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The Sports Report Olympics Edition: A Games to remember

Tokyo, Japan, Sunday, August 8, 2021 - Athletes fill the field at the Tokyo 2020.
Athletes fill the field at the Tokyo Olympics closing ceremony at Olympic Stadium.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Hi, this is Ben Bolch, signing off with one of my favorite memories of the Tokyo Olympics. It might sound sort of odd, but it was getting in a taxi.

Before we review my final thoughts on the games, here’s the latest from Tokyo:

Final Olympic medal count

U.S. Olympic athlete tracker

Latest Olympics news and results

Sunday TV schedule

Back home, getting in a cab, particularly at Los Angeles International Airport, meant entering what felt like a soulless existence. Cabbies usually possessed a put-upon aura, as if they would rather have been put out of their misery than be forced to shuttle another passenger somewhere.

Here, it’s different. The cabbies always greet you with a smile and a nod, even if they may not be able to understand a thing you’re saying. And they all speak enough English to get you where you’re going, confirming the address of the destination, and asking politely if they may use the highway.

The taxis in Tokyo are fast and efficient, at least in comparison to taking a media bus or shuttle.
(Philip Fong / AFP via Getty Images)
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“Whatever’s fastest,” I usually responded, eliciting another smile and a nod.

Some of the cabs here feature wide leather seats that almost fully recline, making one feel like they’re on an international first-class flight. The only thing missing is the champagne before departure.

For one of my final taxi rides, I was treated to an unexpected delight. The driver, Yoko, spoke fluent English. She said she had grown up in Virginia and Connecticut before moving to Japan with her parents when she was in middle school.

She said her fluency in the language helped in her college studies involving American literature. I resisted the urge to cringe, pondering all those wasted hours.

Yoko cheerfully accepted one of my final remaining taxi vouchers that had been distributed to journalists here, sending me out into the rain with a pleasant goodbye.

On Monday, I’ll head to Narita International Airport for the flight back to Los Angeles, but not before one final experience that I anticipate thoroughly enjoying.

Getting in another cab.

———

I say this sort of sadly, but for a final time, good morning from Japan, where we’re packing up our Olympic coverage like all the weird souvenirs I’ve tried to grab over these past few weeks. Here’s a fun note — when I bought a t-shirt here in Japan, I’m two sizes larger than I am in America. So that made me feel good.

Anyways, it’s Dan Woike signing off with a final thought about my first Games.

As we get ready to leave, I’m mostly sad about the Olympics that could’ve been.

The U.S. women's basketball team celebrates after winning gold at the Tokyo Olympics on Sunday.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

I’ve marveled at how helpful all the volunteers have been, even bonding with a few at the basketball arena. There’s been such a sense of community within the Olympics, even if there were serious concerns from the outside.

One of my favorite things happened Sunday morning as I got to see the familiar blue shirts worn by volunteers throughout these past few weeks start to fill one section of the massive arena that’s housed every game of the men’s and women’s basketball tournament.

It gave the final between Japan and the American women some atmosphere, the Japanese volunteers clapping in rhythm on defense and celebrating every made shot with a burst of applause. The way they celebrated their women’s basketball team’s first ever medal was just a glimpse of what it could’ve been like here as the Japanese performed so well. I’ll admit that I was a little emotional during the final medal ceremony I saw (at women’s basketball). It wasn’t because I’m American and the Americans won. It was because I got to see people who were truly connected with the athletes celebrate an achievement.

I had a great time. I loved walking around the city, getting lost in the train stations, guessing at food menus, crushing ice-cold Japanese beers. I was proud of the work we did as a staff. And I cherished the interactions I had with people here.

It just bums me out that I know, had it not been for the circumstances, these Olympics in this city could’ve been so much more.

———

Hi, this is Gary Klein with a final post from the Tokyo Games. I was told by many veteran Olympics reporters that covering this event would be like nothing I had ever done before.

They were right.

It was nonstop, 18-20-hour days, especially when track and field began. And, frankly, I couldn’t get enough.

One of my favorite moments occurred unexpectedly after the competition ended at Olympic Stadium.

It was 3 a.m. I was in a transportation depot parking lot waiting for a bus in a driving but warm rainstorm.

There was nowhere to take cover, but the only other reporter waiting offered me a spot to huddle under his umbrella.

Gold medalist Neeraj Chopra of India celebrates after winning the men's javelin throw on Saturday.
(Martin Meissner / Associated Press)

He was from India. And he was excited. A few hours before, Neeraj Chopra of India won a gold medal in the javelin throw. It was only India’s second individual gold medal in Olympic history, it’s first in track and field.

And he got to tell the story.

Standing there, soaking wet, I listened as he recounted how he had covered five Olympics.

I thought about how fortunate I have been. In my first Olympics, I had great stories to report and tell every night. So many, I could only get to a fraction of the ones collected.

And now I had another.

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Women’s basketball

U.S. women's basketball stars Diana Taurasi and Sue Bird show off their Olympic gold medals.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Dan Woike on U.S. women’s basketball: Fifty-five.

It started with a bounce back, a recovery from a loss to leave Barcelona with a bronze.

That one win turned into a streak in Atlanta, with Dawn Staley becoming the heartbeat of a team of legends as its point guard.

By the end of those games, it was nine in a row, American players reclaiming gold.

In Australia, they won eight more, the winning streak building as quickly as their sport’s emerging footprint in America. In Athens, with new blood such as Diana Taurasi and Sue Bird on the roster, they won eight more.

Over the next 17 years, they stacked wins and gold medals, building an unstoppable dynasty at the Olympics, the safest bet there was. The two-game winning streak Staley built in 1996?

Women’s volleyball

The U.S. women's volleyball team celebrates after defeating Brazil for the gold medal Sunday.
(Gary Ambrose / For the Times)

Ben Bolch on the U.S. women’s volleyball team: There was a big hullabaloo in Hooper, Neb., several years ago when the Nebraska Department of Roads, citing the lack of a permit, removed the banner on Highway 275 honoring Jordan Larson as an Olympian.

After their hometown hero helped the U.S. women’s volleyball team make history Sunday, the locals will just have to do it right this time.

Get the permit and update the banner: It’s Jordan Larson, Olympic champion.

The Americans are bringing home gold in the sport for the first time after routing previously unbeaten Brazil, 25-21, 25-20, 25-14, completing an unlikely journey that involved a spiritual guru and garage workouts while corresponding via Zoom.

The victory also gave UCLA legend Karch Kiraly what amounts to volleyball’s triple crown, adding a gold as coach to go with the ones he won with the men’s indoor team and on the beach.

Battle vs. COVID-19

A couple take a photo of large topiary of Miraitowa, left, the official mascot.
A couple take a photo at Symbol Promenade Park in July. The specter of the pandemic hung over each moment of the Tokyo Summer Olympics.
(Kin Cheung / Associated Press)

Nathan Fenno on how the Olympics fared against a pandemic: A few dozen people gathered along the walkway at Symbol Promenade Park on a recent night to munch on bento box meals and strain for a glimpse as climbers scaled the enormous wall under the lights at Aomi Urban Sports Park.

The distant voice of the public address announcer floated through the muggy air and mixed with pleas by the police officers and security guards over loudspeakers for the spectators in front of them to move along.

“Please don’t stop around here,” signs posted every few feet said in English and Japanese said. They were interspersed with posters warning to “Keep physical distance” to protect against COVID-19.

The specter of the pandemic hung over each moment of the Summer Olympics, much like the 65-foot tall Gundam robot that towered over an entrance to a popular shopping mall behind the small crowd.

Until next time...

That concludes today’s newsletter. If you have any feedback, ideas for improvement or things you’d like to see, email us at sports@latimes.com. To get this newsletter in your inbox, click here.


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