Right up until the end, it felt like the Tokyo Olympics could be shut down at any moment. Organizers surely would relent to increasing COVID-19 cases, which had already forced its delay a year. If not that, then the pressure applied by protestors, a tropical storm or just miserably hot and humid conditions could have led to its unraveling.
If they had cut it short, we would have been robbed of moments like MyKayla Skinner’s magical moment, when she won silver in vault under the most unexpected circumstances. It might have cost us witnessing Nathaniel Coleman of Murray winning the first silver medal in sport climbing in Olympics history. Or, the USA women’s volleyball team winning its very first gold medal after traveling a path paved by head coach Karch Kiraly, a Heber City resident, and assistant Luka Slabe, a former player and coach for BYU.
No need to spend any more time on the what ifs, though. Nathan Ikon Crumpton of Park City carried the American Samoa flag in the Closing Ceremony early Sunday morning (it will be replayed at 6 p.m. Sunday on NBC) and the Olympic torch has been doused. So here’s what you might have missed over the frenetic past two-and-a-half weeks.
UTAH’S OLYMPIC MEDAL COUNT
As coaches, Kiraly and Slabe won’t receive medals. Still, the win goes down in the final medal count and pushed the United States ahead of China in both total medals (113-88) and gold medals (39-38). Team USA’s women won 66 of those medals, the most for women of any nation ever, according to NBC’s Nick Zaccardi. The men won 41, the fewest since the 1896 Athens Games, Zaccardi said.
Utah is closely connected to eight of those medals, plus two for other nations. The state’s total haul — adding in medals won in a single sport by multiple people who competed in or live in the state — includes three golds, seven silvers and a bronze. Here’s a breakdown:
Baseball: Eddy Alvarez (Salt Lake Community College), USA, silver, making him just the sixth human to ever medal in both the Summer and Winter Games.
Climbing: Nathaniel Coleman (Murray), USA, silver
Softball: Amanda Chidester (Draper), USA, silver
Swimming: Rhyan White (Herriman), USA, 4x100-meter relay, silver
Women’s volleyball: Karch Kiraly (Heber City, coach), USA, gold; Luka Slabe (BYU, assistant coach), USA, gold
But not winning a medal doesn’t discount an athlete’s Olympic appearance. Just making it to Tokyo, especially in a pandemic is something to be celebrated in and of itself. Utah’s contingent in particular had its share of tribulations and triumphs. Here are a few:
Kathleen Noble’s stay in Tokyo was extended a few days by tropical storm Nepartak, which rendered the Sea Forest Waterway unsafe on the day her single sculls final was scheduled to take place. The Salt Lake City resident, who races for her home country of Uganda and trained on the Jordan River and Great Salt Lake, placed second in the E final three days later. She was 6.78 seconds behind E final winner Tala Abujbara of Qatar.
Former BYU student Jordan Matyas and the USA rugby sevens women’s team lost to Australia, 17-7 in their final match to take sixth overall. The USA finished 4-2 for the tournament, including a 14-12 win over Australia in pool play. Matyas scored a try and five points during the Games.
As fate would have it, former Utah women’s basketball player Leilani Mitchell (nee Smith) and the Australians knocked the Canadians and another former Ute, Kim Gaucher, out of the Games. The teams were tied for the final spot in the quarterfinals, but the Opals hammered Puerto Rico in their final game to get in on points. Australia then lost to the USA, which went on to win gold. Mitchell averaged 9.25 points and 5.5 assists, including 14 points and six assists against the Americans. Gaucher saw limited playing time but did manage to make it onto the court during an Olympics in which she was also breastfeeding and pumping for her infant daughter.
BYU swimmer Josue Dominguez took nearly 25 COVID-19 tests over just over two weeks in Japan, none of which came back positive. Still, he was relegated to quarantine, aka “COVID jail” and largely unable to access a pool prior to his two swims for the Dominican Republic.
Competing against the best athletes in the world can be stressful. Imagine what it’s like when the person you’re trying to take down is a loved one. It didn’t seem to rattle softball players Anissa Urtez and Amanda Chidester. Urtez played for Mexico and Chidester for the USA, but the Draper-based fiancees were consistently two of the best players in the game — even when playing against one another.
Nathan Ikon Crumpton’s time racing on the track in the Tokyo Olympic Stadium lasted all of 11 seconds. But, the American Samoa athlete who lives in Park City spent his recovery time entertaining his Patreon supporters by examining subjects like Tinder in the Athletes Village and the distribution of condoms. He’s also mentally turning himself around as he prepares to try to qualify in skeleton for Beijing 2022, just six months away.
The energy-sucking heat and humidity that was predicted to make the Tokyo Games the hottest on record showed up to play. But the unique strategies employed by Heber City’s John Farra, USA Triathlon’s high-performance manager, and Salt Lake City’s Zack DiCristino, USA Climbing’s medical manager, to prepare their athletes to withstand it appeared to pay off. The USA won silver in the mixed triathlon and bronze in the women’s and three of four USA athletes reached the climbing finals, highlighted by Coleman’s silver.
Lexi Lagan, who found the spark that compelled her into competitive shooting at the University of Utah, represented USA Shooting in three events in Tokyo. Competing on a stabilizing foot the Colorado Springs, Colorado, resident broke a month before the Games, she placed 38th in women’s and 16th in the mixed 10-meter air pistol events. She finished with an 18th-place finish in 25-meter pistol but was a mere four points away from qualifying for the final and had a near-perfect final round. “It was a really solid finish for my first Olympics and I felt like that was a great way to kind of send off,” she said. “I mean, obviously it didn’t meet my goal of winning a medal, but it was still a really, really good way to cap off my experience and head home.”
COVID CREEPS IN
While busloads of memorable feats and heart-touching moments came out of the Tokyo Games, so did more than 400 COVID cases.
At final tally, from pre-event setup starting July 1 to the closing ceremony on Sunday, 430 coronavirus cases have been traced back to the Games. Of the 29 athletes who tested positive, two of them have ties to Utah: Team USA alternate and future Utah gymnast Kara Eaker and Bountiful native Jake Gibb’s beach volleyball partner, Taylor Crabb.
The numbers went from 19 on July 23, the day of the Opening Ceremony to 26 on Sunday when the Closing Ceremony was held. The one-day high, according to stats provided by the Tokyo Organizing Committee, was 31 on Thursday.
Contractors associated with the Games accounted for more than half the cases.
The countdown to the Winter Olympic in Beijing has begun. They’re scheduled for Feb. 4-20, just six months away. In an interview with NBC host Mike Tirico, though, IOC President Thomas Bach said he is “confident” those Olympics will be be held as scheduled, especially if the hosts apply lessons learned in Japan.
Whether fans will be allowed in China is, just as the Tokyo Games were, very much up in the air.