Strange Games

This didn’t happen to you. And it didn’t happen to me. Our national Olympic body didn’t send us a letter in the post despite our best efforts and I’m afraid we’re not in the team and we’re not on the plane. But for those lucky few that are, Tokyo is the venue for what’s going to be a strange Games starting in just ten days’ time. The stadiums will be empty of spectators and devoid of atmosphere after the Prime Minister, Yoshihide Suga, called for a state of emergency in Tokyo and required residents to watch the Games on TV as Covid cases spiral rampantly and relentlessly through this fabulous country.

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More’s the pity. The Japanese are the most wonderful hosts. I was lucky enough to live and work in Tokyo for a while in the mid 1990’s and it’s a country that has stayed with me in fondness. It’s possibly one of the most fun places to go ‘out out’ in, the food is marvellous, the people have a generosity of spirit that’s undeniable and it’s a progressive place that literally never sleeps. As a ‘gaijin’ (literally translated as ‘alien’) living in the central district of Chiyoda right in the heart of the action, it was a mesmerising time of my early career and youth and the experience is something that I wouldn’t swap for the world. I’ve never been so lost in my life as in the suburbs and prefectures of one of the world’s largest cities and I’ve never seen culture like it anywhere else in the world. Incredible place. Incredible people.

But despite what the IOC will have you believe, the Olympic Games in Tokyo isn’t welcomed. Ticket sales of some $1.2 billion have been lost as the total event costs rocket to in excess of $15bn. Say that again? It’s astonishing. It’s nuts and in this most reserved of nations, the feeling is that they would rather it didn’t happen. Quite why the country, usually the most organised and law abiding on the planet, is so behind on vaccinations is a failure at government and ministerial level and the price being paid is high. It shouldn’t be happening. But it is.

In a recent poll, 82% of Tokyo residents said that they think the Games should have been cancelled. But they’re going ahead as failure to deliver this monstrous televisual goliath to the networks would trigger reparations that would sink the IOC. The Olympians are the pawns in the game, the foot-soldiers that deliver the first-class, five-star, global jamboree that is the divine right of the Olympic delegates. Peel back the onion and the core is rotten but choose to see it for what it is and you quickly buy-in to the spectacle of the ultimate reality show.

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For the sailors it’s off to the amazing Enoshima Yacht Harbour in the southern prefecture of Kanagawa with more apron than the mother in the Tom & Jerry cartoons. Plenty of space for social distancing if you can squeeze your ILCA in amongst the coach-boat RIBs and it’s the same venue that hosted the 1964 Games where just five classes competed on trapezoid courses out in Sagami Bay.

The Finn is the only lasting legacy from then to now as the Flying Dutchman, Dragon, Star and 5.5 metre have all gone by the Olympic board. But look at the list of medallists from ’64 and it’s a roll call of the great and good. Keith Musto (Silver, FD), Lowell North (Bronze, Dragon), Pelle Petersen (Bronze, Star) amongst others who faded in the sport after such glory.

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The Olympics is a fleeting moment in life but one that can utterly define it. Win a medal of any hue and it’s a remarkable achievement. Win gold and your place in history is secured forevermore.

There’s nothing that screams success like Olympic metal, ensuring hushed tones and whispers in yacht club bars for eternity. A bronze will do just fine, silver is special but gold, man-o-man, that’s next-level. For the young athletes competing they’ve got to put it all on the line in this shot at glory. It’s rare that it will come again. One regatta to define you. One shot. It’s riveting. It’s pressure and it’s all to play for.

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But Tokyo in 2021 is going to be strange. The Japanese will do their level best but it isn’t going to be normal. Protocols will have to be adhered to and bubbles respected. The stadium sports will be flat and for those athletes feeding off the crowd, a tactical shift is required. For the event sports, like sailing, it’s largely business as usual. Another regatta on the circuit sailed far from land with little media intrusion and even fewer waving flags of family and friends shoreside. Bubble herding of the teams will be the norm and it’s all about who can adapt, who can work and who can self-motivate themselves to achieve at the highest level.

This crop of Olympic sailing medallists will be, without doubt, the very best of the best. It’s all up for grabs. It’s all on the line. And everyone in the sailing world wishes them a safe Games conducted in the Olympic spirit of ‘Citius, Altius, Fortius’ – and as the Japanese say: ‘Akiramenaide’ – Never give up. Write that on your boom. The Olympics has a habit of throwing up upsets and Olympic stories are always (and will) be written. Those standing on the podiums will have overcome immense hurdles and sacrifice. Like I say, it didn’t happen to you and it didn’t happen to me – but wouldn’t you just kill to be there?

Sunday 25th July sees the first warning signal fired for the windsurfers and the ILCAs with all the medal races going through 1st-3rd August. It’s now or never. What a time of their lives.

What a time…




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