By Sean Chase
After COVID-19 delayed the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics for more than a year, the Games have officially begun as the first weekend of competition closed with Team USA sitting in third for total gold medals.
Even though the Games are underway, the event has been drastically impacted due to COVID-19 forcing the host-nation, Japan, and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to ban spectators from attending the Olympics.
This ban meant that on July 23, when the Opening Ceremony finally began, the world would have to watch from afar as Japan’s Naomi Osaka lit the Olympic Cauldron signifying the start of the games. A moment Osaka took to Instagram to commemorate.
“Undoubtedly the greatest athletic achievement and honor I will ever have in my life,” Osaka wrote on Instagram next to a picture of her holding the flame. “I have no words to describe the feelings I have right now, but I do know I am currently filled with gratefulness and thankfulness.”
While the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics Opening Ceremony will be remembered for the changes brought on due to COVID-19, one understated change may have had the greatest effect on the future.
For the first time in Olympic history the “Parade of Nations,” where each country represented in the Games marches into the stadium, alphabetically, featured two flag-bearers per country, one male and one female. The United States selected Sue Bird, USA women’s basketball player, and Eddy Alvarez, USA baseball player. The IOC implemented this change in 2020 as a move to promote gender equality.
As the first “official” day of competition, July 24, came to a close the Americans found themselves without a medal for the first time since the 1972 Summer Games in Munich, Germany.
On day two, the United States rebounded in a major way when Chase Kalisz won gold in the men’s 400-meter individual medley, finishing with a time of 4:09.42. Team USA’s Jay Litherland finished the race in second place to grab the silver medal, recording a 4:10.28.
“It means the world,” Kalisz said on NBC’s broadcast immediately following his race. “This is the last thing that I really wanted to accomplish in my swimming career. It was something that was a dream of mine since as long as I could remember.”
Team USA continued to dominate the pool, adding four more medals to the overall count as Olympic-newcomer Kiernan Smith took home bronze in the men’s 400-meter freestyle, Emma Weyant grabbed silver in the women’s 400-meter individual medley, Hali Flickinger finishing just behind to secure the bronze medal. The U.S. women’s 4×100-meter freestyle relay team (Erika Brown, Natalie Hinds, Simone Manuel and Abbey Weitzeil) brought home the bronze.
With Saturday’s swimming events completed, all eyes turned to a new medal event at the Olympics, the men’s skateboarding street final, where Jagger Eaton secured a bronze medal for the United States. Team USA quickly grabbed a second gold medal after William Shaner won the 10-meter air rifle men’s final.
Anastasija Zolotic overwhelmed the competition in the Taekwondo (women’s 57kg division) to secure the United States’ third gold medal in the 2020 Games. She is the first American woman to win gold in Taekwondo. Zolotic’s historic performance was followed by another historic moment as Lee Kiefer won gold in the women’s individual foil (fencing), making her the first American woman or man to take the top spot in the event.
In other news, softball has returned to the Olympic Games for the first time since 2008, and the U.S. team is headed to the gold medal game. USA softball edged out a close 2-1 victory against Australia on a walk-off single from former University of Michigan player, Amanda Chidester, scoring two runs. This set up a rematch with Japan on Sunday, July 25, in which the US won 2-1 on a walk-off homer from Kelsey Stewart. The 5-0 USA softball team is scheduled to face Japan again on Tuesday, July 27 for the gold medal.
While the U.S. softball team is dominating so far, the men’s basketball team has struggled in Tokyo, losing to France 83-76 in group play on Sunday. This loss snapped a 25-game win streak for the Team USA men’s basketball team, dating back to 2004. They will play Iran on Wednesday, July 28.
Team USA continued to add to their medal count on Monday, as Katie Ledecky brought home silver in the women’s 400-meter freestyle, the men’s 4×100-meter freestyle relay team (Zach Apple, Bowe Becker, Caeleb Dressel and Blake Pieroni) won gold with a time of 3:08.97.
After strong showings in the pool, the U.S. turned their attention to the shooting events, where Vincent Hancock clinched a gold medal after dominating the men’s skeet final. Hancock’s success was quickly matched by Amber English, who narrowly edged out Italy’s Diana Bacosi for the gold in the women’s skeet final.
As of Monday, July 26, Team USA is in second overall for total gold medals, behind Japan, who leads all countries with eight gold medals.
Here is a full list of upcoming Olympic events.