OLYMPICS 2020

From Tom Daley to Simone Biles: The most heartwarming moments at the Tokyo Olympics

From sharing gold medals to consoling each other after losses, Saman Javed looks at the athletes at this year’s games who have shown us what good sportsmanship looks like

Friday 06 August 2021 10:25
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<p>Simone Biles congratulates Russia’s Angelina Melnikova on her Olympics win</p>

Simone Biles congratulates Russia’s Angelina Melnikova on her Olympics win

This year’s Olympic games have been nothing short of historic.

We’ve watched US gymnast Simone Biles speak out about, and prioritise, her mental health, a women’s gymnastics team take a stand against the sexualisation of their bodies, and 12-year-old Sakura Yosozumi become Japan’s youngest gold medalist at the first-ever women’s park skateboarding event.

Then there was the first shared gold medal the Olympics track and field has seen in more than a century, not one but two marriage proposals, and not forgetting the debut of Tom Daley’s knitting skills.

Despite the absence of spectators at the Tokyo Olympics, due to fears of the spread of coronavirus, it’s fair to say that athletes from across the world have proven themselves as both masters of their sports and providing some much-needed entertainment.

As the Olympics draw to a close, here’s a look back at some of the most heartwarming moments from the last two weeks.

Tom Daley

Tom Daley cemented his status as a national treasure at this year’s Olympics not only with a series of pool-side knitting sessions but also an impassioned speech for young LGBT+ people after winning his gold.

On 26 July, Daley and his diving partner Matty Lee came first place in the men’s synchronised 10-metre platform event, earning their first Olympic gold medals.

Speaking to the media after the victory, Daley said he hopes his success will show young LGBT+ people that they “can achieve anything”.

Tom Daley knitting a ‘doggie jumper'

“I hope that any young LGBT+ person out there can see that no matter how alone you feel right now, you are not alone and that you can achieve anything. There is a whole lot of your chosen family out here ready to support you,” he said.

“I am incredibly proud to say that I am a gay man and also an Olympic champion. I feel very empowered by that,” he added.

Later he was photographed working with some purple yarn while watching the women’s 3-metre springboard final. Photographs quickly went viral. He later clarified on social media that he had been making a “doggy jumper” for a friend.

Lotte Miller and Claire Michel

Norway’s Lotte Miller made headlines following the women’s triathlon on 27 July when she consoled another athlete who had finished in last place.

Claire Michel, from Belgium, was seen crying on the floor after finishing the gruelling race, which involves a 1.5-kilometre swim, a 40-kilometre cycle, and a 10-kilometre run.

Consoling Michel with a hug, Miler was heard telling her, “You’re a f*cking fighter”. “This is Olympic spirit, and you’ve got it 100 per cent,” she added.

In total, 51 athletes took part in the race of which 21 were either lapped or did not finish. Miller came in at 34th place.

Maggie Mac Neil

An international competition like the Olympics wouldn’t be complete without a meme or two. Thankfully, Canadian swimmer Maggie Mac Neil provided just the right content to give the internet a laugh.

Mac Neil finished first in the women’s 100-metre butterfly final, but it appears she was amongst the last to know. Footage from the event shows her squinting at the scoreboard, before yelling “oh my god” as her victory registered.

The image of her squinting at the board and apparent shock at having won the race has inspired countless memes and gifs.

As it turns out, her delayed reaction was due to her eyesight. She is short-sighted and usually wears glasses, so couldn’t see properly as she emerged from the water.

Speaking to CTV News this week, Mac Neil said she has been sent memes of the incident “at least 50” times.

“I don’t think I’m into the whole contacts thing,” she added. “I’ve just never tried to try them out and, as a swimmer, I feel like that’s a pretty good decision to make.”

Sharing gold medals

On Sunday, 1 August, two high jumpers opted to share a gold medal rather than compete in a play-off to decide one winner.

Long-time friends Mutaz Essa Barshim of Qatar and Gianmarco Tamberi from Italy made history together, becoming the first track and field athletes to share a gold medal since 1912.

Both men managed to jump to a height of 2.37 metres but struggled to meet the next hurdle at 2.39 metres.

Gianmarco Tamberi and Mutaz Essa Barshim hug after winning gold

Under the rules, the pair could either share first place or compete in an additional deciding round.

“I look at him, he looks at me, and we know it,” Barshim told press after the win. “We just look at each other and we know, that is it, it is done. There is no need.”

Tamberi added: “Neither of us wanted to take this immense joy away from the other, we didn’t even need to discuss it, an eye contact and we both knew we wanted to share this gold. In fact, many times before we’ve joked ‘imagine if we could share an Olympic gold medal in Tokyo?’”

Caeleb Dressel

Caeleb Dressel brought home a victory for Team US in the 4x100 metre freestyle swimming race at this year’s games, but it wasn’t without the help of his teammates.

In a show of true sportsmanship, after the race, Dressel walked up to the stands and threw his gold medal to another team member, Brooks Curry.

Curry had taken Dressel’s place during the preliminary heats to allow him to remain energised for both his individual races as well as the relay final.

“I had the easiest job last night out of everyone here, I got to watch it on TV, so I felt like (Brooks) deserved that a little more than me,” Dressel said after the race.

Wedding bells

At least two athletes have become engaged during this year’s Olympics.

Argentine fencer Maria Belen Perez Maurice may have suffered a loss in a duel against Hungary’s Anna Marton, but she did not go home empty-handed.

During her post-match interview, her coach and long-term partner, Lucas Saucedo, help up a sign behind her with the words: “Te queres casar conmigo??? Po favo” – which translates to “Will you marry me??? Please.”

According to Reuters, it was the second time the coach had asked for her hand in marriage after his 2010 proposal was declined.

“I said yes, of course,” Perez Maurice said.

Congratulations are also in order for Canadian diver, Jennifer Abel, who became engaged upon her return to Montreal on 2 August.

Abel, who won silver in the women’s three-metre synchronised springboard event was greeted at the airport with a proposal from her partner, pro-boxer David Lemieux.

Heartwarming footage showed Abel burying her face in shock, barely nodding as to say yes, before the couple embraced each other in a hug.

Simone Biles

Simone Biles earned praise after announcing that she would not be taking part in the women’s gymnastics team final to focus on her mental health.

“I say put mental health first because if you don’t then you’re not going to enjoy your sport and you’re not going to succeed as much as you want to,” Biles said in a press conference on 27 July.

“So it’s okay sometimes to even sit out the big competitions to focus on yourself because it shows how strong of a competitor and person that you really are, rather than just battle through it,” she added.

Team US finished in second place to Russia, marking its first loss since 2010. As the results came in, Biles was the first to congratulate Russia’s captain Angelina Melnikova.

Photographs from the event show Biles smiling as she hugged her opponents and commended them on their win.

Speaking to press after the event, Melnikova noted that she could distinctly hear Biles loud cheers during her balance beam performance, adding that she hoped Biles would return to the gymnastics floor soon.

“I even wrote her a message of support,” she told The Washington Post. “Because I think it’s a such a pity and I really hope that she will get better because I admire her gymnastics.”

Biles went on to win a bronze medal for her individual balance beam entry on Wednesday.

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