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TOKYO — The 2020 Summer Olympics will always be remembered for the pandemic that first delayed them and then contained them. This was a walled off Games, bubbled up and closed out.
No fans in the stands. No tourists in the streets. You can walk through the center of Tokyo and not even know the Olympics are happening — no signage, no crowds, no excitement. It’s like a television show that is getting filmed somewhere near here.
The way things are going, the 2022 Winter Games, set for Beijing, China, in February, aren’t likely to be much different.
As such, there is no better time to look ahead to the inventive ideas and open concepts that will inspire the next big — and hopefully the first post-COVID — Olympics, Paris 2024.
Organizers say their goal is to make the Olympics as accessible to the public as possible, to unite the city and its people to the athletes and events in ways never before considered.
The biggest proposed change is to ditch the traditional concept of the Opening Ceremony. Rather than hold an elaborate, made-for-TV show inside the Stade de France, the French want to take the show on the road … or river.
The plan is to have the athlete delegations ride boats down the River Seine, which runs through the center of the city, including past landmarks such as the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame Cathedral, the Louvre and so much more.
It’s estimated 300,000 or more fans could line the river to greet and cheer them.
“Delegations arrive in Paris by boat and cross this iconic city,” Tony Estanguet, the president of Paris 2024 said. “Hundreds of thousands of fans welcoming them. That would be amazing.”
Different elements of the ceremony could occur in different parts of the city.
“A very open ceremony in the heart of the city,” said Paris mayor Anne Hildago.
After all, if you have Paris as a backdrop then you should use Paris as your backdrop.
“It is our main asset,” Estanguet said.
The concept is still being studied. A final determination isn’t expected for months, but the will to pull it off is there. Everything is being reconsidered by the French. And everything is about trying to include the public in the Olympics.
“I think the Games should be open to everyone,” said Estanguet, who won gold in canoeing at three different Olympics (Sydney 2000, Athens 2004, London 2012).
“This is the innovation to open the doors of the Games,” Estanguet continued. “We believe the Opening Ceremony is the biggest symbol of the game. This is the right moment to reconsider the welcoming of the athletes.”
Or reconsider the marathon, one of the Olympics' ancient ties.
In Paris, the goal is to stage the event for the Olympic athletes in the morning, and then as soon as possible that same day, hold a public marathon for qualified amateur runners who can then traverse the exact same course and cross the exact same finish line.
There also could be shorter distances — a half marathon, a 10K, a 5K — for runners of different levels as a way to promote an active lifestyle for all.
A similar deal is expected to be set up for some of the cycling courses.
Really, everything is on the table. Could the beach volleyball — expected to be in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower — get turned over to the public immediately? Is there a way to bring the public onto the 3x3 basketball courts? Can skateboarding happen in a place where kids currently skateboard?
Whatever they can think up will be considered.
“We need to have the balance of the traditions of the Olympics with creativity and innovation,” Estanguet said.
By 2024, with — again hopefully — the ability to invite the entire world to come play in Paris together, these might be the Games that change everything about the Olympics.
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