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Brandon Veale column: Our debt to Tokyo

All Olympic fans owe Tokyo a debt, not only for those who organized these Games, but for Japan's willingness to let the world dream.

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Fireworks explode above the stadium during the closing ceremony of the Tokyo Olympics on Sunday, Aug. 8, 2021. Thomas Peter / Reuters
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Before 2020, the ethical dilemmas associated with being a fan of the Olympic Games were moderate at best and typically political in nature.

The Olympics exist for me in a rare sweet spot of interests I hold dear: sports, world cultures and history. I have never previously had to consider whether or not my fandom was accelerating a global pandemic.

Even after 16 days of thrilling competition, I can't sit here and tell you if the 2020 Tokyo Olympics were the ethically proper thing to do.

Clearly, the ebbs and flows of the COVID-19 pandemic have taken a negative turn in this period, both here at home and in Japan.

But I know this: On Sunday, when I kicked off my workout with "Titans Spirit," the movie soundtrack to which traditionally NBC sets its closing montage, I ran down Fourth Street as fast I have run in years (for about a block). I imagined the moment that about 500 humans from various countries and walks of life have experienced in these past two weeks, the realization of being the Olympic champion.

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I am well into my 30s, and to date, my best athletic achievement was recording a save in Little League one batter after I caught a line drive with my face. Unless I record a hole-in-one or shoot my age in golf, that is likely to stand as my finest athletic hour. But the chance to dream, to have somewhere to go on those flights of fancy, that is why I wanted so badly for these Games to take place.

That's the thing about the Olympics. They make ordinary people feel extraordinary and make extraordinary people legendary.

With that in mind, I was intrigued and encouraged to see that one of the ideas the Paris 2024 organizers have floated is to hold events in public like the marathon or the cycling road race in the morning, and then open the course to the people in the afternoon to challenge themselves, and to dream a little. I hope that the obvious security and logistical challenges of such a plan can be navigated, either in whole or in part.

It is common for International Olympic Committee functionaries to talk about how important it is to ensure the Games are "for the athletes." Well, these ones were almost entirely for the athletes. I am glad that it appears we were able to see those dreams manifested, whether they were in fistfuls of gold medals or a first-round elimination from the taekwondo tournament.

We have seen repeatedly over the past 18 months how sports without fans feel different. Nothing dragged my spirits down during these Games like a shot of large grandstands that turned out to have been built for nothing. But as the Games went on, if you looked in the backgrounds, dreams found a way, whether it was masked citizens on the side of the road watching race walkers in Sapporo, or volunteers allowed to catch basketball finals while socially distanced at the Saitama Super Arena.

It remains to be seen what the state of play will be when the Winter Olympics take place in Beijing in February, but at worst, I look forward to the return of a "normal" atmosphere in France in three years.

But until then, we must take a moment to note that fostering those dreams, supporting those athletes and opening these doors came at a price, which the Japanese people paid and saw minimal return on.

Even though the IOC has made a concerted effort to reduce its impact on organizing cities, the run-up to Tokyo combined with our insistence on pressing on through a pandemic has created a debt that the Olympic movement owes to Japan. I don't expect the IOC to pay up. Responsibility has not proven to be their pattern.

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But we the fans, and the athletes, owe a debt of more than just gratitude that we've gotten to have these experiences. I'm going to chip in a part of my share by making a donation to a Japanese charity, as something of a "ticket price." I hope others follow suit and that for years to come, Tokyo 2020 is remembered not only as the Games of Caeleb Dressel or Suni Lee or Eliud Kipchoge, but as the Games that we were gifted by the forbearance of the Japanese organizers and the people who funded them; the discipline of the athletes willing to follow the restrictive "playbooks" to avoid spreading infection among themselves and the public, who still brought their best to show to the world that was watching, even if it wasn't watching in person.

Thank you to anyone who stopped by this little passion project over the past two weeks. John Wesley, founder of the Methodist movement, once said of his preaching, "I set myself on fire, and people come to watch me burn." I hope that by setting myself on fire with the Olympic flame (metaphorically, of course), I was able to illuminate the competition for you a little more.

And though the pandemic has brought unique challenges to this Olympiad, it brings a unique opportunity. 2020 was an Olympic year, 2021 is an Olympic year, and 2022 is also an Olympic year. We'll see you in China in six months.

Brandon Veale col sig mug
Brandon Veale

Brandon Veale is presentation editor of the News Tribune and is going to take a nap now.

Related Topics: TOKYO OLYMPICS
Brandon has been sports editor of the News Tribune since August 2021.
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