The sight of an empty Yokohama Stadium on Thursday, where reigning champions Brazil swept past Germany to begin their football campaign in Tokyo Olympics, brought back memories of a hot and humid afternoon five years back. It was my ‘I was there’ moment at the Maracana Stadium during Rio 2016, soaking in the atmosphere to see the hosts pummel a clueless Honduras 6-0 in the semi-finals.
Well, it was not about the one-sided nature of the contest - or the fastest goal in Olympics that captain Neymar scored in the 14th second - but one is talking about the magical atmosphere. A capacity crowd of 80,000 at the Maracana to watch a contest which was quintessentially between two Under-23 teams (with allowance for three professionals) ignited the same passion one would associate with a World Cup or Copa fixture.
The intensity was understandable - for Brazil simply cannot afford to lose at that fabled venue. It was there, barely two years earlier, when Germany left the five-time world champions leaden-footed to maul them 7-1 in a World Cup semi-final - percieved as their biggest disaster since the ‘Maracanazo’ in the 1950 World Cup final when they were upset by Uruguay. The fun-loving Brazilians surely had revenge in their minds when they set up a Olympics final against Germany - and revenge was served cold as the Samba Boys prevailed in the shootout.
Invited as media guests of one of the commercial partners of the Olympics, one was privy to the role that the ambience plays in the multi-event extravaganza that the Olympics is. If the crowd frenzy was to be expected at Maracana, one was pleasantly surprised at the sizeable presence of the Indian tricolour (as well as Spanish flags) at Pavilion 4 of Riocentro - a remote location - where a then upcoming PV Sindhu took on world No.3 Carolina Marin in the women’s singles badminton final.
The lanky Sindhu was still being hearlded as the next big thing in Indian badminton after Saina Nehwal - the latter had a fortgettable outing in Rio before going under the knife after playing with a knee injury. The lanky Hyderabadi girl started off strongly and even took a game off Marin, but the Spaniard’s resilience as well as a dose of gamesmanship eventually wore Sindhu down.
MORE ON TOKYO OLYMPICS
The Indian community, along with the in-house supporters of Sindhu (members of the Indian contingent who were present there as it was the business-end of the Games and most were done with their events), cheered Sindhu on lustily with each cluster of points by her. It was an emotional Sindhu at the podium as the flags rolled down and the national anthem began - after all - she and wrestler Sakshi Malik ended an embarassing wait for medals for a country of billion-plus population.
This begs the question - can the adrenalin rush be the same for the athletes in Tokyo without the presence of national flags, the spirit of jinogism which is synonymous with the Games? Motivation, hopefully, will not be on short supply as the preparation of the athletes over four years - extended to five now - did not go waste altogether.
The magic words of ‘Let the Games begin’ should now spur them on...