Matching the tally from London 2012, Team GB finished a very respectable fourth in the medal table behind the host nation Japan.
In an Olympics scarred by the global pandemic, there were numerous firsts achieved by Team GB before the games even had begun. The Tokyo 2020 squad is the first Olympic representation of Great Britain with more female than male athletes. The Minister for Sport, Nigel Huddleston, described the development as “really quite momentous.” The squad has also been described as being one of the youngest representing GB in modern history proving that the best is perhaps yet to come.
Since the announcement of mixed events taking place in the Tokyo games in 2017 by the IOC, there had been anticipation to see how these events would play out and whether they would achieve the inclusivity and gender equality IOC president Thomas Bach promised, or the added “spice” and “fun” Rio 2016 and Tokyo 2020 gold medallist Adam Peaty hoped to see.
It certainly delivered success for GB with golds in the 4x100m mixed swimming relay and the mixed triathlon relay, and a new British record in the 4x400m athletic mixed relay. Other thrilling events included mixed team judo, involving three male judoka and three female judoka, which saw France claim the gold and a Trap mixed event in shooting where the gold was awarded to Spain.
This year saw skateboarding, BMXing, surfing and climbing all take to the Olympic stage on the premise they were “youth-focused action sports” which would increase youth participation in sport, following the 1998 introduction of snowboarding into the Winter Olympics, which was credited with increasing both youth viewership and participation in the sport. Most notably in skateboarding (park) where the average age on the women’s podium was 14 and featured Team GBs youngest ever summer Olympian, Sky Brown. Thrilling performances and subsequent GB bronze, silver and gold medals came in the BMX (park and racing) boosting the sports profile.
This Olympics delivered on both triumph and disappointment. Whilst all athletes compete under severe pressure, those who are previous medallists and household names feel that pressure even more. The hearts of the nation sank when we saw Katarina Johnson-Thompson and Dina Asher-Smith withdraw from their events due to injuries. London and Rio gold medallist Jade Jones was knocked out of the Taekwondo competition in her first match, ending her quest to becoming the first Taekwondo athlete to win three golds. In more positive news, there was jubilation for diver Tom Daley who finally won his Olympic gold in the synchronised 10m event with his partner Matty Lee and elation from swimmer Adam Peaty who retained his 100m breaststroke gold. And on the last day of the games, cyclist Jason Kenny proved his excellence once more winning his seventh gold medal, crowning him the most decorated British Olympian ever.
With both the training and the games being disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic, athletes in this Olympics had an experience like no other. But from their courage and fortitude Britain found some new stars: Galal Yafai (Boxing), Tom Piddock (Cycling) and Emily Campbell (Weightlifting) all shone in their independent disciplines. The names that will also be on everyone’s lips for years to come are the four British BMX athletes who stormed through their events – Bethany Shriever and Kye Whyte and Charlotte Worthington and Declan Brooks who have undoubtedly made their mark on the legacy of the sport. And a reminder of our strength in numbers and the importance of team spirit came from the Men’s 4x200m freestyle relay (Tom Dean, James Guy, Matt Richards and Duncan Scott), and the Gymnastic women’s artistic team (Jennifer Gadirova, Jessica Gadirova, Alice Kinsella and Amelie Morgan).
As the world now looks to Paris 2024 and as we learn to live with the pandemic, questions have been raised over athletes’ mental health, track conditions and hosting expenses. But what can be said for certain is the Tokyo games have, through adversity, brought us back together.