In 1964, less than two decades removed from World War II, Japan used the Summer Olympics to showcase its astonishing recovery from a horrific defeat.
It was an undeniable triumph for the host nation.
This time, the Tokyo Games will be a multibillion-dollar test of survival amid a lingering pandemic.
Despite the mixed messages coming from top officials, not to mention the steadfast opposition of most Japanese citizens, these Olympics will take place this summer.
There’s too much money at stake for there to be any other outcome.
But it’s clear this will be an Olympics in name only, stripped of the joy and charm and lofty ideals that make it a tradition unlike any other (sorry, Masters), leaving only the stench of well-deserved cynicism.
Forget about the athletes hanging around to absorb the culture and cuisine of the hosts once their competitions are over. They’re being told to arrive late and get out of town as soon as possible. (Of course, Ryan Lochte probably wishes he had followed that advice in Rio.)
Forget about the stories that would’ve been shared in the years to come – the frenzied bartering of the pin traders, the embarrassed remembrances of far too much money dropped in the Olympic superstore. This chance encounter opened your heart to someone who looked and sounded different.
For Katie Ledecky, one of the most enduring memories of her two previous Olympics was having NBA stars from the U.S. men’s basketball team turn up in the stands when she was swimming for gold.
In 2016, Kevin Durant, Kyle Lowry, Draymond Green, Klay Thompson, DeMarcus Cousins, and DeAndre Jordan transformed into awestruck fans as they cheered on Ledecky and Michael Phelps.
Afterward, they all posed for pictures.
“They typically come to at least one of our sessions at the Olympics,” Ledecky said ruefully. “I know this year it probably won’t be able to happen. With coronavirus cases surging in Japan, the prospect of canceling an Olympics that already has been pushed back a year was raised again this week by a leading politician.
During an interview, Toshihiro Nikai, the No. 2 person in the ruling political party, asked if cancellation was still an option. “Of course,” he replied, adding that if the Tokyo Games piled on to the misery already wreaked by COVID-19, “there would be no meaning to having the Olympics.” But the swiftness with which Nikai backtracked and many other powerful officials jumped in to say his comments were off the mark only solidified the reality that these games are going forward – no matter what happens in the next three months.