TOKYO: Empty stadiums. Face masks and social distancing. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the Tokyo Olympic Games looked and felt so different from any of the past events.
But there were some things that did not change. The Games were as competitive as ever, the participants gave their all and at the end of it all celebrated it with passion and exuberance just like their predecessors had done for over a century.
Humanity's passion for sports, as well as friendship and unity among the Games participants never ceased to impress.
The passion and feeling of kinship was expressed in the winners showing respect for the vanquished, the medallists consoling those who fell short narrowly. Like the women hockey players of Great Britain consoling their distraught Indian counterparts after winning a nerve-tingling thriller 4-3.
Here are some ways in which the Tokyo Olympic Games were different from the previous editions: NO SPECTATORS IN VENUES
All spectators were banned from Olympic venues in Tokyo during the Games. This included both overseas and domestic ticket holders. But it did not prevent people from enjoying the Games on television or via online streaming, reports Xinhua.
After Yang Qian, a student shooter from Tsinghua University, grabbed the first gold medal for China in the women's 10m air rifle, more than 130,000 people took to her Sina Weibo account to congratulate her.
Quan Hongchan, a 14-year-old Chinese diver, put on a nearly flawless performance to win the women's 10m platform event. The teenage girl from a rural family in south China's Guangdong Province said her favorite snack was "spicy sticks." A couple of days later, boxes of spicy sticks were delivered by fans to her home in Maihe Village.
There are similar stories of people reaching out to the athletes after watching their performance on the television. The IOC too make special arrangements for the athletes to interact with their families and supporters from the venues. Though the Games were closed, they were not at all silent.
FACE MASKS AND SOCIAL DISTANCING
All participants at the Games were required to wear a face mask at all times, except when eating, drinking, training, competing or sleeping. Participants were also urged to minimize social interaction with others.
As a result, media interviews were done in a different way -- at times from a distance -- at the venues. There was more emphasis on virtual interaction.
PUTTING ON THEIR OWN MEDALS
To keep in line with social distancing rules, athletes had to put on their own medals on the victory podium. They were also discouraged from kissing the medal as they were required to wear masks on the podium.
But the moments were equally memorable for athletes, who might have waited for years for such an occasion.
Chinese shooters Pang Wei and Jiang Ranxin chose to put medals on each other after they finished first in the 10m air pistol mixed team event.
Pang, 35, said he improvised the idea at the medal ceremony. "We are a team. We trust and support each other mentally. I knew she would do well, and I told myself that I should not be a burden on her."
GAMES OF THE SOCIAL MEDIA
Though the IOC had strict rules on what athletes could share or not on the social media, the Games ruled the social media in the two-week long games and were a great source of sharing the joy with people back home. With no spectators allowed, family members of the sportspersons were also absent and therefore the social media was the only avenue to share their joy and sorrow.
MEDAL CEREMONY DURING CLOSING CEREMONY
For the first time in the history of the games, victory ceremony for the men's and women's marathon winners was conducted during the closing ceremony.
It is a big departure from previous editions as the medal ceremony is held soon after the event and the closing ceremony usually heralds the end of the Olympics. But on Sunday, IOC president Thomas Bach presented medals to the winners led by Kenyans Peres Jepchirchir, women's winner, and Eliud Kipchoge, gold medallist in men's section.
With more than 200 million Covid-19 cases reported globally so far, the Tokyo Olympics managed to draw more than 11,000 athletes from 200 plus countries and regions.
Social distancing regulations didn't pull the athletes away emotionally from each other.
American gymnast Sunisa Lee posted a selfie with her Chinese friend and rival Guan Chenchen on Twitter, saying "reunited" shortly after her arrival in Tokyo. During Guan's performance on the balance beam, Lee watched attentively and cheered. She later posted another selfie with Guan, saying "I'm so proud."
Nelson Mandela once said, "Sport has the power to change the world."
When the Olympics was inevitably changed by Covid-19, it also lit up the lives of many around the globe, inspiring people to always strive to be better, to be "Faster, Higher, Stronger - Together".