It’s hard to believe my Tokyo Olympics experience has drawn to a close. I’ve loved the Olympics ever since avidly watching the Sydney Games aged 10, and since becoming a journalist, I have always dreamed of reporting at an Olympics myself.
Getting the call up to report at Tokyo 2020 was an incredible moment for me. Just as getting to a Games is the pinnacle of an athlete’s career, so too for sports journalists, photographers and all those people who come together to make the Olympic magic happen.
When information started to filter through about the 2021 Tokyo Games: the Covid restrictions that would be strictly enforced upon the media, the lack of spectators, the hotel quarantine, I worried that after all this effort to get there, the experience would be nothing like I imagined and hoped for.
We arrived not knowing what to expect, and I couldn’t decide whether it was tougher on my colleagues Pippa Roome and Peter Nixon, both of whom had been to the Rio Olympics in 2016 and would know exactly what we were missing in Tokyo, or for me, here at my first, possibly only, and very long awaited Olympics.
I knew the sport would be excellent – I have reported at enough other championships to know that while spectators, hugs and mask-free faces are wonderful, it’s the fabulous riders, horses and other characters in our sport that make it so thrilling, and I knew Tokyo would be no different. I suppose my biggest fear was that the Olympics would end up just feeling like another championship.
But I was wrong. Yes, the experience was “Olympics Lite” in some ways, especially in the first 14 days where our movement was severely restricted, but there were a great many instances that reminded me that this was not a Europeans or a World Equestrian Games, that here equestrian sport is a part of something far, far bigger, and kept me filled with Olympic fever.
One example of this was the presence of mainstream media in the equestrian mixed zone, in addition to the familiar faces I’m used to seeing while reporting at major events. On the night Charlotte Dujardin won her individual bronze, becoming at that stage the most decorated British female Olympian of all time, a flurry of journalists descended, many having rushed across the city from other venues. I found myself sharing my dressage knowledge with journos from The Sun, The Independent and Reuters, while also loving the fascinating snippets I caught from their Tokyo Olympics experiences with other medal winners.
Some mainstream journalists settled in for the long haul with us, and it was great getting to know some of them in the mixed zone over the weeks, hearing stories from their varied careers, and having the chance to view our sport through their eyes.
Catching sight of the Olympic rings as we journeyed across the city was also very special, and Peter’s lovely photos of us – the Three Ps as we were known – with the Equestrian Park’s rings are pictures and memories I will treasure forever.
Then there were our trips to the Main Press Centre, where we headed to the Team GB hub for goodies and chat, and spying our riders’ names up on their growing “wall of honour” list of British medallists.
I loved being part of the buzz of those big medal evenings, seeing the news pop-ups on my phone as other Team GB medals came in, while we waited with baited breath for ours – and then seeing the equestrian medals celebrated on the national media platforms too.
I loved the number of messages I had throughout the Games from totally non-horsey friends and family, letting me know they were tuning in to the equestrian disciplines at home, and getting into the Olympic spirit of watching sports you wouldn’t normally – and even spotting me on TV!
Then there was the guard of honour we were met with at Tokyo’s Haneda airport as we arrived to fly home, with rows of Japanese volunteers cheering and waving goodbye to Games personnel, not to mention the many Team GB athletes on our flight. I sat next to a member of our men’s 4x100m relay team and we had a great time swapping stories and experiences from Tokyo.
It’s been a fantastic three weeks – there have been ups and downs of course, but throughout everything I have felt an overwhelming sense of pride and privilege to be there, to be experiencing first-hand an event that will truly go down in history.
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