Covering the Olympics: Our Journalists Saw a Lot Viewers May Not Have

From a New York Times story headlined “Flips, Slips and Quips: Musing on Strange Games”:

A diver’s heartbreaking scratch. A medalist lifting up a teammate. Cherished glimpses of Japanese culture — our journalists saw a lot viewers may not have.

Touching Scenes Off the Stage

For an Olympics all about restrictions, social distancing and masks, what I’ll remember most about my first Summer Games is the people I met.

The taxi driver who, during an hourlong conversation facilitated by two translating applications, told me about his hometown, Yokohama, where I went often for softball and baseball. The man who worked with the Belgian men’s field hockey team and tipped me off to the sophisticated training techniques it had used for the Tokyo heat ahead of its eventual gold medal run. The Olympic volunteer from Japan who spoke Spanish and was assigned to help the Mexican baseball team.

There was also the American wrestler whose humanity and personality radiated on the mat and every time she spoke. The French judokas who, many minutes after winning a mixed team gold medal, couldn’t stop hugging each other, posing for photos, bouncing up and down and smiling.

Dominican baseball players were so thrilled to bring home the country’s first Olympic medal in the sport that they fist-bumped volunteers as they walked to the team bus. The Ivory Coast bronze medalist in taekwondo explained how much it meant to her that she had received so many messages of support not simply from her home country but from across Africa. A Polish wrestler was so happy to win a bronze medal that he did a back flip and laughed when his 53-year-old coach flipped him over and slammed him onto the mat.

— James Wagner

The Adventure of the Unfamiliar

The Olympics are all about making yourself uncomfortable, covering something you’ve never done before. You can spend two weeks doing the same-old same-old, or you can do something goofy like raise your hand to cover an equestrian competition.

I had never been to an equestrian event, and showed up to write about Jessica Springsteen, the daughter of a pretty big rock star whose music has been the soundtrack to my life. If the key to being a decent reporter is asking a lot of dumb questions, I got in more than my share that night.

A sampling of some of the zingers I asked a few kindhearted souls in the equestrian press who took pity on me: What is going on here? Who’s good? How long is this going to last? Are these thoroughbreds? Do horses like to jump?

Plenty of discomfort. What a joy.

—Matthew Futterrman

A Sweet Encounter at Day’s End

While I was walking back to my hotel from the gymnastics arena at 11:30 one night, two women stopped me and asked, “Are you here for the Olympics?”

I told them yes, and we started talking. They were big Olympics fans. One had been to the 2000 Summer Games in Sydney, Australia, and the Athens Games in 2004.

“We are sad that we can’t go to the Olympics in our own city because of Covid,” said the other, who told me she had worked at a New York City hospital for two years as an autism researcher.

The other woman worked at a store called Ginza Mitsukoshi, calling it the Harrods of Japan.

They asked if I was having a good time. And they had other questions: Did I get a chance to tour Tokyo? Were the athletes nice? What was it like in the venues? After 14 days of quarantine, it was my first interaction with regular Tokyo citizens.

I told them, yes, I was having a good time — especially after meeting them. Meeting local residents is one of my favorite parts of the Olympics. Under a dim streetlamp, we took a selfie and exchanged contact information. They sent me off with a bag from Ginza Mitsukoshi. Inside was a beautifully packaged slice of gluten-free chocolate cake and vegan vanilla cookies. The cookies had smiley faces on them.

—Juliet Macur

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