The Tokyo Olympics have proven themselves a worthy distraction this year and the Siren family has been brimming with talk of their favourite Olympic moments.
Australia brought home medals in 46 different events—ten of the 17 Gold alone were won by women. We decided to go around and collect some personal favourites. It was especially hard to narrow down as we could have gone on for pages, but here are a few of the moments that glued themselves into our brains.
Aussie women dominated on the podium these Olympics, but I just couldn’t look past Sinead Diver, who didn’t quite make the podium but represents all that the games are about.
At the age of 44, she’s the second Australian woman to finish in the top 10 in an Olympic marathon, after Lisa Ondieki in Los Angeles in 1984.
But here’s the clincher, she only took up running at 33, and she’s a Mum!
She finished in two hours 31 minutes and 14 seconds and cried in her post-race interview saying she misses her two children and husband. Everyone has a beautiful story in their own right, but this one just stuck with me. Sinead shows the power of the female body, determination in trying something new—and excelling at it—and being a stoic, hardworking parent and athlete in her own right.
How proud her family were and the pride she had in herself was so uplifting.
I was 31 in 2018 when I played my first game of Aussie rules. You might call me a late bloomer. This fact will probably make what I’m about to say next pretty unsurprising. But amongst hundreds of favourites, one that makes my heart sing is 48-year-old Australian woman Jian Fang Lay.
Tokyo was Lay’s sixth (yes, you read that correctly) Olympics. It’s an incredible record and, given the profile and critical underfunding of table tennis in Australia, one testament to her dedication. Lay’s story caught the attention of media covering the games and she quickly became a cult figure. Deservedly so. And while she may not have medalled in Tokyo her story did something pretty special.
Sport—especially at the elite level—is often considered the preserve of the young. It can make picking up a racket or some running shoes (or footy boots) intimidating—it absolutely was for 31-year-old me. That’s why stories about people who perhaps don’t quite fit the traditional template of the ‘athlete’ are important because they illustrate that sport can and should be for everyone, no matter your age or ability or gender. And that matters. Here’s to Jian Fang Lay, may she make it to Paris in 2024!
Sifan Hassan became the first person to ever medal across the 1,500m, 5,000m and 10,000m events in a single Olympics. In a gruelling games set in Tokyo’s summer heat, Hassan amassed 61 laps of the track across six races in just eight days. However, two moments of her Games stood out to me.
In her heat to qualify for the 1,500m final, she tangled legs with her Ethiopian opponent, Edinah Jebitok, and Hassan hit the ground. Determined, she leapt back to her feet to not only finish the race but to win it.
While in the 10,000m final, Hassan turned heads with her 13.6 second final 100m to take gold.
This Olympics was an unusual one, for so many reasons that many others have already spoken about. On top of all that strangeness, this is the first (and I hope, only!) time I will be in the middle of writing a thesis during a major sporting event — I don’t recommend it.
I set some rules: I allowed myself to watch all the Matildas matches, nothing but death can keep me from them. I could watch medal events (women only, of course, have you met me?) but only if they were quick. Sadly, that meant I missed out on a lot of it. To compensate, I would catch up on Twitter once a day, usually sometime in the evening.
One thing really stood out to me: these Olympics were very, VERY queer.
My people were out in force. Over 180 out LGBTQ athletes represented at these games, that’s more out athletes than all previous Olympics combined. In Australia, the acronym for our community is LGBTIQ and sadly, I can’t celebrate too hard because many members of our Intersex family are denied the right to compete. So this celebration is tempered with the reminder that we still have a lot of work to do to make sport accessible and fair for all.
This Olympics, like most Olympics, it’s the lesbians who have my heart (and that includes Stacey). And especially the rugby chicks because rugby chicks are the best and part of the reason I got into this whole women’s sports scene is because of a rugby chick.
I can’t decide on one moment, so I’ve picked two.
Shani Williams on why she wore the rainbow headgear, “It gives some little kid out there struggling with visibility and who they are that courage to come out and accept themselves.”
And of course, everything about this post-match interview from Ruby Tui:
When US champion gymnast Simone Biles withdrew from multiple events due to her mental health, she not only added to an important, ongoing dialogue around mental health in sport — she created her own dialogue in using her voice and agency to say ‘no.’
We demand a lot of our athletes, success, perfection, representation, but we rarely consider what that all means in sports beyond gold medals, world records and victory laps. Biles has already achieved well beyond the expectations of many sports fans as a world-class gymnast, so much so that she was given an official Tokyo GOAT Twitter emoji, something she also unashamedly incorporates into her leotard designs. She knows she’s the best. But she knows when she’s not at her best.
By acknowledging when she felt weak, she showed incredible strength. She redefined what success means in sport when she made the brave call to remove herself from a risky and potentially harmful situation, both physically and emotionally. Winning at all costs doesn’t make the costs ok.
Biles withdrew from competing in some events, yes, but she did not withdraw from being there for her teammates while they kept going, from celebrating the success of other athletes, from having open conversations about her mindset and self-worth with her fans on social media, and from driving conversations around mental health.
Her Bronze medal victory on the balance beam on her return to competition when she felt ready, was a resounding victory for everyone who felt seen, heard, and supported by Biles taking a stand for herself and her health.
Now when we scroll through the Twittersphere looking up the #SimoneBiles hashtag and see the GOAT emoji that was pre-emptively designed to sit alongside tweets celebrating gold, we will now see it alongside support for her using her strength to stop. We’ll see it with messages of thanks for using her platform for an important conversation, shares of what it means to be a good teammate and celebration of a woman who showed the world that there is no one way to succeed in sport. GOAT.
Skateboarding debuted for the first time during the 2020 Tokyo Olympic games, I was determined to see how this edgy fringe sport was going to be translated onto the Olympic stage. The women’s skating took place after the men’s events, and there was one obvious difference—the age range.
The oldest person to medal was Sakura Yosozumi, and she was only 19. She won the gold for Japan in Park Skateboarding. The silver? 12-year-old Kokona Hiraki (also Japan). And bronze?
13-year-old Sky Brown (Great Britain).
The street skateboarding medals were just as astounding: gold went to Japan’s Momiji Nishiya (13), silver to Brazil’s Rayssa Leal (also 13), and Japan continued their skateboarding medal domination with 16-year-old Funa Nakayama taking bronze.
The pinnacle? Momiji Nishiya and Rayssa Leal shared a glorious moment of congratulatory excitement as they both became 13-year-old medallists.
Although incorporating children into the world of competitive sport is an ethically grey area, I sat on the couch feeling weirdly emotional over these punky little athletes redefining what it is to act like a little girl for the next generation.
Prior to the Tokyo 2020 Olympics Canoe Slalom is not a sport I had ever heard of. However, in the short time the Olympics was on, Jess Fox’s story captured me.
Following in the footsteps of her Olympian parents, Richard Fox and Myriam Fox-Jerusalmi, Jess Fox has surpassed her parents to become the best canoeist in the world. However the ability of any woman to showcase their skills at an international level only commenced in 2010, with the debut of the Women’s World Championship for C1 (Canoe) and K1 (Kayak) — as well as the Juniors World Championship for C1 – with Jess winning the C1 and K1 at the Juniors.
At the Olympic level, gender inequality prevailed from 1992-2016, with only one women’s event (K1) compared to three men’s. Jess won medals at both the London 2012 and Rio 2016 Olympics.
In an 11 year battle for gender equality, Jess has been a part of the group which lobbied for equal competition for men and women canoeists. Tokyo 2020 delivered equality with C1 women’s replacing the men’s C2.
Jess won gold in the debut of the Women’s C1 competition. Crossing the finish line and stepping onto the podium, Jess’ raw emotion just captured me. You could see it was more than gold. It was a win for women. It was a win for equality.
“I can’t believe it, I’m so proud to be here today. I’m so proud of all the women who have raced here and been part of this moment. And grateful to all the women, all the coaches, all the people who lobbied for gender equality in our sport and have us here,” Fox said.