I think we need to read about something other than COVID-19 and Afghanistan. It really has been a miserable few weeks hasn’t it?

So miserable that the wonderful Tokyo Olympics seem to already be a distant memory. This is a shame, as these Games were, in some ways, quite unique.

You know, I have to feel sorry for Tokyo and the…Tokyo-ians? Tokyo-castrians?, Tokyo-siders?? I mean, you spend millions, probably billions, on setting up for an international event. You make sure that the pool doesn’t leak, that the 100-metre track actually measures 100 metres, you stock up on things like sand for long jumps and poles for people to vault with. You make sure there’s public transport and lots of spare hotel rooms. The sewerage system and electricity supply are both checked over and signs are hoisted in English, because very few can actually read your language.

You do all this because the crowds are going to be enormous and these crowds are the only way you are going to make back the enormous sums of money you have spent on the above and other preparations.

And then, thanks to circumstances over which you have absolutely no control, you can’t have crowds and so all that money has just gone down the drain, plus there is a bit of a wet blanket in terms of atmosphere. Many of your own citizens actually protest that you are having the games at all. Talk about a negative vibe!

I was not looking forward to the Olympics, due to the above, but found myself thoroughly enjoying so much of it. In particular, the efforts of Ariarne Titmus in winning two gold medals, defeating an all time great in Katie Ledecky, had me glued to the TV. Then Kaylee McKeown winning three gold, overcoming the heart wrenching factor of her father having died only months ago. This was all as an entrée to Emma McKeon winning seemingly everything else aquatic, making her one of the most successful athletes of all time. Not since 1952 had a female athlete won so much metal. I must admit I am a sucker for this. How the achievements of these incredible athletes reflects on me, I cannot logically state, but (and do not tell me you are any different!) somehow it seems to. I feel better, because someone I have never met, is brilliant at something I cannot do.

All of this was great, but upon reflection, my abiding memory of the Tokyo games is of Australian high jumper, Nicola McDermott. Truth be told, I am even worse at high jumping than swimming. Technically, I can actually swim. Slowly and with similar style to an arthritic porpoise, but still I do not drown. But high jumping! I believe a sloth with heavy shopping or a Galapagos tortoise with a bung knee would defeat me in a high jump.

But these details aside, I was absolutely hooked by Nicola McDermott’s efforts in running, jumping, twisting and flopping over a very high bar. But, it was not just her incredible facility in this that was the main, or even significant part of the appeal. It was that she seemed to be just absolutely stoked to be there, simply thrilled to be jumping in Tokyo. But also that in between each jump she took time out to draw, doodle and write in her diary! I have to admit, I was hooked!

Now I have seen sports stars with some unusual habits before. Steve Smith’s rituals at the batting crease, “Piggy” Rydell’s salute before attempting a goal spring to mind. As does Steve Waugh’s red rag in his pocket, Rafa Nadal’s lining up his drink bottles between every game. But here was someone, in the middle of the most elite competition, stopping and writing, drawing and generally seeming to take it easy. I started to imagine her writing something like:

“Dear self. Just jumped over an enormously high thing. Both the people in the crowd went wild.”

Or “Wow these Japanese sure have incredibly comfortable high jump mats. Have to get some of these at home.”

Now, of course I have not idea if that’s what she wrote, but imagining it was added so much to my night. What was even better was that, despite being beaten for gold, she was just pleased to be there and seemed to enjoy the whole experience. And I have to admit, so did I.

Bill Doyle, The Courier’s occasional guest columnist

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