As Cuban wrestler Mijaín López made history with a record fourth straight Olympic gold medal in the Greco-Roman super heavyweight final on Monday, he tapped his chest and said “No.1” to the waiting media in the mixed zone.
Minutes later, López, arguably one of the greatest wrestlers of all time, gave his competition singlet to the IOC Culture & Heritage collections. That triumphant singlet joins dozens of other iconic and emblematic items that will make their way to Lausanne, Switzerland, at the end of the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 to become part of Olympic heritage for posterity.
“By documenting the Games, we preserve Olympic history for generations to come,” said Angelita Teo, Director of the Olympic Foundation for Culture and Heritage (OFCH). “The emphasis on the Olympic values of excellence, friendship and respect is key.
“The Olympics are unique because they bring people together,” she added. “It is important to document this history so that future generations understand why the Olympic Movement makes such a great contribution to the world.”
A large part of this preserved history comes in the form of competition apparel and equipment given by Olympic athletes, not all of them medallists.
“While we do focus on the medallists, we also look for inspiring athletes and objects that tell a story,” said Yasmin Meichtry, Associate Director of the OFCH, who is spearheading the team that collects the heritage items. “We are always keen to have first milestones and anything that shows the evolution of sport, society and the entire context of the Games. Through these items, we try to document history.”
One of these firsts in Tokyo came in the form of Tunisian swimmer Ahmed Hafnaoui, who won the men's 400-metre freestyle. The teenager’s gold was Tunisia's first gold medal at Tokyo 2020, and also the first African gold medal at this Games edition.
“It’s an honour to donate my suit to The Olympic Museum,” said the 18-year-old as he gladly handed over his gear at the Aquatics Centre. “I’m so grateful for that privilege. I’m proud and so happy that it will be a part of Olympic history.”
Other notable items that will always represent Tokyo 2020 in the IOC Heritage collection include the broken arrow from the first-ever mixed team archery event held at the Olympic Games. During the finals, an arrow from the Republic of Korea’s gold medal-winning duo of An San and Kim Je-deok hit the target exactly where the previous arrow was.
“It is a one-in-a-million occurrence and a great testimony of the Olympic archery tournament,” said Chris Wells, Head of Communication at World Archery.
Other special acquisitions at this stage, include cauldron-lighter Naomi Osaka’s tennis gear; a Japanese national softball jersey signed by the whole of the winning team; rowing suits and a sweep oar from Croatian brothers Martin and Valent Sinković, who dominated the men’s pair event – the first men ever to win Olympic gold in both double sculls and sweep pairs; and the relay baton from the inaugural Olympic mixed 4x400m relay, won by the Polish quartet of Karol Zalewski, Natalia Kaczmarek, Justyna Święty-Ersetic and Kajetan Duszyński.
The process of acquisition requires detailed planning, communication with multiple stakeholders and timely reactivity.
“We’re not running after the athletes to get something off them,” explained Meichtry. “It is really a serious process to enrich our heritage and to make sure we can tell the story of these unique Games for future generations. We involve multiple partners such as the National Olympic Committees, the International Federations and, of course, the Local Organising Committees. This kind of collaboration was started methodically at Rio 2016, and it is now really bearing fruit.”
One of the prime objectives at Tokyo 2020 has been to document the new Olympic sports of surfing, skateboarding, sport climbing, BMX freestyle and 3x3 basketball.
“It is important that we keep a special focus on the new events as they debut, to make sure we start solid collections on these sports,” added Meichtry. “Therefore, we have not only gathered the equipment and kits but also conducted dozens of interviews with athletes, judges, coaches and federation officials.
“This oral history is an important part of the patrimony, as the interviews provide the stories behind the objects. Over the past few editions, we have already conducted more than 500 of these interviews, as part of our Words of Olympians programme,” she continued. “We also speak to those behind the creative process of the Games – the designers and artists who create the look and cultural imprint of the Games.”
The new sports will be showcased in an entirely original touring exhibition that will be first showcased at the Olympic Museum in Lausanne and then possibly travel to various locations around the world, starting next year.. A comprehensive collection of skateboards from Tokyo 2020, including those of all the medallists from the street competition, might well form part of this exhibition, as will a surfboard acquired with the support of the Olympic-debutant International Surfing Association.
As the countdown to the Closing Ceremony begins in Tokyo, is there anything specific the Heritage team have their eyes on?
“We would love to have something from Megan Rapinoe from the Unites States football team, as she is such an inspirational icon,” concluded Meichtry. “And absolutely anything knitted in Tokyo by [Olympic gold medallist] Tom Daley!”
Hopefully, Rapinoe and Daley hear of this.