Illustration by Ben Beechener
I love the Olympics, I really do, the unquestionable highlight of my summer (well my summer every four years). Yes, I love seeing people win gold, pushing themselves further than they have ever pushed before, seeing athletes at their best. However, what I love more is all those moments which remind us that the people involved are human, that the Olympics is not some infallible superhuman event which can never go wrong. To be honest, I just love all those moments where the Olympics is TV gold, when the sporting sensation is an absolute unquestionable mood.
So, I collated a list of my top 10 ‘what a mood’ moments from Tokyo 2020.
- The Olympic committee just straight up forgetting it’s 2021.
In case you hadn’t noticed, we have been in 2021 for the past 8 months. I could forgive you for mistakenly thinking we weren’t, after all Tokyo 2020 was plastered loud and proud on literally every single wall, stand, ceiling, medal. I can imagine the conversation,
‘But we’ve spent millions on branding, we’ve bought the recycled medals, we’ve splashed out on the cardboard beds, please don’t make us change it. Plus, the Olympics is meant to happen every four years, everyone would just get all confused.’
I love this tactical decision to ignore the past 8 months. I mean it’s a relatable feeling, if we think really really hard, we can imagine coronavirus was left behind in 2020 and that 2021 is a brand-new virus-free start…right?! After watching the Olympics for a little while, I found myself slightly convinced, 2020 just kept cropping up whenever I found myself writing down the date. Gosh though, the thought of repeating that year is terrifying!
2. Annemiek van Vleuten not being able to count to 2.
One of the funniest moments of the games happened pretty near the beginning. I’m sorry in advance to those of you who are avid cyclists, but to be brutally honest the road races can be remarkably boring to watch. It is literally just people cycling up hills in straight lines for 100+km. I’m sure it’s really hard and technical and everything, but it’s hardly a spectator sport.
That being said, the women’s road race did bring one of the most iconic Olympic moments quite possibly ever. Watching Annemiek van Vleuten cross and start that classic two hands out to the side gold medal celebration despite actually coming second was dramatic irony at its absolute finest. Yes, I do feel sorry for her, it’s hard being the target of all those twitter memes after humiliating yourself on camera; but all this could have been easily avoided if she had properly counted to 2…
3. Excuses Excuses
It’s okay to get things wrong in the Olympics. The athletes are human, and humans make mistakes. What is less okay is making random excuses up in an attempt to justify doing badly. Just admit it went wrong, people will love you much more for it. However, I will give you my top 3 outlandish ‘it wasn’t my faults’, because they really are quite funny!
- A case of the scarily specific sudden onset calf cramp in the 100m: Of course, Zharnel Hughes’ left calf would suddenly cramp up the minute he bent down to the blocks (a move he will have trained millions of billions of times) in the biggest final of his life. Of course, that’s why he made a (embarrassing) false start. Of course….
- They’re too smug?: When the GB rowing team faced their worst Olympics results since 1976, one of their go-to excuses was to blame the rowing crews before them for being ‘too smug’; because that makes a real difference to your performance…
- She’s never a woman to me: Okay, this one wasn’t an excuse for poor performance, but it is so iconic that it just had to be included in my list. When Christine Mboma cruised to victory in the 200m, former sprinter for Poland Marcin Ubas demanded that the committee tested her gender. His justification? ‘women just can’t run that fast’.
4. Pentathlon with a side of sobbing
This is an absolute unquestionable mood for two reasons. Firstly, I relate to Saint Boy the horse; why should he jump over all those silly sumo-wrestler decorated show jumps? It’s childish. Secondly, Annika Scleu just straight up sobbing around the whole course was hilarious (and tragic at the same time of course of course). It’s was also a nice reminder that it is okay to cry. However, given how her horse was already agitated, she probably should’ve waited until the end to burst into tears. Streams of sobs are hardly going to fill your skitty horse with confidence.
5. The camera boat not realising there was a triathlon going on
False starts happen, however normally it is because the athletes have jumped the gun, or the timing clock isn’t working. Very rarely, well actually never until Tokyo 2020, does a false start happen because a camera boat has decided to plough into the start line. We get it BBC, you wanted a good shot of the men’s triathlon start line, but this might be taking things a bit far.
It brings a whole new meaning to, ‘are you ready for my close up’?
6. Adam Peaty’s mum
A relatable maternal figure to athlete children all over the globe, Adam Peaty’s mum Caroline is truly a national treasure.
Firstly, she missed his post-gold interview because she was watching the boxing on Sky and secondly, she made the classic mum comment ‘I very much hope he wasn’t swearing’ upon hearing of his full to burst with f-bombs answers. Adam, you might be a gold-plated world record holder but, it’s the BBC, children are watching, listen to your mum…
Bless her, this was a hard one to watch, but it was also a funny one. Very rarely do we see divers buckle under pressure. A ‘bad dive’ in the Olympics is classed (somewhat unrealistically) as something which throws up more than a pea-sized amount of splash. It was humbling to see a genuine unquestionably ‘bad dive’ from Pamela Ware. A dive so bad it scored 0.0 which, given it is still 100x more elegant than anything I could’ve produced, seems somewhat harsh.
My favourite thing about the dive is the expressions; how she grimaces her mouth, turns her neck up and locks out her hands. It looks like she cannot imagine anything worse than diving in the Olympic finals. I’m sure it’s a video that is going to be used on Twitter and Tik Tok for eons to come.
8. Every time a gymnast does a forward roll
Watching the gymnastics is quite frankly incredible. The athletes are so insanely talented, and they make it look so unrealistically easy. I have trained on the rings before, I can promise you they are absolute beasts. I can barely even hold on for 2 minutes, let along push myself into a crucifix (though why an Ancient Roman torture technique has become a required move in the Gymnastics finals I do not know).
So yeah, watching the gymnastics is tragic, because I just sit there knowing I will never ever be able to do even the simplest of techniques UNTIL one of them incorporates a forward roll into their floor routines. Yes, they have done those intricate and complicated tumbling sequences, but the minute a gymnast makes use of the classic (and underrated) forward roll, I believe – for one split second – that I too could do what they do.
USA Skateboarder Jagger Eaton winning bronze in the Street round while competing with his airpods in and phone in his pocket is quite frankly incredible. What is less incredible is the endless tabloids headlining his success with the phrase ‘moves like jagger’. Not the effortlessly cool vibe I think he was going for…
10. There’s celebrating and there is Australia’s Dean Boxall
I had to end on a victory high, because winning gold (no matter what anybody says) is the best moment for any Olympic athlete. It’s why you go there. You expect celebrating when an athlete wins that elusive first, you expect that classic flag behind the back victory photo, that over exaggerated ‘I can’t believe it’ wow face, the occasional tear.
What you don’t expect is the celebration Dean Boxall gave us when his protégé Ariarne Titmus dethroned the supposedly unbeatable swimming sensation that is the US’s Katie Ledecky in the 400m freestyle. Australia’s Fox Sports declared Boxall an ‘instant icon’ for his absolutely iconic (and extremely extended) yay moment.
I think it is quite frankly one of the most heart-warming moments of the Tokyo games, you would be hard-pressed to find a more intimate and real demonstration of sheer pride.
Of course, all these are funny examples, and I have approached them in a very tongue in cheek way. This does not mean I think any less of the athletes involved, I still find them all unquestionably inspirational, they are doing something which I could never ever do. But what is best about all these ‘what a mood moments’ is that they remind us that athletes are human, that it is okay to make mistakes, and that it is even more okay to laugh about them. To be honest, I’d take Pamela Ware faceplanting a 3m springboard dive over Michael Phelps comfortably and unsurprisingly winning 7 million gold medals any day.