The Olympic Games provide such a kaleidoscope of vivid memories and special moments in such a short space of time that it is virtually impossible to sum them up concisely. But if I had to describe the Tokyo Olympics in a word, it would have to be: Extraordinary.
We said before the Games that we would be assessing the success of British athletes in a more holistic way. Of course, it was wonderful to see Team GB win more medals at an overseas Games than at any event apart from Rio – but there are far more ways in which we can believe they delivered extraordinary success in Tokyo.
British athletes from all corners of the UK created sporting moments, as we believed they would, that united, lifted and inspired a country desperate for reasons to cheer after such a challenging time. But they did so in a way that leads me to believe these were the ‘Trailblazer Games’ for Team GB.
We saw young talent emerge and perform on the biggest stage, but more than that we saw socially conscious people of talent and character display once again the extraordinary power of sport to lift a nation and to make the world a better place.
Athletes with awareness of their potential impact on society
British athletes have been a beacon of hope to inspire us with their performances, but they have also been impressive ambassadors and advocates for societal issues such as mental wellbeing, equality, diversity and sustainability.
Adam Peaty, such a dominant and inspiring presence in the swimming pool, spoke powerfully about challenges to his mental wellbeing. Hannah Mills complemented her status as the most decorated female sailor with her commitment to driving change in encouraging sport to play its part in cleaning up our oceans and sustainability more generally.
Tom Daley spoke proudly and sensitively about LGBTQ+ equality. Emily Campbell, Britain’s first female weightlifting medalist, came up with some of the most memorable words spoken in Tokyo when she embraced body positivity by saying: ‘I don’t look like a typical athlete – but what my body does is amazing’.
At 13, Sky Brown became the youngest British medallist ever at the Olympics, inspiring teenagers up and down the country with her bronze as skateboarding made its Games debut in Tokyo. And there were so many more.
Investment must be sustained for Team GB to stay competitive
It was heartening to see so many British athletes thank the people who helped them get to Tokyo – their family, friends, coaches and support staff, as well as all those who have played The National Lottery to enable the funding that is so crucial to the ongoing success of Team GB and ParalympicsGB.
A young team travelled to Tokyo with 70% making their Games debut, and the performances across so many sports was impressive and immensely promising, as well as a reminder of the transformative power of sport.
The final medal tally of 22 gold, 21 silver and 22 bronze for 65 overall, equals the number from London 2012 and is the second best ever for Team GB at an overseas Games. Given the circumstances of the past 18 months this is a truly incredible achievement. Among this was the best ever performances in swimming and modern pentathlon, the best for a century in boxing and first ever medals in BMX.
Winning medals in 18 different sports, third only to the USA and China in that particular measure of success, and the performance of so many debutants – 83 of them won medals – means the next generation looking for sporting inspiration have plenty of choice when it comes to selecting role models.
Our mission for the next decade is to create more extraordinary sporting moments that can inspire and unite our nation. To achieve this we need to retain and develop the best coaches and support staff as well as athletes and continued investment from Government and the National Lottery is vital.
The performances of nations such as Japan and Australia tell us there is no room for complacency if we want to remain competitive. It is clear that the Government recognize how much the British public value the Olympics and Paralympics and we are hopeful that the commitment of funding to the Paris 2024 will be made as soon as possible.
Extraordinary display of sporting excellence and character
It was a privilege for me to be in Tokyo to witness first-hand the sporting excellence of British athletes. I was so proud of their performances, but also of the character they displayed. They were trailblazers during competition, and before and after it.
Ultimately, however, the top priority in Tokyo was to support the welfare and wellbeing of British athletes, and I was delighted that those who travelled to Japan were able to compete. This is a testament both to the athletes themselves, the incredible commitment of the people in the National Governing Bodies of sport and Institutes of Sport and the diligent work of the British Olympic Association after such a challenging year.
The people of Japan were wonderfully warm and generous hosts, and I was sorry that the restrictions meant Tokyo was not able to turn out in force to cheer on the athletes.
I am confident we will look back on the Tokyo Olympics with immense pride at the trailblazing efforts of British athletes and those who support them. They, their performances and the impact they made were all truly extraordinary.
While one Games ends, the build up to another enters its final phase. In just two week’s time we get to do everything again as the Paralympic Games begin in Tokyo. My hopes and ambitions remain the same as they did for the Olympic Games and I cannot wait for ParalympicsGB to excite and inspire us with another kaleidoscope of vivid memories and special moments.