There are many unusual aspects to this mid-pandemic Olympics. For those of us lucky to be at the venues, it often feels like uncharted territory. The vast new National Stadium, which can host up to 68,000, is devoid of spectators other than journalists, officials and the athletes’ teammates. It’s curious, though, that in real life – and even more so on television – the variegated seating blunts the sense of emptiness.
Thanks to the upbeat loud-speaker announcements, bright lights and steamy weather, there is no shortage of atmosphere. The mini Toyota robots trundling around the stadium are mesmerising; a tiny white version of Toyota’s Tokyo taxi carried discuses back to the athletes after every throw and Sweden’s gold and silver win in the event was accompanied by “Dancing Queen” booming out of the sound system. These Olympics have also seen a fragmentation of the usual hegemony of a handful of nations in track and field, with plenty of countries claiming gold medals: Greece won its first men’s long jump gold; Italy won gold in both the high jump (shared with Qatar) and the men’s 100 metres; and Jasmine Camacho-Quinn (pictured) won Puerto Rico’s first ever track and field gold in the 100 metres hurdles.
The new mixed events have added a novel dimension too: Poland won gold in a mildly chaotic mixed 4x400 metre relay; in a moment of handover confusion – right in front of my seat – one German athlete collided with a Jamaican runner in the process. Venezuelan triple jumper Yulimar Rojas put paid to the idea that the absence of spectators would weaken performances when she broke the world record with her final jump. Maybe spectators aren’t so essential after all.