Dubai: Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, we all knew that the Tokyo Olympics would be a very different affair, and so it has proved.
But, it is not just because the events have lacked atmosphere due to spectators being banned from witnessing the action, or that the athletes have looked rather off by having to pose on podiums wearing their masks or that we have had several strange new sports making their debut including skateboarding and BMX freestyle.
No, the real reason why it has been so different is because of the sheer amount of shocks we have witnessed so far.
Bolt from the blue
You couldn’t have made it up. Starting with the biggest event of the Games, the men’s 100m final, who would have thought that an Italian would win gold? It was Marcell Jacobs who came first crossing the line in 9.8 seconds to bring the marquee sprint gold to Italy for the first time. The favourites were America’s Fred Kerley and Canada’s Andre DeGrasse but it was Jacobs who took the top spot which was held for the past 13 years by the now-retired Usain Bolt. It was quite a night for the Italians; moments before Jacobs win, countryman Gianmarco Tamberi tied Qatari high jumper Mutaz Essa Barshim for gold in the high jump. And who was on hand to congratulate him first? Yup, it was Jacobs who had literally just crossed the finish line in his own race.
There have been loads of other surprises including reigning world and Olympic all-around champion Simone Biles dropping out of her events and citing mental health issues. The American was going for a record six gold medals before her bombshell decision. Another athlete struggling with the same problems was Japanese world number two Naomi Osaka. She had pulled out of the French Open in May saying she suffering from depression, then announced she was going to compete at the Games and became favourite for the gold only to exit in the third round just days after the superstar lit the Olympic cauldron. She was knocked out 6-1 6-4 by Czech Marketa Vondrousova. Also stumbling out of the tennis was world number one Ash Barty after an error-strewn 6-4 6-3 defeat against Sara Sorribes Tormo. Nobody would have expected Barty or Osaka to bow out so early.
Amateur cyclist wins gold
There have been further shocks for instance in the men’s 400m freestyle where 18-year-old Tunisian Ahmed Hafnaoui held off the swimming superpowers to claim the gold. Nobody in their right minds would have thought he would beat Australian Jack McLoughlin and American Kieran Smith, but he did.
Elsewhere, amateur women’s cyclist Anna Kiesenhofer won the gold for Austria, China’s women stunned the field to smash the world record and win the Olympic 4x200m relay title in a major upset, and Japanese world badminton No.1 Kento Momota crashed out in the first round.
There is still time for more drama and more shocks and if there’s one thing we have learned from the Tokyo Olympics – which remember 70% of Japan did not want and which was also threated to be wiped out by a typhoon - is that with so many surprise results so far we should expect the unexpected.