It was an unusual matchup as two Iranian female taekwondo fighters were pitted against each other at the Tokyo Olympics: one who emigrated from Iran last year after criticizing the oppression of women and who represented the Refugee Team, the other fighting for Iran.
Scenes from the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, body painting in New York City, wildfires in Turkey and Russia, a tiger cub in Indonesia, a spacecraft in Earth’s orbit, migrants crossing the Mediterranean, flooding in China, and much more
Professional runners have to endure extraordinary deprivation, pain, and pressure to reach the Olympics. Professional-running fans, meanwhile, have to endure the question of which athletes actually deserve to be there. This summer, before the U.S. trials for the Tokyo Olympics had even finished, fans were forced to digest the fact that two of America’s track-and-field athletes most likely to medal wouldn’t be headed to the Games. Not because they’d lost to better athletes, but because they’d been caught in the snare of the anti-doping system, for better or worse.
Many would say for worse.
One of the cases is fairly cut-and-dried. The sprinter Sha’Carri Richardson ingested marijuana after getting the news that her biological mother had died. Although sentiments in the United States about marijuana have shifted considerably, and the idea of THC being performance-enhancing for her particular discipline is spurious at best, the drug is clearly banned during competition. Richardson admitted fault and accepted her penalty.
The other case is much more complicated. The distance runner Shelby Houlihan tested positive for the anabolic steroid nandrolone, a drug that can increase muscle strength and red-blood-cell count. She claims that she inadvertently ingested the drug from a burrito. This might seem absurd, but as testing protocols have become more and more sensitive—now reliably measuring down to the level of a picogram, which is one-trillionth of a gram—meat has been shown to cause the odd failed drug test. Travis Tygart, the CEO of the United States Anti-Doping Agency, who did not handle the Houlihan case, told me that the agency has handled, on average, one of these cases a year, with most of the athletes getting off with what is called a no-fault violation.
Controversies and complications involving banned substances are really just the tip of the iceberg of track spectators’ woes. Professional running is caught in the middle of a bona fide fairness crisis. Athletes’ performances are shaped by a dizzying array of factors, both legal and illegal, that have little to do with tradition or any supposed values of equal competition. The result, for anyone who actually wants to enjoy these races, is brain-scrambling.
This is not to say that being a sports fan hasn’t always been a fraught enterprise. The ancient Olympians, who were all men, competed in the nude; any woman caught in the Olympic Festival was punished by getting thrown to her death from a cliff. A reported 96.4 million viewers tuned in to the 2021 Super Bowl, despite what football does to young men’s brains. The closer you look at your favorite sport, the more likely you are to find impediments to pure, unadulterated fandom. And as the modern Olympiad’s competitions continue this week in Tokyo, running fans in particular are grappling with an ever-growing set of conflicts.
For journalists, like myself, who love running, trying to make any sense of these conflicts is all but impossible. I’ve spent much of my career exploring the unsavory corners of professional endurance sports, and everything I’ve learned has inevitably proved more complicated and nuanced than I could have imagined. We have to live with the knowledge, for example, that the world-champion sprinter Justin Gatlin’s first doping offense was caused by a substance he had been prescribed since childhood for his attention deficit disorder. But before you get too comfortable with the idea that he’s a clean athlete done wrong, remember that five years later, he failed a doping test for testosterone, and claimed that he’d been sabotaged by his massage therapist. (Gatlin was banned from sport for four years and continues to claim his innocence.)
The line of dubious claims by athletes who have been caught cheating is long: My twin died in the womb, and that’s why I have someone else’s blood cells in me; I kissed (or made love to) someone who did the drugs; someone spiked my beer with steroids; I drank too much whiskey last night, and it boosted my testosterone; there must have been strychnine in my pigeon pie.
Even if we put aside the specter of performance-enhancing drugs in running, issues of fairness exist with funding, access to training facilities, and now, equipment. Some Nike-sponsored athletes who dominated the podium at the last Olympics wore shoes that were technically illegal because they hadn’t been widely available to the public prior to the race, as World Athletics rules stipulate they should be. Nike went so far as to apparently color its road-running shoes to look like a different model in an effort to hide them from authorities. It worked. By the time lab tests proved that the shoes bestow a 4 percent efficiency benefit, on average, the races were over, and athletes who’d worn other shoes had no recourse.
This issue has gotten only more fraught since then. As other brands race to catch up, Nike has built track shoes with similar technology that have already begun rewriting the record books.
The beauty of a running race, whether on a playground or in an Olympic stadium, is that it’s primal, basic, and easy to comprehend. And the lack of affecting technology has meant, historically, that you can compare current times to those of past generations. But now, professional running has reached a place of dissonance so deep that it’s overpowering. When an athlete achieves a new record or wins a gold medal, fans are now plagued with insuperable questions. Is that person doped? Did their shoes make the difference? How many performance-enhancing prescription drugs are they on that they don’t actually need?
It’s that last one that I found so insidious during my reporting. When drug-testing advancements made doping with illicit substances harder to hide in the wake of the Lance Armstrong era, teams began employing doctors to prescribe substances that their athlete patients might not need medically, but that sure did help with oxygen transport, energy levels, recovery, and weight loss. This immense gray area remains untouched by the anti-doping agencies.
Even so—and I’m shaking my head as I write this—I can’t turn away. There is something so naturally dramatic about a footrace. The Olympics are an opportunity for athletes in a sport such as running, which Americans mostly forget about in the years between the Games, to completely change their lives by performing on the world’s biggest stage. The years of sacrifice and toil on display are genuinely breathtaking. And the excitement I feel when witnessing this is real, regardless of how mad it makes me. For now, it’s enough—just enough—for me to keep enduring the pain of being a fan.
“After further consultation with medical staff, Simone Biles has decided to withdraw from the event finals for vault and the uneven bars,” USA Gymnastics said in a statement on Saturday morning. “She will continue to be evaluated daily to determine whether to compete in the finals for floor exercise and balance beam.”
Djokovic’s Olympic campaign ended by 6-4, 6-7(6), 6-3 defeat
Spaniard describes bronze medal as ‘best title of my career’
Novak Djokovic will leave the Tokyo Olympics without a medal after falling in the men’s bronze medal match 6-4, 6-7(6), 6-3 to Pablo Carreño Busta of Spain, capping a painful 24 hours during which he lost three matches before giving a walkover in the mixed doubles bronze medal match to Ashleigh Barty and John Peers.
Djokovic, whose schedule has been packed after wins at the French Open and Wimbledon before travelling to the Olympics, said that he does not regret travelling to Tokyo in search of the “golden slam”.
Black public figures from Simone Biles to Naomi Osaka are helping us put one simple word at the top of our vocabulary: no
I can hardly do a proper cartwheel, so I’m hesitant to opine on Simone Biles’s decision to withdraw from the Tokyo Olympics this week, telling the press and the world: “I have to focus on my mental health.” I can’t stay silent, though, because I know she’s not alone.
As a former college football player, I can imagine the psychological price Olympians pay to squeeze every ounce of greatness into a tiny window of life. As a Black man raised by a cadre of women, I can imagine the tax Black women pay because of our national commitment to “trust” them, which really just means “let them do all the work.” Or, in the case of Simone Biles, “let her put the whole country on her back”.
Biles said on Friday she was struggling with the "twisties," a mental block where she "can not tell up from down." It remains to be seen whether she will compete in the remaining finals at the Tokyo Olympics.
Germany cycling sports director Patrick Moster has been sent home after shouting out racist remarks during the men's road time trial at the Tokyo Olympics. He apologized after television cameras picked up his comments.
Judoka Tohar Butbul finished seventh at the Tokyo Olympics, but his sporting achievement has been overshadowed after Sudan's Mohamed Abdalrasool became the second athlete to withdraw from a bout against the Israeli.
The floods may have buried his medal, but the memories of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics remain. As the Games return to Japan, Hans Kaupmannsennecke recalls his unique journey from novice shooter to crack Olympic marksman.
As I sat glued to the television watching the opening ceremony of the Tokyo Olympics, the words of Thomas Bach, the International Olympic Committee president, struck a strong chord with me. The speech was peppered with words like “solidarity”, “equality”, “respect” and “diversity”, words that I often use in my speeches as head of Hong Kong’s equality body.It gave me pause as I contemplated the magnitude of the event and its border-breaking achievement in bringing together the entire world, not…
Three days after Hong Kong won fencing gold at the Tokyo Olympics, Dylan Wong, a 28-year-old clerk, was still revelling in the victory – so much so he decided to give the sport a try himself.The Hongkonger was watching on Monday evening with colleagues in his office as Edgar Cheung Ka-long beat the defending Olympic champion, Italy’s Daniele Garozzo, to win the men’s foil individual gold. The workplace burst into cheers.Wong admits he does not know much about fencing, and has never picked up a…
Life is harsh and people can be so nasty to one another, it’s hard not to be a cynic. And with Covid-19 refusing to back down even after more than a year of disruption to every aspect of our lives, it’s hard not to be a defeatist. But a toxic world of cynics and defeatists is not the answer.So when the Tokyo Olympics did manage to open – a year later than scheduled, without live spectators, and with the pandemic still raging – the world was given a chance to detox.At the very least, it has…
Apple’s virtual assistant Siri felt the wrath of Chinese social media users this week after the artificial intelligence system was unable to read out China’s tally of gold medal wins at the Tokyo Olympics due to an apparent technical glitch.Users of the country’s social media platform Weibo expressed displeasure on Wednesday morning as they uploaded video screen captures from their iPhones showing the official Olympic gold medal tally of China. While the video image showed that Japan won 11…
Olympic gold medallist Hidilyn Diaz once wore a T-shirt saying “West Philippine Sea” in both Chinese and English “because I wanted to say that what’s ours is ours”.Speaking a day after her triumphant return home from the Tokyo Olympics, Diaz, 30, told This Week in Asia that somebody had given her the shirt and she had put it on as a way of sending a message to Filipinos.“Ordinary people who don’t know much about [maritime] lines and international disputes and political things – I just wanted to…
Public sentiment in Japan regarding the 2020 Tokyo Olympics has gradually shifted after competitions and athletes have taken centre stage and the country inches closer to winning record gold medals.Previously plagued by concerns over the pandemic and a laundry list of scandals, analyses of Twitter posts by local media found that positive remarks about the Olympics have risen significantly since the opening ceremony on Friday, compared with previously largely critical comments beforehand centred…
Two years before winning a gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics on Monday, Philippine weightlifter Hidilyn Diaz was mocked and threatened online after her name was included on a list of dozens of people alleged to be plotting to oust President Rodrigo Duterte.But with the 30-year-old ending her country’s almost century-long wait for an Olympic gold medal by winning the women’s 55kg class event and receiving accolades all round, senior Duterte aides have sought to distance themselves from that…
A visit by Russia’s premier this week to an island chain claimed by Japan has fuelled a fresh bilateral disagreement between both sides, and a suggestion that Moscow’s actions were deliberately timed during the Tokyo Olympics to bring about a “toned-down” response from Japan.Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin’s visit on Monday to the Kurils, also known as the Northern Territories, was the first by a Russian premier since a constitutional amendment last July barred Russia from ceding territory.The…
Superstar US gymnast Simone Biles pulled out of a second event to protect her mental health on Wednesday, putting the spotlight on athletes’ well-being at a Tokyo Olympics held under strict rules to prevent the spread of coronavirus.Biles, who caused shock waves with her withdrawal during the team event on Tuesday, also ditched the all-around, raising doubts about her further participation in Tokyo.The 24-year-old American’s struggles follow those of Japanese tennis star Naomi Osaka, another…
[Monitor] There was a lot to celebrate yesterday as Uganda won her first medals at the ongoing Tokyo 2020 Olympics. Joshua Cheptegei and Jacob Kiplimo clinched Silver and Bronze respectively in the 10,000m final.
[This Day] The Athletics Federation of Nigeria (AFN) has described as misleading the headline in some national dailies (not THISDAY) which described as a ban the ineligiblity of 10 Nigerian athletes to compete at the ongoing Tokyo 2020 Olympics due to non-completion of their mandatory three out of competition test (OCT).