Final curtain can't come soon enough for Tokyo Games

  • Simone Biles congratulates Guan Chenchen, middle, of China following her gold medal victory on the balance beam after the artistic gymnastics final. Biles won the bronze medal.

    Simone Biles congratulates Guan Chenchen, middle, of China following her gold medal victory on the balance beam after the artistic gymnastics final. Biles won the bronze medal. Associated Press

Updated 8/6/2021 2:46 PM

Testing one of the truisms of sports -- that it is not over until the fat lady sings -- I assume Tokyo 2020 will close with a 400-pound sumo wrestler belting out "Thanks for the Memories," though we must allow for a change in gender and, of course, that there are any memories at all worth thanking.

Where first these Summer Games became the Bummer Games is hard to determine. For our purposes it happened somewhere in midair with Simone Biles. Or maybe it was a little later when Biles, the pre-face of the Olympics, had to dig through her gym bag to show her credential so she could leave the arena.


It is Biles who typifies Tokyo 2020 for all time. In the middle of her signature and most dangerous trick, Biles suddenly decided it was not worth it. It took us a little longer, maybe. For me it was fencing.

Biles, the athlete who wasn't there, is the proxy for the rest of the world that couldn't be there.

Yet, let's not forget, she did give us a new vocabulary word, "Twisties," handy for Scrabble and for a cereal coming to supermarket shelves soon.

This was a bad idea to start with. Maybe all Olympics are, but this one came with warnings. The Japanese people didn't want it, health alarmists cautioned against it, the athletes themselves were wary and inconvenienced by it while the biggest underwriter, the money guys, NBC, had no idea what to do with it.

Trying to follow these Games was like rummaging through a button box, not knowing where to find what you wanted, if it was even there or why you were looking in the first place.

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Turns out more of us were not watching than ever before. Empty seats in Tokyo, Netflix in the U.S. of A.

Incoherence, thy name is NBC.

There was a certain sadness in seeing a young athlete achieve the moment of his or her life, turn to share joy with the world, anxious to reap applause and appreciation only to find scattered cheers from a few teammates or officials.

Nationalism, the designated villain of Olympism, was sorely missed. Flags and anthems decorate and exaggerate the Games, making measurements of national self-worth out of games usually saved for gym class, rec rooms or strip mall hustles.

What kind of nation is it that can't field a decent men's handball team or find a mixed doubles ping pong pair?

They still kept count of the medal totals (as embarrassing for the U.S. men's track team as it might have been) but there was the sense that the athletes were really just doing it for themselves, as Biles said she was doing it (or not doing it) for herself, dismissing team and country and reducing the Olympics to just another track meet for strangers.

Tokyo, the host city, was absent, save a few overhead shots that made the place look better than it does. And maybe that was not so bad. Tokyo is a heap of shapeless concrete without style or charm, but there are enough pockets of eastern garnish to fake it for TV, to let the audience know that this was not, as it might very well have been, Detroit or Lima, Peru.


Every empty venue looked like every other one, every silent event a studio show without cue cards.

Bummer, dude. Truly.

Does lack of atmosphere make this the worst Olympics ever? Ah, there is a lot of competition for that title. But ranking best to worst, Sydney to Sochi, this one will have to wait until the drug tests are back and the final debt is tallied. But my guess is, yes, this one, to use soccer diva Megan Rapinoe's word, "sucked."

And now, on to Paris, or back to China in six months for the winter version -- what I like to call 16 days of hat hair -- and let's hope there is fun to be found there, although I have had my pocket picked twice in Paris and never once in Tokyo. Of such things are memories made.

Usually the best that can be said about any Olympics is "A good time was had by some." Not this one. Not there. Not here.

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