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The Olympic Games are renowned for their heartwarming stories of triumph, perseverance and incredible displays of sportsmanship.
However, amidst the tales of glory, controversy always looms large at the Olympics, and Tokyo 2020 was no exception.
Under the glow of the Olympic torch, the darker side of the competitive sport always seems to rear its ugly head as the top athletes in the world clash for 17 straight days.
From video review operators pressing the wrong button to Olympic organizers lying about summer temperatures, these Games were, as usual, filled with conflict from start to finish.
Here are five of the biggest controversies to come out of the 2020 Olympic Games:
Japan’s Olympic bid lies about weather conditions; athletes suffer as a result
One of the major storylines of the Tokyo Games has been the extreme heat that these world-class athletes have had to deal with.
The real unfortunate thing about the whole heat-wave fiasco is that throughout the bidding process, Japan’s Olympic organizers were not as truthful as they probably should’ve been in terms of the whole unbearable temperatures situation.
“With many days of mild and sunny weather, this period provides an ideal climate for athletes to perform their best.”
This quote is straight from the official proposal Japan put forward in its bid to host the games.
Maybe it is just the Canadian in us, but temperatures in the mid-to-low 30 degrees Celsius range don’t seem like “mild” to us.
Another aspect adding to the controversy was that the locals knew it was a lie right from the beginning.
Journalist Robert Whiting wrote a column for the Japan Times back in 2014 when the 2020 Games were officially awarded to Tokyo. “I have been to Manila, Bangkok, Jakarta, Phnom Penh and Singapore in mid-summer and in my experience Tokyo is the worst of them all,” he wrote. “The only conceivable places that are worse would be staging the games in, say, Death Valley, California, or the Horn of Africa.”
And that is coming from a journalist. Now imagine competing in the decathlon, or running in the 10,000 metres in 34-degree heat - yikes!
Many athletes found themselves hospitalized because of the extreme conditions.
Makoto Yokohari, an adviser to the Tokyo Organizing Committee told Reuters that the temperature combined with the humidity index made “Tokyo the worst [Games] in history” in terms of weather conditions.
Canadians upset Americans in beach volleyball, but not without controversy
A matchup between Team Canada and Team USA at the Olympics always brings a little extra intrigue, with the two cross-border rivals going head-to-head on the biggest stage in the world.
Add a controversial call, and things get extra spicy.
A perfect example came this year in the first round of the women’s beach volleyball playoffs with Canada’s Heather Bansley and Brandie Wilkerson taking on the American pair of Sarah Sponcil and Kelly Claes.
With the Canadians up 12-11 in the third and deciding set, Sponcil hit a serve which the Canucks let go, and it was called long. The U.S. decided to challenge, and then things got weird.
During the video review, the Americans appeared to win the challenge as “Ball In” came across the TV screens.
However, the review continued and after a lengthy process, the referee awarded the point back to Canada.
Sponcil and Claes were furious, but unbeknownst to them, part of the reason for the confusion was that the video board operator mistakenly hit the wrong button, causing many Americans to yell at their TVs back home.
Canada would go on to win the third set 15-13 and move on to the quarterfinals, where they would lose to Latvia. The U.S. duo came into the match undefeated in group play and were one of the favourites to take home the gold medal.
Unvaccinated U.S. swimmer defends going maskless in Olympic media zone
In the many months leading up to the Tokyo Olympics, there were some questions of whether the Games would ever actually get started. Already a year delayed because of the COVID-19 pandemic, many local health officials wanted the event cancelled because of the surging infection rates.
So when the Games officially got the go-ahead, it was only natural to assume some sort of COVID controversy would arise during the 17 days.
And sure enough, American Michael Andrew found himself making headlines for all the wrong reasons in Japan.
The unvaccinated swimmer refused to wear a mask as he conducted post-race interviews — the only one of his U.S. swimming teammates to do so. It was an especially bad look when you take into account that Tokyo COVID cases have hit record highs during the duration of the Olympics.
Heading to Japan, the 22-year-old swimmer was a favourite to take home multiple medals for his country. Andrew disappointed in his individual events, finishing fourth in both the 100-metre breaststroke and 50-metre freestyle, and fifth in the 200-metre medley.
He will be heading home with one medal, as he was a part of the gold medal-winning 4x100-metre medley team.
When asked why he refused to wear the mask like his teammates, the first-time Olympian said it came down to what was best for his own “health.”
“For me it’s pretty hard to breathe in after kind of sacrificing my body in the water, so I feel like my health is a little more tied to being able to breathe than protecting what’s coming out of my mouth,” Andrew said in the infamous interview.
‘It’s bullsh*t’: New Nike spikes cause debate about track records set in Tokyo
If you’ve been paying attention to the Athletics events in Tokyo, you may have noticed records being broken left and right.
While that does make for exciting TV, there are some who are questioning the legitimacy of the records being broken due to some new track spike technology.
Count Norwegian hurdler Karsten Warholm in the skeptical camp.
Warholm, who actually set the world record in the 400-metre hurdles during the Games, took a shot at American silver medalist Raj Benjamin and his use of the new ‘Air Zoom Victory’ spikes.
The runner from Norway was extremely candid in his thoughts, calling the shoe “bullsh*t” and urged his fellow athletes to reconsider the technology they use in the future.
“I think it takes credibility away from our sport,” Warholm added.
Warholm is not a Nike athlete and is currently working with Puma to develop his own footwear. Nike itself has described the new shoe as “a complete paradigm shift in distance track spike design.”
The new shoe, combined with a track that has an extremely soft and fast track, led to many Olympic and World records being shattered, but we have to wonder if track and field is on the brink of a full-blown war over technological advancements in the sport.
U.S. fencers use pink masks to protest teammate accused of sexual misconduct
You know something is serious when even your teammates are openly protesting your participation in the Olympics.
That was the reality for U.S. fencer Alen Hadzic, who had his teammates wear pink masks as he donned a black one when the team was introduced before its match against Japan.
Hadzic, 29, was named an alternate on the team even though he is currently under investigation for sexual misconduct. Jake Hoyle, Curtis McDowald and Yeisser Ramirez, the other three members of the team, used their pink masks to make a powerful statement against the inclusion of Hadzic.
#TeamUSA men’s epee team wore pink masks for their opening match at the Olympics as a show of support for sexual assault victims. Alen Hadzic— their teammate accused of rape and sexual assault— is on the left. Kudos to the team for taking a stand. #BelieveWomen pic.twitter.com/yRI4azelKN
— Ibtihaj Muhammad (@IbtihajMuhammad) July 30, 2021
The multiple allegations against Hadzic date back to 2013-2015, when he was a student at Columbia University.
Hadzic was not permitted to stay in the Olympic Village during his time in Tokyo as part of a “safety plan” made up by USA Fencing and the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee.
Clearly, the rift between teammates didn’t help their performance, as the U.S. men’s epee team would finish ninth at the Games.
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