Image Courtesy of Creative Bloq
By Garrett Farrell
On Friday, July 23, 2021, after the fourth-longest wait for a Summer Olympic Games in history (eight years, 1912-20; 12 years, 1936-48; 1503 years, 393-1896), The Games of the XXXII Olympiad finally commenced. The games, one of the most hallowed traditions in all of athletics, were opened by Japan’s Emperor Naruhito after the ceremonial lighting of the Olympic Cauldron by international tennis star Naomi Osaka.
The first days of the games have featured several interesting storylines; however, the most prominent story has without a doubt been Simone Biles. Biles, who is the defending gold medalist in the Individual All-Around in women’s gymnastics, as well as the five-time defending world champion of women’s gymnastics, announced that she would be withdrawing from the team All-Around contest as well as the individual contest due to “medical issues.”
While the meaning of this phrase was initially the cause of much speculation, Biles later said that the decision to withdraw was due to the fact that she was fighting internal demons. Biles, who is generally considered the greatest gymnast of all time, left the competition after her first rotation on the vault, where she failed to complete a Yurchenko 2.5 twist, and instead had to settle for a Yurchenko 1.5 twist.
Biles’ withdrawal has once again shone a light on the mental health of elite athletes. In fact, Biles said that her decision to withdraw from the competition was partially inspired by Naomi Osaka, who left the French Open after a first-round victory earlier this year. In spite of Biles’ withdrawal from the competition, Team USA still managed to earn a silver medal in the team all-around competition, behind the Olympic Athletes from Russia. Team Great Britain earned the bronze medal.
Another headlining story surrounding the Olympics has been the US women’s national soccer team. The Stars and Stripes, who are the two-time defending World Cup champions, barely managed to escape the group stage, after winning one match, drawing one match, and losing one match. Save for the lone victory, a 6-1 thumping of New Zealand, the team has not shown its usual killer instinct. This is surprising because most athletes on the team were present when the team was sent home in the quarter-finals of the Rio Olympics five years ago.
While the defeat of New Zealand shows that the team still has the skill that has won them four World Cups and four Olympic Golds (‘96, ‘04, ‘08, ‘12), the teams 0-0 draw against Australia and their 3-0 loss to Sweden raise the question of whether or not the rest of women’s soccer has found a weak point in their play or a way of stopping their offense. Only time will tell, but right now the USWNT is gearing up for their match against The Netherlands on July 30. It should be noted that The Netherlands won second place at the 2019 World Cup, after they lost 2-0 to the USWNT.
The USWNT is not the only team that has been underperforming for team USA: the men’s basketball team has lost three of their last four matches and is currently 1-1 in Olympic play going into the last match of the group stage. Since the 1936 Olympics, when men’s basketball was introduced as a sport, there have only been four Games when the US did not win the gold medal, and in one of those years the United States was boycotting the Olympics.
The men’s team opened with a shocking 83-76 loss to France. Historically, the men’s basketball team has been so dominant that any loss is shocking; however, the French team is not even ranked in the top five teams in the world by FIBA. While the team managed to bounce back with a 120-64 thrashing of the Iranian national team, the team looks shaky at best, and several of the star players on the team came directly to Tokyo from the NBA finals. Even more are still recovering from a long NBA season and postseason after the shortest break from play in league history.
The team is also missing several star players: Lebron James, Wardell “Steph” Curry, Chris Paul, and James Harden are among the most notable players who elected to opt-out of the games. While on paper the team should be good enough to win the gold medal in spite of these opt-outs, something about it just seems… off. Only time will tell if the team is able to right its course for the rest of the Games. The team next plays the Czech Republic on July 31 at 8:00 AM.
Currently, Team USA leads the overall medal count with 41 medals: they have the most silver medals (16), are tied with Australia for the most Bronze medals (11), and trail Japan (15) and China (15) for the most Gold medals (14). The Games conclude on August 8.