Nine of the most memorable moments from the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games

From historic firsts to moments of shared pain and joy, Tokyo 2020 was an Olympic Games to remember.

By William Imbo
Picture by 2021 Getty Images

With the extinguishing of the Olympic flame at the closing ceremony on Sunday evening, the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 have officially come to an end.

And what a Games they were!

So many incredible examples of courage and skill; of sportsmanship and emotion befitting of the new Olympic motto: "Faster, Higher, Stronger - Together."

These are some of the best moments from Tokyo 2020.

Simone Biles’ withdrawal from competition and subsequent return to win bronze

One of the major ‘faces’ of the gymnastic competition at Tokyo 2020 - arguably the Games themselves - was that of Simone Biles; the most decorated American gymnast of all time.

However, the 24-year-old withdrew from the team final after her first vault, later explaining that she didn’t want to risk a medal for the team (the USA would go on to win a silver medal in the event).

She subsequently opted out of three of the four apparatus finals in order to focus on her mental health; her decision was widely applauded by fans and athletes (including those in Tokyo) from all over the world.

Yet in a great display of mental fortitude and courage, Biles returned to competition to take part in the balance beam final, capturing a bronze medal - her seventh career Olympic medal.

"[The bronze] means more than all the golds because I've been through so much the last five years and the last week while I've even been here; it was just... it was very emotional," she said on NBC's TODAY Show.

"And I'm just proud of myself and all of these girls as well.

“At the end of the day we’re not just entertainment. We’re humans, too. We have things going on behind the scenes… I had to take a step back and focus on myself."

Simone Biles 
Picture by 2021 Getty Images

Elaine Thompson-Herah makes Olympic history

Prior to Tokyo 2020, no woman had ever successfully defended the 100m and 200m titles.

But Elaine Thompson-Herah is no ordinary athlete.

The Jamaican sprinter (who won gold in both events at Rio 2016) claimed her second gold medal in the 100m on 31 July in a blistering time of 10.61 seconds, breaking late American icon Florence Griffith Joyner’s 33-year-old Olympic record of 10.62 that she set in Seoul 1988. The time also launched her into second place on the world all-time list behind Griffith Joyner.

Elaine Thompson-Herah
Picture by 2021 Getty Images

Three days later, Thompson-Herah set the track of the Olympic stadium ablaze once more as she stormed to the 200m title with a time of 21.53 seconds - this time just 0.19 seconds short of the legendary Joyner’s world record (and Olympic) time from Seoul.

In the process, Thompson-Herah cemented her status as the undisputed sprinting queen by becoming the first woman to win the 100-200m double gold at consecutive Olympic Games.

"It feels amazing to win two golds again. I have had a rough week. I haven't slept after the 100m final," Thompson-Herah said after completing six rounds of racing en route to the sprint double.

"I really had to pull it out to win the 200m. It's a new PB (personal best) and a national record. I am so, so happy. Oh my god, it's amazing that I have ever seen this day. That I could complete another double. I can't believe it."

Mutaz Barshim and Gianmarco Tamberi decide to share high jump gold

In a dramatic end to the Olympic high jump final, Qatar’s Mutaz Barshim and Italy’s Gianmarco Tamberi elected to share the gold medal, rather than proceed with a jump-off to determine the event winner.

Both athletes - as well as Belarusian Maksim Nedasekau - had earlier cleared 2.37m, but with the bar subsequently raised to the Olympic record of 2.39m, none of the three men was able to complete a successful jump.

So, rather than move into a proposed “jump-off”, Barshim asked an official, ‘Can we have two golds?’. The official agreed, and Tamberi leapt into the arms of Barshim in pure joy as the knowledge that he and his good friend were co-champions hit home (Nedasekau was awarded the bronze on countback).

Italy’s incredible triple track & field golds

It’s safe to say that Italy enjoyed a magnificent Olympic Games at Tokyo 2020, winning 40 medals (four more than their previous record total achieved at LA 1932 and Rome 1960) - including an outstanding three gold medals on the track at the Olympic Stadium.

The first of those three golds, as we’ve already mentioned, was Tamberi’s shared gold in the high jump. A short while later, Marcell Jacobs made history by not only becoming the first athlete representing Italy to qualify for a 100m final, but the first to win gold in the event.

One of the lasting images of these Games was the sight of Jacobs tearing through the finish line in a national and European record time of 9.80 seconds into the waiting arms of Tamberi; himself draped with the Tricolor over his shoulders.

Jacobs and Tamberi
Picture by 2021 Getty Images

But the fun - and history - for Italy wasn’t quite over.

On Friday 6 August, the men’s 4 x 100m relay team made history once again by winning Italy’s first-ever gold in the event; and what a finish it was, with Filippo Tortu putting in the sprint of his life in the anchor leg to catch Great Britain’s Nethaneel Mitchell-Blake and win gold by one-hundredth of a second.

Another great moment in what was a historic Games for the Azzurri.

Italy relay
Picture by 2021 Getty Images

Emma McKeon ties the record for most medals won by a woman at a single Olympic Games

At the 1952 Helsinki Olympic Games, Mariya Gorokhovskaya of the former Soviet Union set a record by winning seven medals in the artistic gymnastics competition (including gold in the team and all around events). Gorokhovskaya’s medal haul was the most by a female athlete at the Olympic Games in history, and still stands to this day, almost 60 years later.

The only difference today is that Gorokhovskaya no longer stands alone in the record books.

Emma McKeon had a Games to remember in Tokyo, winning gold in the 50m freestyle (setting an Olympic record in the process), 100m freestyle, 4x100m freestyle relay and 4x100m medley relay to go along with the three bronze medals she earned in the 100m butterfly, 4x200m freestyle relay and 4x100m mixed medley relay.

In the process, McKeon tied Gorokhovskaya’s record, became Australia’s most successful Olympian ever and set a new piece of history by becoming the first female swimmer to win seven medals at a single Games, joining Michael Phelps, Mark Spitz and Matt Biondi as the only swimmers with seven or more medals.

Oh, and one more thing.

McKeon’s record-equalling medal haul also earned her the prestigious title of the most decorated athlete at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.

Allyson Felix becomes the most decorated U.S. track and field athlete

Tokyo’s Olympic Stadium was the stage where countless moments of Olympic history were made at Tokyo 2020, including Allyson Felix’s coronation as the most decorated track and field in U.S. Olympic history.

Felix won her first medal as an 18-year-old at the Athens 2004 Olympics, winning silver in the 200m. 17 years later, Felix was back on the track in Japan, where she won her tenth (400m bronze) and eleventh (4 x 400m relay gold) medals to move her past the legendary Carl Lewis as the American with the most Olympic athletics medals.

Allyson Felix
Picture by 2021 Getty Images

Jessica Fox finally wins her gold medal

Canoeing legend Jessica Fox finally winning the gold medal that had eluded her for so long is emblematic of the stories of so many athletes at Tokyo 2020 who finally claimed a medal after years of struggle, strife, and coming agonizingly close to the podium. Great Britain diver Tom Daley had won bronze medals at London 2012 and Rio 2016, but at Tokyo 2020 he finally won gold alongside his partner Matty Lee in the men's 10 metre synchronized platform event. Flora Duffy won the women’s triathlon gold, earning Bermuda its first Olympic gold in 84 years of competing at the Games, while Hugues Zango’s bronze in the men’s triple jump was the first Olympic medal ever for Burkina Faso.

Jessica Fox
Picture by 2021 Getty Images

Christine Sinclair finally won her first major title as Canada claimed the gold medal in the women’s football competition. In canoeing, Teresa Portela (ESP), at her sixth Olympic Games, won her first medal: a silver in the women’s canoe sprint. And Fox, a 10-time world champion, who may have believed that a gold medal was never going to come after winning bronze again in the canoe slalom, unleashed a roar of triumph that so many athletes surely could relate to when at long last she won her Olympic gold in the inaugural women’s C-1 slalom canoeing event.

Naomi Osaka lights the Olympic cauldron

Naomi Osaka lights Tokyo 2020 Olympic cauldron
Picture by 2021 Getty Images

The lighting of the Olympic cauldron is an iconic part of any Games, and Tokyo 2020 was no exception.

Despite the Opening Ceremony being drastically altered in the months leading up to the Games due to the one-year delay of Tokyo 2020 and subsequent announcement that no spectators would be allowed inside venues, the moment tennis superstar and Japanese hero Naomi Osaka (who has won plaudits for normalizing mental health struggles) received the Olympic flame and lit the Olympic cauldron was a historic moment; one that acted as a reflection of the resiliency of the human spirit in the face of adversity.

At long last, the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 were officially underway.


Another hallmark of the modern Olympic Games, regardless of the edition or year, are the wonderful examples of sportsmanship and camaraderie that come to the fore and inspire millions around the world.

There were countless examples of these ideals over the course of Tokyo 2020, but here are four in particular that stood out:

Japanese-American surfer Kanoa Igarashi lost to Brazilian Italo Ferreira in the final of the men’s surfing competition but was gallant enough to help his opponent after losing out on the gold medal. Ferreira is currently learning English, but Igarashi has a good command of Portuguese, so kindly stepped up and translated a press conference question, to the joy of the Brazilian.

In the middle of the men’s 800-meter semi-finals, Botswana’s Nijel Amos and the USA’s Isaiah Jewett got tangled up and fell to the ground, eliminating them from contention. But rather than become angry with one another, the athletes helped each other up, embraced, and walked to the finish line together.

Picture by 2021 Getty Images

When Lotte Miller (NOR) crossed the finish line of the women’s triathlon in 24th place, she sat down to recover, as you might expect. But when she saw Belgian athlete Claire Michel, who was in last place, trying to finish the race with what turned out to be a calf spasm, her “heart sank”, she told USA TODAY. Michel finished in last place, some 15 minutes behind winner Flora Duffy of Bermuda - but she had finished. Fifty-four athletes started the race but 20 were either lapped or dropped out. When the Belgian did cross the line and broke down in devastation, Miller went straight to console her. "This was a fight, just to get to the Olympics, and she's fought so hard the last couple of years, and we've all noticed it. Everyone that's around her and that you know has been a part of the sport, knows what she's been through," Miller said. "And also the fact that the Olympic spirit is all about, you know, perseverance through the tough times. And also the fact that she does care so much about others. “You’re a (expletive) fighter,” Miller told Michel. “This is Olympic spirit, and you’ve got it 100%.”

When South African swimmer Tatjana Schoenmaker won gold in the women’s 200m breaststroke - breaking a world record in the process, no less - she couldn’t quite believe it. But soon enough fellow swimmers and competitors Kaylene Corbett (RSA), Lilly King and Annie Lazor (Team USA’s silver and bronze medal winners respectively) swam over to her and congratulated her, with all four women sharing an embrace in the water.

Picture by 2021 Getty Images


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