By Jason Cruz
Northwest Asian Weekly
The Tokyo Olympics, christened with “2020’” but held in mid-2021 after being interrupted for a year by the coronavirus, glided to their conclusion in a COVID-emptied stadium on the night of Aug. 8.
A rollicking closing ceremony with the theme “Worlds We Share”— an optimistic but ironic notion at this human moment—featured everything from stunt bikes to intricate light shows as it tried to convey a “celebratory and liberating atmosphere’” for athletes after a tense two weeks.
Among the highlights…
Sunisa “Suni” Lee shines
Simone Biles was unable to compete for the United States Gymnastics team as she focused on her mental wellness. Her pulling out of the team competition and then all but one of the individual disciplines cast a blow for the U.S. However, while Biles was sidelined, it allowed for another to shine. Enter teammate Suni Lee. The Hmong American shocked the world by taking the gold medal in the all-around competition and then receiving the silver medal in the vault and bronze in the uneven bars.
The 18-year-old St. Paul, Minnesota native became the first Asian American woman to win a gold medal in gymnastics and the first Hmong American-ever to medal in the Summer Olympics. St. Paul hosted a celebratory parade for Lee on Aug. 8.
Lee is a decorated gymnast that was a part of the 2016 Olympic team and the 2019 World Championship team. However, she never earned an individual medal in Olympic competition, let alone the gold in the all-around.
Lee has gone through some personal tragedies. In August 2019, her father fell out of a tree while helping a friend, leaving him paralyzed from the waist down. In 2020, Lee’s aunt and uncle died from COVID-19.
Philippines finally wins gold
Weightlifter Hidilyn Diaz made history when she won the first gold medal for the Philippines ever. The country sent its first Olympic delegation to Paris for the 1924 games, but never had the opportunity to hear its national anthem played. It all changed when the 30-year-old Diaz, who serves in the Philippine Air Force, narrowly defeated China’s Liao Qiuyun for the top spot.
Diaz won the silver medal in weightlifting in Rio in 2016 (she was the first woman medalist for the Philippines) and many supporters believed that she was the best hope for a gold medal in Tokyo. She has been to 4 Olympics in total, as she first made an appearance at the 2008 Beijing Games.
Diaz started out lifting as a youth using homemade dumbbells. At age 11, she was given a barbell to train with after a local weightlifting competition. She says that she practiced so hard that she wore it out and the bar broke due to overuse. This ingenuity helped her during the pandemic as she had to use makeshift weights with many gyms closed.
Dedicating her time to winning a gold, Diaz focused on training and was unable to see her mother or father for many months.
There is an asterisk to the Philippines gold medal victory as Arianne Cerdena earned a Gold Medal at the 1988 Summer Olympics in bowling. However, her gold medal did not count as bowling was a demonstration sport. Thus, Diaz’s victory made winning gold official for the Philippines.
Petecio earns silver for the Philippines
Nesthy Petecio made history as she became the first Filipino female boxer to bring home a boxing medal. The 29-year-old took a silver medal after losing to Sena Ire from Japan.
Arguably, the fight for the gold was tight with many supporters believing that she should have defeated Ire. It was the country’s first boxing medal since 1996 when Mansueto “Onyok” Velasco won silver at the Olympic Games in Atlanta in 1996.
After the fight, Petecio dedicated her medal to the LGBTQ community.
The Philippines will earn two more medals in boxing in Tokyo as two other Filipino boxers have made the semifinals of their events.
Adopted Chinese swimmer wins gold for Canada
Maggie MacNeil earned gold for Canada as she won the 100m butterfly in swimming.
MacNeil was adopted by Canadian parents after she was abandoned at just a few months old. The London, Ontario native started swimming at the age of 2 and started to compete in the pool at age 8.
MacNeil earned a silver medal in the 4×100 freestyle and a bronze in the 4×100 medley.
She earned her gold in the butterfly as she beat the favorite, Zhang Yufei from China. MacNeil’s victory was considered an upset.
MacNeil continues to swim for the University of Michigan, where she broke the NCAA 100 yard butterfly record.
Former Dawg wins bronze, edges British Open winner
C.T. Pan, the former University of Washington golfer, won the bronze medal in golf as he beat out five others in a playoff for third place. Pan, who represented Chinese Taipei, gave the country its fourth bronze medal and eighth overall medal for the Tokyo games.
Notably, Pan edged out Collin Morikawa in the playoff to earn the bronze. Morikawa, who won the British Open earlier in the month, could not match Pan’s par on the fourth extra hole which decided the tiebreaker.
The win was that much more special considering Pan’s wife, Michelle, was his golf caddie.
Pan played collegiate golf at the University of Washington from 2011-2015. He currently plays on the PGA Tour.
12-year-old skateboarder wins silver
Kokona “Coconut” Hiraki won a silver medal in the women’s park event in Tokyo and became the youngest Japanese athlete on record to win a medal and to participate in the Summer Olympics.
The women’s park skateboarding competition was won by 19-year-old Sakura Yosuzumi. Notably, 13-year-old Sky Brown won the bronze medal. Brown grew up in Japan, lives in California, but competed for Britain in Tokyo.
The park competition has the skateboarders performing a numerous amount of tricks within a time span within what looks like an empty outdoor pool.
Hiraki, who began skateboarding at the age of 5, hails from Kutchan, Japan. She was influenced to skateboard by her mom who was a fan of the sport. She has competed globally, having won the 2019 World Pro Tour in France.
Hiraki is nicknamed “Coconut” after her mother’s love for warmer, tropical countries.
Jason can be reached at email@example.com.