Mike Tirico: “And so an Olympic run like never before has reached the finish line – over eight months, two Games amid one world-altering pandemic. And just like the world in which it happened, the Olympics are so many things at the same time: joyful and inspiring, but also confusing and conflicting, and facing many hurdles ahead. If Tokyo answered the question, ‘Could the Games be pulled off? China has left us with more questions. When Beijing was selected, options we limited. When the Games were held, there was a limit on what this world power actually let everyone else see. Spectacular venues and high-speed trains gave us a carefully-crafted glimpse into the China that has emerged in the 14 years since the ’08 Summer Games.
But a series of closed-loop bubbles driven by the nation’s stringent zero-Covid policy left any of us who were there with no chance to experience its unique characteristics or independently explore the many questions the world has about the nation. Right from the messaging of the Opening Ceremony – prominently featuring a member of the Uyghur population, the ethnic minority at the center of the human rights abuses that resulted in the U.S.-led diplomatic boycott – China put a flame to the IOC’s desire to decouple Olympics and politics.
But if that dream has died, the Olympics are still for those who dream. Athletes who gathered from all corners were again bonded by the age-old sacrifices of training as well as the very modern-day requirement of staying clear of Covid. In the event of a positive test, makeshift quarantine preparations. But nothing keeps them for this experience because the reward still resonates, and we still marvel as we watch. Marvel at the odds of four different athletes each winning five medals here, at a racer who overcame a moment of Olympic infamy, not once but twice, a rider who showed she was just as great four years later, a skater who showed four years can make all the difference thanks to his trademark four turns in the air.
There’s still a one-of-a-kind thrill to the sight of gold and silver wrapped in red, white and blue. The rush of winning gold for your country. Even gold for the host country, for someone raised in America. Eileen Gu’s Games were in the moment magnificent, and a window into the complicated future of a global melting pot, all while providing hope that the future has so many rising stars to look forward to. No event paralleled the contradicting times we and the Olympic moment live in like women’s figure skating. Unparalleled physical feats now questioned after being stained with the familiar fingerprints of a Russian doping charge, and a 15-year-old left alone, scarred by the system. Perhaps the only way a scene like this could ever be redeemed is if it doesn’t just turn the conversation to the well-being of these athletes, but provokes real consequences for those who do them, and the competition, wrong.
Other parts of the competition provided visions of progress. In the space of less than 24 hours, a pair of black women earned podium spots, serving notice that the next generation of champions from our country might look more like our entire country. Two of America’s greatest champions at winter sports own three Olympic medals apiece. And while they did not add to their total here, they did add to our appreciation of them. Shaun White said farewell to a sport that he helped revolutionize and globalize. He came up just short of standing on the podium one final time with the generation he inspired. But he leaves his sport standing alone. The imagine of Mikaela Shiffrin sitting alone, that will stay with us. We thought we’d see her at least on one podium, it’s a place where she has stood so many times as the unquestioned best of her generation. Instead, it was alone with her deep thoughts and unimaginable solitude after not being able to sustain for a combined minute of time. But while she may not have won a medal, she may have won your heart. May we all channel her strength and grace in the toughest of our times.
Shiffrin shared her soul with us, and she wasn’t alone. We saw so many tears of joy, tears of sadness, maybe it was the emotion of two hard years en masse. We saw ‘I love yous’ connected across oceans by technology, shared by teams of friends and family who made individual dreams come true. Those smiles, that joy, it’s so much of what so many of us need in world that feels more uphill every day. The Olympics have always been imperfect, and maybe more so now than ever before. There are real challenges ahead for this movement. But nothing else brings the world together like this. But with troops amassing and militaries maneuvering, these 18 nights again reminded us of the power of sport, the power of people, and the power of the Games to galvanize. So as we formally say goodbye to these Olympics, we’ll spend every one of the next 887 days hoping that scene on the Seine to open the 2024 Summer Games in Paris will be the start of something special.”