By GWEN MURANAKA
“Reach out and touch somebody’s hand. Make this a better world, if you can.” — Diana Ross, 1984 L.A. Olympics Opening Ceremony
I think for those of us who were alive for the 1984 L.A. Olympics, the summer games are a fond memory. There was hardly any traffic and a Russia boycott meant that Team USA dominated in most sports.
Mary Lou Retton tumbled, Flo Jo sprinted and Joan Benoit became the first woman to win a gold medal, running away from the pack in the 26.2-mile marathon.
There was this feeling of unity, captured best by UCLA alum Rafer Johnson running up the steps of the Coliseum and lighting the torch and Diana Ross singing her 1970 hit “Reach Out and Touch (Somebody’s Hand)” at the conclusion of the Opening Ceremony. The thousands of fans in the Coliseum held hands and swayed to the gospel-tinged song, a potent symbol of the ways sports can unite the world.
In COVID-era 2021 and with Delta on the uptick, reaching out and touching another person is the last thing we want to do.
By the time this goes to print, the cauldron will have been lit, Emperor Naruhito has declared the 2020 (now 2021) Tokyo Games officially open. With a collective sense of dread and hope, the Olympics have commenced.
Citius, Altius, Fortius. Faster, Higher, Stronger.
The spectacle of an empty stadium and athletes wearing masks and waving to cameras is now something we’re all familiar with.
Amid all of the concern over the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, I hope that there will be sublime moments when the athletes, in their greatness, can demonstrate why sports can unify, even during difficult days.
Baron Nishi is the Japanese equestrian whose gold medal was celebrated at the 1932 Los Angeles games, especially in the homes of Japanese and Japanese Americans who found inspiration in his triumph in a nation where they faced so much hostility. Today there is Naomi Osaka, who, even as she dominates on the court, has taken on the mantle of leader on issues from mental health to Black Lives Matter. Or Sakura Kokumai, who represents the U.S. as an Asian American, exemplifying our diversity and how we stand up to hatred. Collin Morikawa’s humility is as remarkable as his winning spirit, and you could sense his pride when he said he would be playing for the U.S. after winning the British Open.
Besides Joan Benoit winning the gold in the marathon in 1984, there was Gabriela Andersen-Schiess of Switzerland, who could barely stagger to the finish line, but summoned all her strength to finish 37th.
Forget the money, the corruption, the corporate sponsors — doing your best, no matter what: that is the Olympic spirit.
Tokyo had no way of anticipating how difficult or tortuous staging the games would be when they won the honor of hosting back in 2013.
At that time, the 2020 summer games were to be a potent symbol of how Japan has recovered from the devastating 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami. The games are unpopular in a country known for having some of the best sports fans on the planet, and it’s hard to blame them when the pandemic has yet to be contained.
I drew a cartoon back in 2013 that in retrospect is wildly off the mark, of exuberant, smiling, cheering faces, with the now infamous number: 2020. With the Los Angeles Games now only seven years away, you can’t help but wonder what kind of city this will be when athletes arrive. Hopefully at least LAX will finally be fixed up and the freeways will be clear.
As the games commence, let’s hope that they are safe and present a Japan that can muster its energy to accomplish great things. The shame of it is the lack of crowds, the energy and exuberance that will be missing from the competition.
I was fortunate to be working in Tokyo during the Nagano Olympics and for the final weekend, we took the shinkansen up to Nagano for a day. We watched bobsled from outside the venue, saw part of a medal ceremony and later that night went to an izakaya and cheered with fans from all over the world.
Smiling faces, competition, togetherness. It was an Olympic moment.
Gwen Muranaka, senior editor of The Rafu Shimpo, can be contacted at email@example.com. Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.**