Phew. Tokyo is surely sighing with relief. Athletes and indeed viewers the world over can catch their breath. The Olympics are over. And what a Games. We needed that.
Here in Hong Kong, we celebrated six medals, double the city's entire prior count for all Olympics combined. The tally (1 gold, 2 silver, 3 bronze) was way beyond expectations. Given the extremely dark cloud looming over this city as its civic freedoms daily slip away, it was a shot in the arm to rival any vaccine.
Yes, the United States "won" in the end, edging out China by 1 gold, 39 to 38, and 113 total to 88. That's the raw count. Here, though, I was celebrating as Bermuda clasped 1 gold (women's triathlon), tiny San Marino came away with 3 medals (not bad, considering it only fielded 5 competitors), and India won its first ever track-and-field gold, in the men's javelin. Namibia, Botswana, Burkina Faso also medaled.
Every competitor, in my eyes, came away a winner. It's a cliché but it really rammed home. Japan had its best-ever performance on the podium, and the nation was a gracious host. Above all, the world's third-largest economy survived the Games.
The disastrous "superspreader" COVID-19 event so many predicted never happened. The worst fears of the Japanese public proved unfounded, with the officials, coaches and athletes inside the virus "bubble" well-insulated from the rest of the population. In all, 464 people associated with the Olympics have tested positive for COVID since the start of July, according to the Olympics tally. Most were local contractors working on Olympics projects. Only 157 of those positive cases came from overseas, out of 42,711 overseas arrivals. Just 29 of the COVID cases came from athletes.
As I indicated before the first starting gun fired, COVID-19 had already taken hold in Japan. Yes, some spectators may have spread the disease if they crammed into stands. Equally, some of those people have undoubtedly contracted the disease doing whatever else they got up to instead. Those Japanese contractors brought the virus with them from elsewhere in Japan.
The COVID infection rate has tripled in Japan while the Games were going on, independently, with the country now reporting 13,533 daily cases at last count. It's a per-capita rate on par with Indonesia, where hospitals are overflowing with patients. Contrast Japan's 15,296 total fatalities, though, with the 107,096 dead in Indonesia, and you see that Japan is coping pretty darn well despite having one of the oldest populations in the world.
We are going to have to live with COVID-19, and events like the Olympics as well as the Euro 2020/21 tournament earlier this summer, which proceeded with crowds, show major multinational gatherings can occur, and successfully. There's nothing quite like the Olympics and its 11,000 athletes. Yes, the stands at the Tokyo events were strangely and regrettably empty, eerily quiet. Yet it is a major success for Japan, Tokyo and all participants involved, including the much-maligned International Olympic Committee, to have pulled it off at all.
The official budget for the Tokyo Games is US$15.4 billion, blowing from the original US$7.4 billion budget. That's still sure to be way low. Each Games has overrun its budget by an average of 172%, according to research from Oxford University. The Tokyo Olympics likely actually cost around US$35 billion, according to Smith College economist Andrew Zimbalist, almost five times the original estimate.
Could that money have been better spent? There are a lot of imponderables. Would Japan's public-health response be better if that outlay had all gone to COVID-19 prevention? How much of that would have been wasted?
On the plus side of the ledger, how much do we value the inspiration young athletes will take away from the Games? How much national and personal pride was generated, a power of its own? How much inspiration have we taken away, uplift to the spirit, hope that... yes, we can do it.
The theme for the low-key closing ceremony was "Worlds We Share." More than ever before, given this global health crisis, we are reminded that we share but one planet, one atmosphere, one biosphere, one greenhouse in which we are all sealed.
The Japanese stock market has held on to the gains produced by a rally that began in late October. No Games inflation or letdown. The broad Topix index of all the companies in the First Section (i.e., any sizable company) is up 22.2% since then, and has given up little even as this fifth wave of disease spreads in Japan.
Stock markets are closed in Japan today in celebration of "Mountain Day," a nature-themed holiday honored since 2016 to "get familiar with mountains and appreciate special blessings from mountains." (Singapore is also closed for its National Day).
Life in Japan is "almost back to normal," Nomura notes, thanks to an expanding vaccination program, low rates of hospitalization and mortality - and maybe some warmth from the success of the Games. The administration of Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga is at record-low levels, 34% at last count, which is partly why Suga was an extremely low presence at the ceremonies. More than likely, Japan will go back to the kind of revolving-door leadership that it experienced before the unprecedented tenure of Suga's predecessor, Shinzo Abe.
Tokyo now transfers the Olympic flame into the hands of Paris. Home to the 1900 and 1924 Games, the French capital will now host the Olympics a century since it last celebrated them, becoming only the second city alongside London to hold the event three times. It's only in three years, of course, that we will see the flame of new athletes burn, the rekindling of the competitive fires that sizzled over the last 16 days. Meantime, life for the rest of us reverts to "almost normal," too.