I know what you're going to say: "They have!" And yes, they have. There have been lots of Olympics games. Even Mario & Sonic put aside old rivalries to compete, though it's obviously unfair having those characters against each other because Mario is always going to win a plumb-off. And actually, while it says they're at the Olympic Games, I've been watching and they're not, you know, they're not there. So that's a lie, Sega. A big fat lie.
But I don't mean that kind of Olympics game. I don't mean the kind of game that's filled with mini-games you have to button-mash your way to victory in, although I do rather enjoy this because everyone looks silly while playing. It's a lot of fun. But I'm talking about something a bit deeper. Because what really struck me while watching Tokyo 2020/2021 - I'm still watching it (I'm watching it right now) - was how powerful the human stories are in it.
The love and comradery within the skateboard family, it's heartwarming ?? When all the other skaters raised up Misugu Okamoto as a winner to cheer her up even after she fell because they know she's an absolute star ?#skateboarding #Olympics https://t.co/eIKHuuehOn— Not Just a Fanfiction Writer ??? (@EzraLoAcire) August 4, 2021
That moment when Simone Biles pulled out of the team gymnastics: that was one of the moments of the games. But it wasn't because she won or got the highest score, it was because she was suddenly human. That conversation about mental health that arose afterwards was brilliant, and sorely needed. Did anyone see GB diver Chris Mears on the BBC shortly afterwards, opening up about his battle with depression following his Rio 2016 diving gold? It was a wonderfully refreshing moment of TV, and brave of him to share it. I would never have considered a gold medal could have that effect.
There's so much we don't know about these athletes. What we see are chiselled bodies and people who are capable of the extraordinary. But we don't see the process that got them there. We don't see the 5am training runs in the rain, while stragglers from the night before are still staggering home drunk. We don't see the sacrifice, the tears, the injuries, the lifetimes of commitment. We don't see the people. But at the best moments of the Olympics, this all bursts through.
It's in moments like Dina Asher-Smith telling a BBC camera crew she won't be running in the 200 meters, an event she is world champion in, because she hasn't recovered fully from an injury, and tears of sad realisation are streaming down her cheeks. It's in the moment cameras are stuck in the faces of boxers who've narrowly lost out mere moments before, and are now coming to terms with this live on air. Unsurprisingly, they don't have much to say, and if I were the interviewer, I'd acknowledge that, but in these moments their humanity beams through.
These are moments of heartbreak. But what about the moment Qatari high jumper Muta Essa Barshim and Italian high jumper Gianmarco Tamberi decided to share the Olympic gold? A look, a nod, and then a rush of realisation that it was actually happening, something historic, and then pure, unchecked emotion as it does - the held emotion of months and years before. It was absolute magic.
It's moments like these that light up the Olympic Games. Sure, world records are nice, and sure, medals are nice, but it's the moments we see humans which we relate to. How much is a medal really worth without the human effort it takes to win it, anyway? And think how many humans are involved: there are more than ten thousand athletes at the Tokyo Games. How much do we know about each of them? They are more than just sporting avatars. Isn't it a shame we don't have a gaming experience that tries to get a bit closer?