Watching the Tokyo Olympics brings a range of emotions. First, there is the fascination of watching the world’s best athletes. (I especially enjoy gymnastics, diving, and cycling.) The Tokyo Olympics also featured more LGBT athletes than ever before.
The more complex emotion is who to cheer for. As an American, I identify with the success of my fellow Americans. But I have lived in and led many tours to Japan and China. Over 100 other countries have warmly welcomed me and our travelers, so I have so many athletes to cheer on!
I’ve found the best way to watch the competitions is to enjoy the beauty, grace, and sometimes pathos of each athlete doing their best. The medals will follow. Key West’s City Motto perfectly captures this sentiment: One Human Family!
These Olympics started with the world’s greatest cyclists gathering at the foot of Mount Fuji for the Cycling Road Race. They only had a week after the completion of the 3-week Tour de France. Most inspiring was the teamwork of the 5-man lead group that stayed well ahead of the peloton for several hours. Each man would take the lead for 20-30 seconds, creating a slipstream wind shadow for the riders behind. He would then drop to the back of the group and gradually move up until his turn to lead again. The race was won by Richie Carapaz of Ecuador. This was the third medal ever for an Ecuadorian athlete. (Two Ecuadorian women later won weightlifting medals as well!) There are currently no openly gay professional cyclists but the 1984 Tour de France King of the Mountains Robert Millar later transitioned to Philippa York.
Gay Diving Champion
Among the Tokyo Olympics’ LGBT athletes was proudly gay British diver Tom Daley and his dive partner Matty Lee win the 10-meter Synchronized Diving Gold Medal. Tom has steadily improved since his 2008 Olympic debut at age 14, winning several medals. I recently saw Tom’s husband, screenwriter Dustin Lance Black, give a talk. It was fascinating to get his insights about growing up gay in a Mormon household, then meeting and marrying another celebrity.
Women’s Gymnastics All-Around Gold Medalist Sunisa Lee is the daughter of Hmong refugees from Laos. They came to the US after helping the American army in the Vietnam War. During college, I helped many Southeast Asian refugees find homes in the US. This was also the topic of my senior thesis. It’s a thrill to see the daughter of refugees reach the pinnacle of her sport.
It has also been fun to cheer on gymnasts who won the first-ever medals for their countries. This included men’s gymnastics medals for Israel, Armenia, and Turkey, and women’s medals for Brazil and Belgium.
Soccer featuring Tokyo Olympics LGBT athletes
Perhaps the most significant achievement of the Tokyo Olympics for LGBT athletes was the Gold Medal for the Canadian Women’s Soccer/Football team. The coach and at least 5 players identify as LGBT. Among them, Quinn is the first trans and non-binary Olympic champion.
The Olympics’ Japanese Hosts
I would like to send a special thank you to Hiki-san, my partner with the JTB travel service in Tokyo. She and her many colleagues took time away from their tour planning duties to work at the Olympics. They are among many Japanese citizens who have helped make the Games successful, despite the obvious challenges.
Next Up – 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics
The Beijing Winter Olympics will be here in 6 months. It will next fall to China to navigate the complexities of holding a worldwide event in this time of COVID. As the first city to host both Summer and Winter Games, they will reuse many 2008 venues. Most famous is the Birds Nest Stadium. The Water Cube swimming pavilion will become the Ice Cube for skating events. Let’s hope the Olympics can again welcome spectators soon.