The Tokyo Olympics is drawing to an end with the closing ceremony underway in Tokyo as the country celebrates while also counting of the cost of pushing ahead with the Covid-delayed Games.
Japan’s athletes shone – bringing home a record medal haul for the country which finished third in the table while a Covid-secure bubble meant to protect some 50,000 competitors and their coaches from around the world largely held.
But elsewhere protections fell apart, with crowds who gathered outside venues closed by Covid rules helping to drive cases in the country to all-time highs.
The government has also been left facing a $15billion bill – double what was originally budgeted – with no tourist bounce to help offset it.
The event has also deeply divided Japanese into pro and anti-Games camps, with that division expected to be visible at the closing ceremony – as athletes celebrate as guests of honour while the stands sit empty due to Covid restrictions on crowds.
Closing ceremony of the Covid-delayed Tokyo Olympics is underway, with fireworks lighting up the sky over the Japanese capital as sporting showpiece reaches the finish line
Japan’s athletes have shone at the sporting showpiece, bringing home a record medal haul with the country finishing third in the medal table in its best-ever showing
But the Games have also been fraught with difficulty, with infections in Japan soaring and the initial bill doubling to some $15billion leaving behind a mixed legacy
Fireworks erupt above the stadium during the Closing Ceremony of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games
Fireworks go off around the Olympic Stadium during the closing ceremony of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games
Japanese flag-bearers carry their country’s emblem into the closing ceremony in Tokyo
Team USA’s flag-bearer arrives in the main Olympic stadium to join the ceremony with plenty to celebrate as the country topped the medal table with 39 golds and 113 overall
Team GB’s flag-carrier arrives at the closing ceremony, with Britain finishing fourth with 22 golds and 65 medals overall
Australia’s flag is carried into the main stadium with the country having performed well at the Games, finishing 6th in the table in a much-improved performance compared to previous years
Flagbearers of the competing nations gather in Tokyo’s main Olympic stadium as the closing ceremony gets started
Athletes mingle in the centre of Tokyo’s Olympic stadium as they replace the typical crowds with stands empty due to the Covid rules in place in Tokyo
Athletes gather by the The Olympic Cauldron and the Olympic flame to celebrate during the closing ceremony of the Games
Japan’s emperor Naruhito was among just a handful of VIPs allowed into the main stadium to watch the closing ceremony
Just a few dozen VIPs and members of the media will be present to watch the proceedings in person with the rest of the country forced to watch at home, as happened with the somewhat sombre opening ceremony.
A sign of those divisions was evident near the stadium as protesters gathered ahead of the ceremony, with police holing them back.
For the host nation, the Olympics fell short of the global triumph and financial blockbuster it once sought – aiming to showcase the country’s recovery from the devastating 2011 tsunami and earthquake.
Instead it was forced to delay and radically alter plans in the wake of Covid, which more than doubled the initial estimate of the bill.
Still, organisers appear to have prevented the Games from spiralling into a COVID-19 superspreader event, an undeniable achievement given that some 50,000 people came together amid the pandemic.
While the bubble – the set of venues and hotels to which Olympic visitors were largely confined – appeared to hold, elsewhere some things fell apart.
Fuelled by the Delta variant of the virus, daily infections spiked to more than 5,000 for the first time in Tokyo, threatening to overwhelm its hospitals.
Normally one of the world’s most electric cities, Tokyo is under a state of emergency, depriving it of the manic buzz of an Olympic host or the fervent crowds of its last Olympics in 1964.
Public anger over the pandemic response and a slow-to-start vaccine roll-out have badly damaged Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s standing. Public opinion polls showed most Japanese opposed holding the Games during the pandemic.
Topless Pacific islands athletes arrive in the stadium ahead of the closing ceremony taking place
Belarus athletes, minus sprinter Krystsina Tsikhanouskaya who fled the Games to Poland after feeling her safety was in danger gather in the Olympic stadium
Great Britain’s Laura Kenny with the Union Jack flag during the closing ceremony of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games
lag bearers participate in the closing ceremony of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics in Olympic Stadium, Tokyo, Japan
Athletes delegations pose with their national flag as they enter during the closing ceremony of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics
Representatives carry participating nations’ flags during the closing ceremony of the Olympics in Tokyo
The United States’ athletes show their medals to a video camera during the closing ceremony in the Olympic Stadium
Athletes from the United States take a selfie during the closing ceremony as country celebrates topping the medal table
Members of the Polish delegation take pictures as they attend the closing ceremony of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, at the Olympic Stadium, in Tokyo
Members of Team Mexico during the Closing Ceremony of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Olympic Stadium
Russian Olympic Committee delegation walk in during the closing ceremony in the Olympic Stadium
Members of Team Bulgaria during the Closing Ceremony of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games
The Olympic flag is carried during the closing ceremony of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games
Flags are raised in Tokyo’s main Olympic ceremony during the closing ceremony
People take photographs of fireworks during the Closing Ceremony of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games
Would-be spectators still came out in force, defying authorities to peek in from overpasses as they tried to catch a glimpse of outdoor events such as the triathlon or new sports such as skateboarding.
“We can already now say with confidence that we have experienced a very successful Olympic Games considering all the uncertainties we had the last two years,” International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach said before the ceremony.
Japan’s record medal haul also helped take out some of the sting for organisers.
The United States was at the top of the tally with 39 gold medals as of Sunday afternoon, with China at 38 and Japan at 27.
Thirteen golds were up for grabs on Sunday before the closing ceremony, including in the men’s marathon, won by Kenya’s Eliud Kipchoge and women’s basketball, which went to the United States.
Japan is due to hand over the Olympic baton to the next host city, Paris, at a ceremony that starts at 8:00 p.m. JST (1100 GMT).
“To the Japanese people, thank you, you achieved what many thought was impossible,” Australia’s Chef de Mission Ian Chesterman told a news conference.
After a year’s delay and often against the backdrop of cavernous, nearly empty venues, the Games themselves provided plenty of high drama.
Athletes from the United States of American enter the closing ceremony in the Olympic Stadium at the delayed 2020 Games
Athletes from Team Netherlands enjoy the Closing Ceremony of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games
Olympic teams gather on the Olympic Stadium during the Closing Ceremony of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games
Members of Team Australia celebrate during the Closing Ceremony of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games
Athletes from South Korea’s delegation wave their national flag as they parade during the closing ceremony of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games
Police hold back demonstrators close to Tokyo’s main Olympic stadium as the closing ceremony gets underway
Police clash with demonstrators close to the Tokyo Olympic stadium amid widespread anger within the country that the event was allowed to go ahead
Protesters against the Olympic Games demonstrate outside the Olympic Stadium
Japan has been deeply divided over the Games, with some turning out to sneak peeks of the events outside closed arenas while other protest against the sporting showpiece
That culminated with the defection of Belarusian sprinter Krystsina Tsimanouskaya who, in a moment more reminiscent of the Cold War, refused to board a flight home after she was taken to the airport against her wishes.
She has since sought refugee status in Poland.
U.S. superstar gymnast Simone Biles shocked the world when she pulled out of five of her six events, including abruptly abandoning the women’s team final after attempting just one vault, citing concerns for her mental and physical health.
The 24-year-old spoke with candour about struggling to deal with the weight of expectation placed on her and made the world aware of the “twisties”, a type of mental block that prevents gymnasts from performing their gravity-defying skills.
Biles ultimately came back to win the bronze on the balance beam in the final event of the women’s gymnastics programme, a moment of triumph that crystallised her transformation from Olympic champion to advocate for mental health.
In athletics, Italy provided a different kind of shock with their amazing run.
Their victories included a stunning gold in the men’s sprint relay, taking their athletics gold tally to five.
In swimming, the United States were without 23-time Olympic gold medallist Michael Phelps for the first time since the Atlanta Games in 1996, and while their gold count slipped, they still ended the meet on top of the medal table with 30.
But they were pushed close by the Australian team who achieved their best ever haul of nine golds and 21 medals overall, eight of their titles won by their astonishing women’s team.
As the Games wind up, Japan will now be left to count the cost.
The bill for the Olympics and Paralympics is expected to be 1.64 trillion yen ($15 billion), 22% higher than it was before the Games were delayed in 2020, and twice as much as the 800 billion yen estimate Tokyo submitted in its host bid.
The bill, which will have to be fully paid after the Games end, is most likely to be settled by the Tokyo government and the central government.