And that’s a wrap: XP highlights and lowlights of the Olympics, Part II

Fireworks over Olympic stadium
Flagbearer Kara Winger of Team United States poses with teammates during the Closing Ceremony of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Olympic Stadium on August 08, 2021 in Tokyo. (Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)

“Well, that was weird” was pretty much the prevailing sentiment of this summer’s Olympic Games. After a fairly fraught start, the Tokyo Olympics officially said goodbye to 2020 (a year late and probably way more than a dollar short) with its closing ceremony on Sunday.

The Games, imperfect as they may have been, were certainly not without moments of both guts and glory. The world rejoiced last week when gymnast Simone Biles came back from her brush with the dreaded twisties for a bronze medal on the balance beam, while teammate Sunisa Lee won a historic all-around gold medal as the first Hmong American Olympian. Over the weekend, Allyson Felix won her 11th medal, making her the most medalled athlete in track & field. And, Team USA edged out China for the most medals of the 2020 Games with 39 gold medals to China’s 38.

But what of the XP, you ask? Well, as we found in Part I of our review of Olympic XP highlights and lowlights — and as held true to the bittersweet end — the experiential components of the Games were a bit of a mixed bag, which is completely reasonable given the ongoing impact of the global pandemic.

A Thousand Points of Light

After the athletes entered the (mostly empty) Olympic Stadium for the closing ceremony, thousands of points of light converged to form the Olympic rings. It was a stunning feat of design by the multimedia studio Moment Factory. However, the light show was CGI. It was designed for the virtual audience (around 8.8 million viewers, which is historically very low), with those in the stadium watching on screens. It was an interesting “flip the script” moment, with the experience of virtual attendees being prioritized over those physically present. It makes sense given how (very, very) few people attended IRL, and we’ll be curious to see if this becomes a trend. There was, however, also a pretty awesome fireworks shows at the actual stadium — photo evidence below.

Fireworks over the Olympic Stadium during the closing ceremony of the Tokyo Olympics on August 8, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Carl Court/Getty Images)

Arigato, Tokyo

The closing ceremony ended with a single word, Arigato (thank you). In homage to the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo, it was displayed on an LED screen in the same font used to write Sayonara (goodbye) during the ’64 closing ceremony. Reminiscent of the pictograms in the opening ceremony, this act of continuity gave the event a gravitas and historical weight. Saying “Thank you” this year felt like the right choice for 2021 and an acknowledgement of how hard this Olympics has been for the athletes, organizers and the people of Japan.

Covid, Begone

Yes, the lack of spectators made for a much subdued opening ceremony, but all the precautions taken by organizers — including testing, masking and enough hand sanitizer to fill an Olympic-sized pool — were not merely hygiene theater. Out of the tens of thousands of people involved in the event, well under 500 have tested positive for Covid-19 so far and only 32 of those cases were from Olympic Village. Notably, about 70 percent of those inside the Olympic “bubble” — the confined area consisting of hotels, venues and the media center — were vaccinated. Sadly, the situation outside the bubble was a different story, with infection rates surging in both Tokyo and the rest of the country.

Leslie Jones for President

Leslie Jones narrating the Olympics on TikTok and Insta definitely won comedy gold in this year’s Games. Sure, Jones might not know her handball from her rugby, but her commentary outshone anything featured on Peacock TV. She was a delight and made the sometimes tedious events worth watching. Check out some of her most priceless posts. We say more Leslie Jones, please. Authenticity always, always wins the day in XP (and beyond).

Jonas Brothers on a Roof

Joe, Kevin and Nick performed their single “Remember This” live from a rooftop during the closing ceremony alongside a montage of highlights from the Games. We hate to be haters, but the nostalgic croonings of a few 30-something former Disney heartthrobs hit about the same as John Legend and Keith Urban singing “Imagine” during the opening ceremony (Jonas Brother stans, we know there are a lot of you, please do not come for us). Also, not sure we really wanna remember this year. Recently, the famous trio competed in their own personal Olympics in an NBC special that aired in July called, “Olympic Dreams Featuring Jonas Brothers.”

That’s a wrap on the 2020 Summer Olympics — here’s hoping that Paris 2024 finds the world in a better place. In the more immediate future, we’re looking forward to the 2020 Tokyo Paralympic Games from Aug. 24 – Sept. 5, which will be broadcast on NBC, NBCSN and Olympic Channel. And the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics are basically just around the corner…

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Experiential Is Everything

XP Land is for experiential creatives and experience-makers, brand leaders, and IP-owners, space stewards and venue visionaries — all those in the business of epic gatherings and live, immersive storytelling.