For every Michael Phelps there is a Ryan Lochte. The first American swimmer won five gold medals at the 2016 Rio Summer Games. The latter drunkenly urinated outside a Rio gas station, vandalized a poster frame and reported that the security guards were armed robbers posing as police.
Guess which one got their own reality TV show?
Hijinks at the Tokyo 2020 Opening Ceremony
The Olympics is portrayed as a solemn affair. But when thousands of mostly college-aged athletes converge upon a foreign land, there are those that act as if they are hosting Olympians Gone Wild: Japan Edition.
Last Friday’s Opening Ceremony gave us solemn speeches and monumental appearances by Naomi Osaka and Rui Hachimura, plus a fascinating rotating drone globe that could have aided the rebels in their attack on the Death Star.
— ねとらぼ (@itm_nlab) July 26, 2021
While the human pictogram performance by silent comedian Hiro-pon created its own set of memes, it was Tonga’s Taekwondo competitor Pita Taufatofua who captured the hearts of many. Taufatofua made history by appearing in three consecutive Olympics (competing in cross-country at PyeongChang in 2018), but he also made waves for appearing shirtless in three consecutive opening ceremonies.
For the third time, the 37-year-old wore a traditional Tongan Ta’ovala wrapped around his waist, and little else but a smile and a bucket of body oil. Turns out the hunk that had us Tonga-tied is also an engineer who uses his role as flag bearer to bring attention to climate change and social issues.
A special congratulations to our Flag Bearer, Malia Paseka. She did an amazing job leading the way for more participation of females and youth in sport in Tonga. So proud to walk along side our first ever female taekwondo Olympian!
–@olympics @tokyo2020 @worldtaekwondo.pr pic.twitter.com/nb5wyj3ImV
— Pita Taufatofua (@pitaTofua) July 23, 2021
The Coaches Get in on the Action
The early days of the Games have already seen remarkable athletic achievements, some of which were upstaged by the athletes’ coaches. For every Norimasa Hirai, the Japan swim coach who politely clapped for gold medal winner Yui Ohashi like a proud papa at kindergarten graduation, there is a Dean Boxall.
Boxall is the swim coach for Aussie swimmer Ariarne Titmus, who shocked American favorite Katie Ledecky in the 400m freestyle. Mean Dean’s manic gyrating celebration that would have had him kicked out of a Greek rave became the early viral sensation from Tokyo 2020.
Just as much attention was given to the Japanese volunteer who went into apoplectic omotenashi shock trying to usher Boxall back to the coaches’ area and remind him to kindly readminister his face mask.
The Face-mask Police
The Olympic volunteers are strictly enforcing the face mask at-all-times rule. When Slovenia canoeist Benjamin Savšek won gold he celebrated by jumping into the rapids, sans face mask. As he splashed about like a chicken in aquacize class, a middle-aged volunteer leaned over the water’s edge and made the universal gesture of “wear your damn face mask.”
To which Savšek obliged.
The Olympic committee did acquiesce to allow athletes to remove face masks for 30 seconds during the medal ceremony, while other rules remain strictly in place. The restrictions on the foreign press have caused consternation as this sore lot has had nothing to do but sit in their hotel room and Tweet out their frustration.
Besides an off-hours, chaperoned trip to Tokyo National Museum and Hama-Rikyu Gardens, foreign media are confined to their hotels and Olympic sites, with GPS trackers monitoring their movement. Throwing caution to the wind, a group of thirsty journos absconded to a Shibuya pub within their first days in Tokyo. They made national news after stumbling out to find a Japanese TV camera crew waiting for them.
Japanese TV followed a group of foreign journalists from the main press center at Tokyo Big Site to Shibuya, waited for 1-hour for them to come out from a pub and approached them for comment
Caption: ‘Foreign Media’ Barhopping in Shibuya ~Hole in the Bubble~ pic.twitter.com/afifURuSkx
— Mayu Yoshida (@MayuYoshidaNews) July 18, 2021
With two weeks to go for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, we are far from seeing the last of the characters that will garner international attention, and not necessarily for their athletic prowess.
Feature image by Rose Vittayaset