I don’t know what it is about the Olympics, but I’ve always been obsessed with them. My obsession begins in Sydney.
For many Australians, they have a specific Olympic story. You’ve probably started recounting yours as you read this. But then again, it’s almost a special club where the cities who have hosted the Olympics have their own story.
I have older friends and cousins who participated in the Opening Ceremony. I had only just turned five in September 2000, and our parents took us to the Equestrian. Probably not the best choice for a restless five-year-old and a squealing two-year-old in an event that required a silent audience.
For twenty-one years since, I have visited the Olympic Park many, many times and I like to imagine the floods of people walking through the train station or the extension of the stadium, pretty much everywhere in the city where I now live. My mum likes to tell us that she was at the harbour in 1993 when the successful bid for the 2000 Olympics was announced… She recounts the accent well. AND THE WINNER IS SYD-ER-NEY!
I recount the years of the Olympics through my childhood. 2004 Athens, we watched the Olympics in the classrooms at school, I remembered the medallists’ pretty olive leaf headpieces and I learnt about ancient history. 2008 Beijing was my first year of high school and we probably did assignments and watched it in classrooms again. In 2012, in the midst of my full-blown obsession with all things English, I sat on the lounge at 5:30am watching the Opening Ceremony of the London games for hours until I finally had to get ready for work on a Saturday morning. 2016 Rio was a great year, Brazil looked sunny and shiny and I loved watching. The path to Tokyo 2020 was set. Or so we thought.
The point to all of this is that our viewing experience is important. Somehow, this once-every-four-years event connects the world through our screens. Everyone seems to be watching the same thing, rooting for the same cause. The Olympics are a reason for celebration every time they come around. And here we are, in 2021 with an extra year added on.
And so, Tokyo 2020 (which is hilarious because nothing has been rebranded and good on them for not just trashing everything and wasting so much) begins during the Sydney COVID-19 lockdown. It is a pretty surreal experience, as without the lockdown, I’d be a functioning adult with a full-time job and therefore would be too busy to watch all the events that happen during the mid-morning hours. But in lockdown, I can’t ignore it – and I sit and knit (a nod to Tom Daley) and cheer these Olympians on to gold. In the midst of lockdown, it’s hard to stay motivated let alone semi-jovial and YET the Olympics is giving me (and many others) something to be excited about.
Of course, it feels different. The stadiums are empty which is WEIRD and the masks are everywhere. But the sense of excitement is definitely still there, and so we carry on.
As the Olympics wrap up, I believe it’s important to realise that ultimately it’s a massive collective celebration of individual achievements. We cheer and scream and cry at the television. I shared a conversation with my friend who said ‘hey, do you guys just cry watching the Olympics? If someone wins I cry; someone falls over I cry, someone has a backstory I cry’. And so, I know I’m not alone. I also think I inherited the habit of sobbing whilst the Australian national anthem plays. We can see the Olympic champions singing under their masks and as the camera pans across the barely full stadiums that are normally full of crowds.
There’s something so special about how for just two weeks every four(ish) years, the whole world is united as one.