The 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games were delayed a year due to the global Covid pandemic, finally taking place during July and August of 2021. IMI alumnus Gregory Yeo was one of the many volunteers who ensured the Games could take place (despite many Covid restrictions still being in place). Here, he tells us about his experience at this unique sporting and global event...
Hi Gregory - many thanks for agreeing to share your Olympic experience with us! How did you first become involved with the Tokyo 2020 Olympics?
I expressed my interest to be involved with the Olympics with some of my networking contacts within Japan and eventually an opportunity arose. Based on my past experience studying, living and working in Switzerland and with some working knowledge of French, I was lucky enough to be assigned to the Swiss Olympic delegation.
What was your role during the Games?
My primary role was media liaison for the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation (SRG SSG), in particular the French-speaking team from Radio Télévision Suisse (RTS). Duties include the coordination of press activities, interviews with Swiss athletes, as well as assisting the crew with setting up of broadcasting and production equipment across the various sporting venues, transfers to and from the Olympic Village, daily translation, etc.
How was the experience of being involved is such a massive global event?
It was an eye-opening experience to say the least! A massive operation with immense logistics, maximum security and safety measures that clearly required a lot of manpower, effort and military-precision coordination across various stakeholders. To see it all come together was something to behold. I am very proud and deeply impressed with the overall organisation of the Games, especially during these trying times and special credit must go to all the Tokyo 2020 volunteers who deserve full plaudits.
How did you find the experience of mixing with athletes, journalists and trainers from around the world?
I was extremely privileged to be granted press accreditation as part of my role and, with it, full access to all sporting venues with the opportunity of catching the athletes live in action. It was definitely interesting to be involved in the thick of media operations and watching how the international press corp work during a global event like the Olympics. During my (safely-distanced) interactions with the athletes and trainers, I observed a great sense of camaraderie and spirits were high. Of course, there was an intense focus and concentration prior to their events and after, unbridled joy at having either clinched a medal or even just the simple relief and contentment of having finished their races.
What was your sporting highlight or main memory of the Games?
It is hard to name one sporting highlight as there were so many! An all-Swiss affair in women’s beach volleyball round-of-16, witnessing Jérémy Desplanches clinch bronze in the men’s swimming 200m individual medley, watching Viktorija Golubic face off against Naomi Osaka in the second round of the women’s tennis singles - with Belinda Bencic eventually grabbing gold in the event - and both of them combining to settle for silver in the doubles. The final event I watched was the Equestrian Jumping Team Final where Team Switzerland finished a respectable fifth, and the gold medal battle went down to an epic nail-biting jump-off between the USA and Sweden, which the latter eventually won. The silence was deafening as each horse cleared every hurdle with much grace while we held in our collective and bated breath before erupting into rapturous applause at the end.
What was your personal highlight or main memory of the Games?
Personally, the Opening and Closing Ceremonies were the most memorable and poignant for me as they were the culmination and realisation that the Games were finally happening after a lengthy delay and much uncertainty as to whether it would take place at all. Watching the Olympic flame finally light up the stadium and then - ending as soon as it started - slowly extinguished to the tune of Debussy’s Clair de Lune was a bittersweet moment indeed.
Having been a part of the event, what is your understanding of the phrase “the Olympic spirit”?
For me, the Olympic Spirit was about overcoming challenges and finishing the race. Against all odds, opposition and obstacles, Japan persevered and finally pulled off the Games and the sporting world came together as one to send an important message of hope. To keep calm and carry on despite all the difficulties. Tokyo 2020 was as much about the twists and turns of the journey as it was about crossing the finish line and I am humbled to have played a small part in its success. I will forever cherish this memory!