Things you may have missed at the Olympics: Athlete parties, protest, redemption — and doping scandal

·8 min read

After a yearlong delay and speculation that they'd be postponed again or canceled, the Tokyo Summer Olympics are in the books.

As usual, there were too many storylines to follow from in-Games achievement and redemption to outside-of-Games controversy and heartbreak. While some of those stories stayed at the top of sports and news headlines, others may have slipped under your radar.

Here's look back at five of Tokyo's most compelling stories that you may have missed — or at least are worth a second look.

MyKayla Skinner makes most of second chance

While Simone Biles' withdrawal from gymnastics events was one of Tokyo's dominant stories, it paved the way for a teammate to overcome Olympic heartbreak — and earn a medal in the process.

A three-time team world champion and Olympic alternate in Rio, MyKayla Skinner arrived in Japan as an Olympic competitor for the first time. She was ready to fly home after failing to qualify for the vault final.

Skinner, 24, was a member of the team primarily as a vault specialist. She didn't compete with the all-around team that won a silver medal. Her vault score in qualifying was the fourth best in the world. But since it was the third best on her team (behind Biles and Jade Carey), she didn't advance thanks to a controversial rule that limits countries to two competitors in any event final.

"Heartbroken is an understatement," Skinner wrote on Instagram of her apparent end to her Olympic career.

But when Biles withdrew, Skinner got her first — and last —shot at an Olympic medal after competing for USA Gymnastics since 2012. She made the most of it, scoring a combined 14.916 in the final to earn a silver medal.

After winning, she dedicated the medal to Biles.

"I dedicate this medal to Simone," Skinner said. "I wouldn't be here today if it wasn't for her. I told her I would be doing this one for her. She said, 'Don't do it for me, do it for yourself.' So technically it's for all of us."

After thinking her Olympic career was over, MyKayla Skinner earned gymnastics silver. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)
After thinking her Olympic career was over, MyKayla Skinner earned gymnastics silver. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)

Athlete protests in face of attempted IOC crackdown

As has been the case throughout Olympics history, athletes used the stage of the Games to protest and raise awareness of social issues. They did so in the face of the contentious IOC Rule 50 that explicitly forbids the "demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda."

American athletes challenged the rule on multiple occasions, most notably silver medalist shot putter Raven Saunders. During her medal ceremony, Saunders raised her arms over her head in the form of an X to represent "the intersection of where all people who are oppressed meet."

USA women's shot putter Raven Saunders had the most high-profile protest of the Tokyo Olympics. (Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)
USA women's shot putter Raven Saunders had the most high-profile protest of the Tokyo Olympics. (Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)

Three days later U.S. fencer Race Imboden showed up to receive his bronze medal with an X drawn on the back of his right hand in a show of solidarity with Saunders, who was not punished for her protest.

"The X is a symbol of solidarity," Imboden later tweeted. "Some of the athletes communicated and decided upon this symbol to show solidarity for each other and support the oppressed. For me I personally wore the symbol as a demonstration against rule 50."

He also wrote that he was taking a stand against gun violence.

Three of Imboden's U.S. fencing teammates also made a stand on the Olympic stage, wearing pink face masks to a competition in apparent protest of teammate Alen Hadzic, who was allowed to join the team in Tokyo amid multiple accusations of sexual misconduct.

Did COVID-19 delay pave way for Games' best performance?

While the COVID pandemic wreaked havoc on the Games, the delay from 2020 allowed for arguably the most impressive performance of the Olympics.

Fourteen-year-old Chinese diver Quan Hongchan carried on her country's dominance of the sport by winning gold on the 10-meter platform. That she won gold at such a young age isn't the most impressive part of her performance. It's how she won.

Hongchan scored not one, but two dives that earned perfect 10s from all seven judges in the 10-meter platform final. A third dive — her final — fell one judge's assessment short of perfect. While six judges awarded her 10s, one found a minor flaw to warrant a 9.5. No matter. The top and bottom two scores are thrown out in Olympic diving, meaning she earned the maximum score on three of her five dives in the finals.

It all added up to an Olympic record score of 466.20 points, shattering the previous record of 447.70. She easily bested Chinese silver medalist Chen Yuxi (425.40) and Australia's Melissa Wu, who secured bronze with a score 371.40, nearly 100 points back. She did this as the youngest diver in the field and the youngest member of China's athlete delegation.

If the Olympics were held last summer, she wouldn't have been allowed to compete. Olympic divers are required to be at least 14 years old during the year of the Games.

Quan Hongchan scored two perfect 10s while shattering an Olympic record. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)
Quan Hongchan scored two perfect 10s while shattering an Olympic record. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)

Hard-partying Aussies

Celebration around the Tokyo Games was subdued for obvious reasons. But that didn't stop Australian athletes from getting down. Australian media reported that the country's men's rugby and rowing teams left their rooms in Tokyo's Olympic Village in “a messy and unacceptable state." That assessment arrived courtesy of the Australian Olympic Committee.

Per reports, Australian athletes left behind a destroyed cardboard bed, a hole in the wall and some vomit that resulted from apparent hard partying. Life-sized emu and kangaroo mascots also went missing from the Australian residence, later to be found among Team Germany's mascots.

In case you were wondering, alcohol was permitted in the Olympic Village — but only within the confines of team residences.

Australia's men's rugby team didn't medal. But it left its mark on Tokyo. (Reuters/Siphiwe Sibeko)
Australia's men's rugby team didn't medal. But it left its mark on Tokyo. (Reuters/Siphiwe Sibeko)

The Aussie rugby team wasn't satisfied with its onsite celebration. Two days after the reports of the Olympic Village debauchery, Rugby Australia reprimanded players for their antics on their flight home, which included "drinking excessive amounts of alcohol," per Inside the Games. The result of said alcohol included drunkenly chanting and singing, crew disruption and more vomit — in their seats and in the toilets. One toilet was rendered inoperable, per the report.

Russia's lingering doping scandal loomed large

The doping scandal that's engulfed Russia since a 2016 report exposed a widespread state-sponsored doping scheme was on full display in Tokyo.

In case you missed it, "Russia" didn't compete in the Summer Games. A delegation of around 330 Russian athletes did. They just competed under the banner of the “Russian Olympic Committee," aka "ROC," a designation Yahoo Sports' Dan Wetzel deemed a mockery of the nation's IOC-imposed Olympics ban.

The workaround didn't satisfy some of Russia's opponents on the playing field, most notably U.S. swimmers Ryan Murphy and Lilly King. Murphy didn't explicitly accuse Russian athletes in Tokyo of doping. He simply stated "I do believe there is doping in swimming” after his second loss to Russia's Evgeny Rylov in four days.

"I’ve got about 15 thoughts," Murphy answered when asked if he was concerned about doping playing a role in the pool in Tokyo. He left it at that.

Russian athletes competed under the banner of the
Russian athletes competed under the banner of the "Russian Olympic Committee." (Mike Egerton/PA Images via Getty Images)

After Murphy's comments caused an uproar, King backed her American teammate.

“There were, I'm sure, a lot of people from certain countries competing this week that probably shouldn't have been here," King told reporters a day later.

King also declined to explicitly name Russia in her speculation. But the implication was clear when she was asked if doping directly impacted her Olympic competition.

“I wasn't racing anyone from a country who should've been banned and instead got a slap on the wrist and a rebranding of their national flag,” King said. “So, I personally wasn't as affected.

“But Ryan was," she continued as she turned to face Murphy. "And if you want to comment on that or not, I don't care. But, I know, I feel like that has tainted your experience, and for that, I'm so sorry.”

The Russian Olympic Committee finished third in the overall medal count with 71 and fifth with 20 gold medals.

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