mechanical problem that sent Porter flying to the ground at 65km per hour. Off the field, walking past a queue of Tokyoites lined up for a photo with the Olympic rings, separated from the Olympic Stadium by a large metal fence, underscored the sadness of these no-fan Games.

Empty seats at Tokyo 2020 were the norm due to the pandemic.

Photograph: Pedro Pardo/AFP/Getty Images

Star of the Games

A 10-time slalom world champion, from a family of slalom pedigree (her parents are former Olympians in the white water), Olympic gold had eluded Australia’s Jess Fox. She won silver at London 2012, bronze at Rio 2016 and bronze again in Tokyo in the K1 discipline. But Fox and other female canoeists had lobbied for C1 canoe slalom to join K1 kayak slalom on the program (men have competed in both for some time). They were successful, which meant that 48 hours after her K1 bronze, Fox had another shot.

She won – Olympic gold

at last.

Outside the arenas highlight

For an Olympics they did not want to host, the Japanese people – or, at least, those I came into contact with – were a model of hospitality. Walking out of the Tokyo Aquatics Centre at the end of a long day, about 50 Olympic volunteers had lined the exit walkway to wave us out. It was a touching moment. Hotel staff put up with my ever-changing taxi requests; venue helpers had answers to all my mundane questions. Thank you, Tokyo.

One to watch for Paris 2024

Surfing captivated fans on its Olympic debut, with concerns about wave quality and surfer commitment proving unfounded. Paris 2024 organisers have scheduled their competition to take place half a world away, in Tahiti, at one of the most fearsome waves in the world. For casual fans, Olympic surfing in Japanese beach breaks offered a tasty entree and having the world’s best take on Teahupo’o will be a hearty main course.

What I’ll miss most about Tokyo 2020 is ...

The break from normality it provided. The past 18 months have been tough across the globe and landing in Tokyo felt like a journey into a different reality, the Olympic bubble. For all the abnormality – the daily Covid testing, the 14-day quasi-quarantine, the strict social distancing – there was also plenty of what makes the Olympics so special: human sporting endeavour. Returning to the real world, via a two-week stint in hotel quarantine in Sydney, will not be easy.

Tom Dart

Best moment of the Games

BMX freestyler Charlotte Worthington becoming the first woman to land a 360 backflip in competition, half an hour after trying it and tumbling on her first attempt. It was the highlight

of a gobsmacking gold-medal run

for the British 25-year-old former cook in a new event that fully justified its inclusion.

Toughest thing to watch

The action sports are thrilling but risky. The American BMX champion Connor Fields crashed during his heat and suffered a brain hemorrhage, broken ribs and a collapsed lung.

He spent five days in hospital

. Cruelly, as he was taken away from the course on a stretcher, confirmation that he had qualified for the final flashed up on the big screen.

Star of the Games

Tamyra Mensah-Stock, a delightfully bubbly and awesomely powerful American wrestler, almost quit the sport as after her father died in a car crash on the way home from one of her high-school tournaments.

The 28-year-old won the 68kg freestyle wrestling

, becoming the first Black woman to claim an Olympic wrestling gold.

Outside the arenas highlight

Hard to imagine a better sightseeing tour than the Yurikamome elevated train line that offers spectacular views of the city as it whizzes quickly and smoothly from dense, high-rise central Tokyo over the elegant Rainbow suspension bridge to the modern, spacious waterfront district where many Olympics venues were located.

One to watch for Paris 2024

Breakdancing – or breaking as it will be called when it debuts as an Olympic sport. Whether it merits inclusion ahead of, say, cricket (which was played in Paris in the 1900 Games), is a valid debate. But it makes sense for the IOC to chase young audiences and skateboarding, surfing, climbing and BMX were great fun here.

What I’ll miss most about Tokyo 2020 is ...

The unfailing politeness and helpfulness of the volunteers and other local workers, many of them spending long hours outside in miserable heat and humidity performing thankless and repetitive tasks at a Games many Japanese people did not want to happen. But they were just as friendly on day 19 as day one.

Stephen McMillan

Best moment of the Games

The blue riband event in the blue riband sport, but with a twist: in a post-Bolt Olympics, it was the women’s 100m final that felt like the pinnacle of the track and field programme, not the men’s. It had intrigue, rivalries and A-list casting –

plus a box office winner in Elaine Thompson-Herah


Toughest thing to watch

Olympians pushing themselves to the limit in brutal heat and these endeavours taking place in empty arenas where nobody could show their appreciation and from which no children could take lifelong memories and inspiration.

Team GB took the mixed Triathlon relay and the format was a huge success.

Photograph: Kacper Pempel/Reuters

Star of the Games

Mixed events. The triathlon, swimming and athletics mixed relays were a joy to behold and the competitors seemed to get a thrill from them too. So what about mixed synchro diving? Mixed rowing? Mixed gymnastics? Mixed cycle relays? Any sport that can introduce a mixed event should add it to their programme in time for Paris 2024.

Tokyo 2020 played out in empty arenas but bound eight billion people together | Andy Bull

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Outside the arenas highlight

The warmth and kindness of Tokyoites. These Games have been imposed on them against their will, they will foot the bill for it and they could not even go to watch them. They could be forgiven for being unwelcoming, but showed the utmost hospitality.

One to watch for Paris 2024

Erriyon Knighton will be 20 by the time Paris comes around; only a foolish punter would bet against him making a serious challenge to the top step of the sprinters’ podium.

What I’ll miss most about Tokyo 2020 is ...

The sport and the camaraderie, not just among Guardian colleagues, but in the wider Olympic bubble. We knew it was a privilege to be here, whatever the difficulties, and it was an even greater privilege to be so welcomed.