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As Tokyo Olympics Begin, What's The Same And Different Compared To Past Games

People take pictures as the Olympic rings lit up at dusk on the Odaiba waterfront in Tokyo on Thursday, the eve of the official start of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.
Philip Fong
AFP via Getty Images
People take pictures as the Olympic rings lit up at dusk on the Odaiba waterfront in Tokyo on Thursday, the eve of the official start of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.

It's Opening Ceremony day in Tokyo, heralding the official start to another Olympics. Although we've already had two days of sports competition, there's the knowledge that once the smoke settles after tonight's ceremony-ending fireworks, the gates are flung open to 16 straight days of unprecedented drama.

As a reporter, it'll be fine to have a daily plan — but as always, I'll be ready to wad it up and throw it away as unforeseen stories capture the imagination.

So at this point, there is a sameness about these Tokyo Games.

But in so many ways, they are hugely different from the 12 previous Olympics I've been lucky enough to cover.

Never have I been through an hours-long gauntlet of paperwork and QR codes and of course a saliva test at the airport on arrival. Never have I quarantined in a tiny hotel room for four days before getting a real view of the host city. Never have I seen in that city, once sprung from isolation, so little fanfare or physical evidence that it's about to host the globe's biggest sports spectacle. Never have I seen the level of dissatisfaction and even anger among the locals, about the Olympics coming to their home. And as a long-time chronicler of Olympic doping, never have I seen so much talk of positive tests that have nothing to do with steroids, EPO or other performance-enhancers of choice.

Will those increasing numbers of positive coronavirus tests drive the daily drama? We're about to find out. The athletes will do all they can to keep the narrative focused on their stories — irresistible stories of sportsmen and women who've toiled for years in obscurity, and now get to emerge on a world stage for the briefest of moments.

We root for them, not the Olympic leaders who many believe are unwisely forcing these Games into a surging pandemic.

And in those cheers for the competitors ... cheers that will come from living rooms and not the empty, lifeless Olympic stadiums ... these Games are exactly the same as they've always been.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Tom Goldman is NPR's sports correspondent. His reports can be heard throughout NPR's news programming, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered, and on NPR.org.

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