The Olympics could not have come at a more convenient time. It has brought a sense of connection in a time of uncertainty, where we feel more distant than ever from the world, our own country and our friends, family, and colleagues. Watching the Olympics has made us feel united. It has given us something to celebrate, to talk about with our friends and colleagues and something to look forward to.
It has shown us how important it is, despite the challenges of running major sporting events in COVID, to make sure we continue to adapt to the ever-changing event environment. It’s not just about world records and gold medals, it’s about bringing joy to every home when athletes do their country proud.
Let’s talk about the high jump. Gianmarco Tamberi (Italy) and Mutaz Essa Barshim (Qatar) deciding to share their Olympic gold medal. A key moment that has been widely celebrated for reflecting “Olympic spirit, sportsmanship and friends, over all else” (Polychronis, Fox Sports). This was the first time in 109 years that an athletics gold medal has been shared. Now if that’s not emotional, exciting, and unifying all in one, I don’t know what is.
There’s so much to say about the swimming, especially our female swimmers dominating the pool, lifting the spirits of our nation as they smashed Olympic records and bagged 20 medals. “Their good sportsmanship, friendship and humility on the world stage have been awesome to see” (Hislop, The Sporty Wrap).
It’s been a rollercoaster of emotions, to say the least, cheering, screaming and crying at my TV screen. Nerves, excitement and pride most of all, as if I’m watching my sister swim. But it’s these emotions shared with your family, your housemates and the rest of the world that have got us feeling more connected than ever.
Although I wish the stadiums were filled with crowds cheering our athletes to victory, the world-class commentators have played a huge role in making me feel like I’m there. It’s rare that we get to learn about elite athletes on a daily basis. They’ve blended sport with culture and education, and have completely embraced the Olympics and its values. Ian Thorpe was a standout. His enthusiasm, technical clarity and nerve-wracking commentary, has been nothing short of amazing. You could even hear his voice shake as Ariarne Titmus and close rival Katie Ledecky battled it out. It was goosebump-inducing, made me feel like I was there and a part of the process.
With friends and family unable to attend the games, Tokyo integrated an epic suite of digital tools that allowed athletes to engage with friends, family and fans in venues across Tokyo. The family cams integrated with commentary and athlete interviews have been a highlight for me. It’s not often we have the privilege of witnessing the families reactions and first conversations between an athlete and a parent after winning gold. Watching Jessica Fox and her dad Richard share an emotional but exciting conversation across national TV was extremely moving, it definitely brought a tear or two to the eye.
A couple of my other favourites was the Fan Video Wall, where fans sent personalised videos that were collated into a video wall shared and broadcasted worldwide. This was an epic way to get fans interacting with their favourite athletes. NZ fans were able to support their team by sending them virtual cheer through a Bluetooth watch. Athletes could feel the vibration when support was received.
The 3D video tracking integrated with the broadcast has given us more insight into the athlete’s performance than ever before. I’ve really enjoyed seeing the moments that sprinters have reached their top speed. It’s given an extra layer of insight and education that we weren’t able to see during the race. These digital innovations made a huge image and have left a lasting legacy which I hope to see in future Olympics.
Although it wasn’t the Olympics we expected, it was an Olympics we will remember forever. It’s shown us that sporting events of this scale can be successfully delivered to a world-class standard, even in the current COVID environment. It’s the special moments between athletes, empowering commentators and integration of innovative technology that has allowed us to feel more connected than ever.