It’s incredibly difficult to know what is the right thing to say, as the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games come to a close.
Is it “thank you, Tokyo” for all that you’ve done?
Is it “sorry we have imposed” when you really didn’t want us here?
Is it “congratulations” for the incredible success you have had on the medal tally and for staging the Games so successfully during the enormously challenging times of a global pandemic?
Should we instead say no words at all but, as I have seen good friends do in the past, just bow to each other respectfully, hold back the tears, and quietly take our leave?
There are no words in your language or mine that can adequately express the two weeks you have provided, and we have experienced.
Perhaps the word is tied up somewhere in the reactions of many of the athletes from 206 countries who have at the same time cried with joy and disappointment, who are all at once feeling exhilarated and exhausted, who want to run victory laps but have nothing left physically, mentally or emotionally to be able to pick themselves up off the running track, the judo mat, the boxing ring, the volleyball court and every other venue that enabled the possibility for dreams to be realised.
You have thrown a party and excused yourself from attending, but we understand why.
This illness that creeps around corners threatens us. It makes us fear each other in a way that has affected all our lives differently — weddings have been cancelled, funerals are held without families, borders have been closed and businesses have ceased.
Despite being able to fly to the moon and access the world over the internet, what we are experiencing now is a modern version of the medieval drawbridge: once raised you cannot enter, once inside you cannot leave.
It’s had an incredible impact on the athletes at the games.
Being prevented from mixing with other nations, as is generally the done thing at an Olympics, competitors have instead gotten to know their own countrymen and women better, in a way that has not been experienced before.
Perhaps it’s why Australia has had its best Games ever, if we are to combine the medal tally with the things that really count – personal bests, personal effort, cohesion, mateship, friendship, support and understanding … and that’s just here in Japan at the athletes’ village.
If we also include the moments of national celebration that have distracted our own people from their own COVID concerns, you can increase the positive impact of these games ten-fold. No, make that a hundred-fold, based purely on hearsay.
When our runner Peter Bol crossed the finish line in your national stadium, he brought with him an entire section of the Australian community, not just to finish an 800m race but to walk through a door called “the mainstream” for the marathon of life and for generations to come.
When your young skateboarders won three of the four categories in the new Olympic sport, and our own Keegan Palmer won the other, together we were written into the history books as “the first ever” for a sport that many ridiculed before the games but have since come to admire, teaching us that while tradition should be valued modernity should not be discounted.
When the greatest gymnast of all time, American Simone Biles, withdrew from her event because she was struggling with her mental health, you enabled a global discussion on the strength required to recognise weakness.
When Quinn was part of a gold-medal-winning Canadian football team, and Laurel Hubbard failed to successfully lift a weight for New Zealand, you showed us that the difference between winning and losing is irrelevant when the result is recognition that transgender people are welcome too.
When Qatar’s Mutaz Essa Barshim and Italy’s Gianmarco Tamberi, friends off the field and rivals on it, were permitted to share victory in the men’s high jump we learned there is something better than Olympic gold … it is the ability to share equally by refusing the temptation for personal glory.
When the Australian Kookaburras, competing at what should have been a good-luck venue – the Oi Stadium — lost a gold medal to Belgium after a penalty shootout, we saw elation and devastation sitting together in front of the world’s press. You showed us that there is no such thing as a single side to any story and that the world experiences the same story in many different ways.
When paddler Jessica Fox lost a final everybody had already awarded to her, we were all reminded there is nothing certain in life. Two days later to see her return and fight for what she believed was hers taught us something else: don’t let defeat beat you.
When bronze-medal winning lightweight boxer, Harry Garside, fronted up to take on two-time Cuban world champion Andy Cruz, and was outclassed by a better fighter on the day, his lesson was one for us all.
“I’m just learning to be a good human and I think the good athlete will come after that. I’m not there yet, I’ve got some stuff I need to change and fix but I’m trying my best to be better every day,” he said.
“I’m pushing myself and I’m looking inside every day through every experience and saying, ‘what am I doing right and what am I doing wrong, what can I do better?’.
And when the Australian men’s basketball team finally broke through for an Olympic medal in Tokyo 2020, it was the realisation of a dream that began in Tokyo 1964. The team’s belief in each other and their ability to rise again after too many fourth-place finishes is the kind of resilience we know you understand.
Tokyo, as we prepare for the final events and for the Olympic flame to be extinguished, know this…
Despite unrivalled challenges, enormous costs, and a superhuman effort, you have delivered the world an Olympic Games like no other.
It is for you to decide their place in your history and whether it was an experience worth having, but what the world has seen is that sometimes, even at an Olympics, it is not the gold that counts but the legacy of change.
You have shown us a window through which we can see that by our own efforts we can help drive positive change that makes each of us individually, and the world collectively, better.
Thank you for having us.
Sorry to impose.
Congratulations on your success.