Summer Sports

These Olympics made us laugh, cry, and cheer — a look back at Tokyo 2020

The events in Tokyo 2020 have made us laugh, cry and cheer. CBC Sports looks back at some of our favourite moments from the resilient 32nd Olympiad.

Games delayed by pandemic produced moments of emotional brilliance, triumph

Teammates embrace Canada's Julia Grosso after she scored the winning penalty kick goal against Sweden in the women's gold-medal final at the Tokyo Olympics. (Fernando Vergara/The Associated Press)

It's easy to be cynical about the Olympics.

After a year-long delay brought on by the pandemic, the bar heading into the Summer Games certainly wasn't set very high.

Yet, beyond the controversy (and let's be honest, there was plenty), the events in Tokyo 2020 made us laugh, cry and cheer.

Throughout 17 days of competition, the world's athletes have once again shown that they, and they alone, are the true power behind the Olympics. 

Their performances and deeds, watched by myriad eyes, will continue to both inspire and challenge us for generations to come.

The sun may have set on Tokyo, but the memories will live on. Here are some of our favourites moments:

Commanding the stage

Britain's Tom Daley, the men's synchronized 10-metre platform champion, sitting at a table in front of journalists, along with diving partner Matty Lee — gold medal around his neck — proclaimed: "I feel incredibly proud to say that I am a gay man and also an Olympic champion."

Daley's words were amplified, not just because of the mics and cameras, but because of the presence of the Chinese silver medallists on one side and the bronze-winning Russians on the other — citizens of countries where same-sex marriage is not legal.

Tears well in the eyes of Britain's Tom Daley, after winning gold, with diving partner Matty Lee, in the men's synchronized 10m platform. (Oli Carff/Getty Images)

Tokyo's rainbow shine continued as Canada's Quinn became the first publicly transgender, non-binary athlete to win an Olympic medal as the women's soccer team defeated Sweden in a penalty shootout to secure gold. 

Quinn, a 25-year-old midfielder from Toronto, became the first openly transgender, non-binary athlete to win an Olympic medal, as the Canadian women's soccer team defeated Sweden to capture gold at the Tokyo Olympics. (Naomi Baker/Getty Images)

Drawing a line

U.S. gymnast Simone Biles, widely expected to become the first woman in 53 years to win back-to-back all-around Olympic titles, made the difficult decision to prioritize her mental health over a shot at history.

"We have to protect our minds and our bodies, and not just go out and do what the world wants us to do," Biles said after pulling out of the competition upon losing aerial positioning on a vault.

Sensing a perilous disconnect, the four-time gold medallist's refusal to compete sparked a conversation over mental health that, even a few short years ago, seemed unimaginable.

WATCH | Biles puts focus on mental health: 

Olympic Moments: Defending the title, Fiji's path to rugby 7's success

1 year ago
Duration 1:31
The small island nation of Fiji impresses once again on the world stage, defending their title as Olympic gold medallists. Olympic Moments presented by Visa.

2 is better than 1

From early reports of bears running loose around the softball grounds, to a media boat nearly hitting competitors in the triathlon, this Olympics ran the gamut of human emotion.

Sifan Hassan of the Netherlands dropped jaws in the women's 1,500m after an opponent fell, causing her to stumble and crash onto the track in the opening-round.

Without missing a beat, Hassan quickly rose to her feet and proceeded to systematically chase down the rest of the field. All this before running — and winning gold — in the 5,000m on the same day. An Olympic comeback story of legendary proportion.

While Hassan ultimately ended up with bronze in the 1,500m final, she completed a three-medal haul in Tokyo by claiming her second gold with victory in the 10,000m. 

WATCH | Sifan Hassan gets tripped yet still manages to win 1,500m heat:

Prefer tales of passion? Japan had you covered.

Tied for first place, and with nothing to separate them, high jumpers Gianmarco Tamberi of Italy and Qatar's Mutaz Barshim stood before an Olympic official.

Given the chance to continue their jump-off, the friendly rivals quickly exchanged glances, before Barshim — in a move that will not soon be forgotten — countered by posing a question oozing with humility and sportsmanship: "Can we have two gold?"

As the official nodded, Tamberi clasped Barshim's hand, before jumping into his arms.

Overwhelmed, their elation only grew —Barshim with a fist pump and then Tamberi by covering his face as he collapsed to the ground. His hands drowning out his screams as he wept, unable to contain his emotions. 

WATCH | The incredible moment when 2 high-jumpers agree to share gold:

Aussie rock 

With no spectators allowed in Tokyo, the high jumpers weren't the only celebrants that proved quality trumps quantity. 

Nothing was going to keep Australian swimming coach Dean Boxall from relishing Ariarne Titmus' victory in the women's 400m.

A seeming force of nature, Boxall — poised above the pool — set the internet alight with a series of hip gyrations.

His blond locks flailed as he grasped the railing and began to thrust against the transparent barrier. His screams startled a petite Tokyo 2020 volunteer as she worked frantically to curtail his exhilaration.

"That's just the way Dean is," Titmus explained following her victory. "He's very passionate about what he does — he really becomes quite animated."

Unsung heroes

Often unseen, coaches were thrust into Tokyo's spotlight. 

While China's Sun Yiwen was quick to celebrate her victory in the women's individual fencing final, her French coach, Hughes Obry, temporarily stole the show — lapping the venue with arms flapping in the air.

His energy was seemingly inexhaustible as he hoisted Yiwen onto his shoulders and proceeded to run some more.

It was only after her victory that Yiwen revealed that her father was terminally ill.

Struggling to speak through her tears, she confessed her worry that, due to travel-related quarantine procedures, she may never see him again.

WATCH | Sun Yiwen wins emotional fencing gold medal:

Shock and awe

Tokyo 2020 definitely delivered its share of surprises. These included: a near Mike Tyson-like ear bite, one coach striking a horse, and another violently shaking and then face slapping a German judoka as part of a pre-fight ritual. 

But nothing quite compared to the shock that gripped Rai Benjamin's face, after the American smashed the world record in the men's 400m hurdles — and, somehow, still managed to leave without gold. 

WATCH | Norway's Karsten Warholm smashes own world record in 400m hurdles:

Despite his record-breaking run, in what many argue was the best race at the Olympics, Benjamin remained speechless as he and rival Karsten Warholm gazed at the 45.94 on the clock. 

The despair washing over Benjamin's face as his Norwegian foe ripped open his shirt like Superman and began to roar felt, in contrast, all too human. 

O Canada

Canada was no stranger to the podium in Tokyo, capturing 24 medals, including seven gold, a record for a non-boycotted Games.

Swimmer Maggie Mac Neil (100m butterfly) was the first to earn a playing of the national anthem at Tokyo 2020. Others soon followed.

Weightlifter Maude Charron (women's 64-kg), and the women's eight rowing crew were quick to meet Mac Neil upon the top step.

Wondering if and when the men would ever join, the nation watched as sprinter Andre De Grasse lit up the track.

After snagging a silver and two bronze in Rio, the native of Markham, Ont., was finally out of Usain Bolt's hulking shadow. He ran to a blistering victory in the men's 200m, setting a new national record of 19.62 seconds.

WATCH | Andre De Grasse finally gets his golden moment at the Olympics:

Not to be outdone, Damian Warner also struck gold by topping the field in the men's decathlon with an Olympic record 9,018 points.

All this before the women's soccer team defeated the top-ranked U.S., ending a 20-year drought against their North American rivals in the semis. Having previously won two straight bronze medals, the Canadian team defeated Sweden in a tense penalty shootout to finally capture the gold. 

WATCH | Canada's women's soccer team makes history with Olympic gold:

Last, but not least, Kelsey Mitchell, from Sherwood Park, Alta., punctuated Canada's Games with gold in the women's track cycling sprint final.

Passing the torch

The figurative passing of the torch from one generation to another has been a part of every Games.

In Tokyo, legendary gymnast Oksana Chusovitina waved her final goodbye to the crowd, at 46 years of age, while new Olympic hopefuls emerged, eager to leave their own mark.

Chusovitina, who competed in a women's record eight-consecutive Olympics, won gold in Barcelona in her debut in 1992 — nearly five years before Biles was even born. 

WATCH | The incredible Olympic story of gymnast Oksana Chusovitina:

Meanwhile, 12-year-old Hend Zaza became the youngest table tennis player in Olympic history.

Having already overcome countless obstacles, including a war that has left her country of Syria torn and her home city of Hama destroyed, the precocious Zaza's message remained clear.

"Fight for your dreams," Zaza said. "Try hard, regardless of the difficulties that you're having, and you will reach your goal."

Syria's Hend Zaza, 12, became the youngest table tennis player in Olympic history in Tokyo. (Luisa Gonzalez/Reuters)

Winning tune

For some, victory brings well wishes, and maybe even a parade.

In the case of weightlifter Hidilyn Diaz, the Philippines' first-ever Olympic gold medallist, it brought a financial windfall of $600,000 US in cash and other rewards. Plus, depending on the report, at least one condominium in an upscale Manila neighbourhood.

'To all the young generation in the Philippines, please dream high. That's how I started. I dreamed high and finally I was able to do it,' said Hidilyn Diaz on her victory. (Vincenzo Pinto/Getty Images)

Back in 2016, Fiji commemorated the victory of its men's rugby sevens team with a new $7 bill.

So, what happened when the team defended its title in Tokyo? Song. Lots and lots of song.

Isolated and unable to see their families for five months leading up to the Olympics due to lockdown restrictions on their island home, the team burst into hymn upon victory.

The toll of their journey was jarringly evident as their voices reverberated around the Olympic venue.

WATCH l Olympic Moments: Defending the title, Fiji's path to rugby 7s success:

Everyone, of course, celebrates to their own tune. But what do you do when you're 18 years old and just finished upsetting the highly-favoured Australians and Americans?

You let the whole world know.

That's precisely what Tunisia's Ahmed Hafnaoui did after completing one of the biggest upsets in the pool.

Hafnaoui punctuated his victory in the men's 400m freestyle with a splash, a scream and an unforgettable smile.

Canada, of course, knows all about pool parties. In addition to six medals, Canadian swimmers broke seven national records in Tokyo.

Penny Oleksiak helped bring home three of those medals, becoming Canada's most decorated Olympian with seven, having perviously captured four in Rio.

WATCH | Penny Oleksiak becomes Canada's most decorated Olympian:

And, while these Olympics may not have been the Games we were expecting, it's impossible not to applaud the athletes. 

Tokyo's troubled road was always going to be controversial. Held amidst a pandemic, in stiffing temperatures and at a record cost of $15.4 billion US, according to an Oxford University study, this was unquestionably an Olympics unlike any other. 

Despite the IOC's proclamations, Tokyo 2020 was never going to unite the world. 

But the athletes, as always, have given us plenty to love.

And those memories are worth preserving.

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