A huge wrench for many athletes competing in the Tokyo Olympics is that, because of Covid restrictions, they are unable to have their friends and family cheering them on from the stands.
Fortunately, in a connected social media world, they are able to see how much they are being supported from afar. A video of friends and family of Team GB’s Tom Dean cheering on him – some wearing “Team Tom” T-shirts – in the early hours of Monday morning in the UK has received more than one million views on social media. He was on his way to gold as, alongside Duncan Scott, Team GB claimed a historic one-two in the 200m freestyle.
Dean’s mother, Jacquie Hughes, told the BBC, “We didn’t invite anybody around until after the semis. Yesterday morning we just decided, because we couldn’t be there, how nice would it be for Tom to know that some of his family and his friends were watching him.
“We invited some members of the [Maidenhead swimming] club, some of the neighbours and before we knew it there were 70 people in the garden watching on a big screen. I think we swam every metre with him, but on land.”
Similar scenes were filmed in Tunisia on Sunday. More than 2.5 million people have watched a clip as Ahmed Hafnaoui’s family, gathered around a television, erupt into screams of joy as the teenager shocked the world to take gold in the men’s 400m freestyle.
The US broadcaster NBC also aired footage of 17-year-old Lydia Jacoby’s friends and family cheering her on in a large party in Seward, Alaska. Jacoby, the first swimmer from the state to represent the US at the Olympics, went on to win gold in the 100m breaststroke.
With all nations affected by the restrictions – including to an extent the Japanese hosts – the phenomenon is being seen around the world. Video from India showed Saikhom Mirabai Chanu’s family as she took a silver medal in the women’s 49kg weightlifting competition. About 30 facemasked people are seen indoors clapping and cheering.
Great Britain’s Evie Richards was less fortunate in her result than Tom Dean – she finished seventh in the women’s mountain bike event on Tuesday morning – but friends and family had gathered in her home town on Malvern to cheer on her efforts. In scenes reminiscent of The Great British Bake Off, a tent bedecked with union flag bunting hosted scores of people gathered around watching the race on the big screen.
It may be some consolation for athletes to see their families watching and celebrating at home, but some competitors, it is no substitute for the real thing. Jade Jones, a taekwondo champion in London in 2012 and Rio in 2016 cited the lack of family at her side for a disappointing performance in these Olympics.
After losing her opening bout to the refugee team’s Kimia Alizadeh she said: “Normally if I feel the pressure I’ll go out and hear [my family] screaming and see their little faces and it’ll push me into that attack mode. That’s what was missing today. I just stayed in the scared mode.”