Sports

Olympic Staff Who Deserve Their Own Gold Medal

If Tokyo’s heat wasn’t bad enough, imagine being under the sun for 90 minutes.
August 5, 2021, 8:44am
tokyo 2020, olympics, staff, gold medal, job
Italian tennis player Fabio Fognini cools off with help from a ball person. Photo: Jean Catuffe / Getty Images

When people sign up to work at the Olympics, it’s not always fun and games. 

Some get exclusive front-row seats to their favorite sporting events, watching their heroes break world records. Others spend the entire day under Tokyo’s blazing sun, with the sole consolation that they’re a helpful cog in the larger wheel that is the games. 

But without them and their willingness to attend public events during a pandemic, there would be no Olympics to watch from the comfort of our homes. To honor them, let’s take a moment to appreciate all the behind-the-scenes work at the Tokyo 2020 games. 

COVID-19 and medical staff 

To make the Olympics as safe as possible during a pandemic, organizers have appointed COVID-19 Liaison Officers (CLO) whose entire job is dedicated to all COVID-19-related issues. CLO must check athletes’ daily test results, follow up on any positive cases, and trace potential contacts, all to avoid COVID-19 clusters and large outbreaks. 

In addition to pandemic-specific staff, the medical team for Olympians also deserve congratulations. This includes sports doctors, psychologists and massage therapists. 

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Benny Vaught, a licensed and board-certified massage therapist, supported Team USA this year in his fifth Olympics. To effectively serve all athletes on the team, he said he had to learn about each sport. 

“Many people see the massage therapist and they think we just give people a rub down. There is so much more going on with that one on one interaction we get with the athletes,” Vaughn told NBC

Staff who keep excited coaches in their lanes 

When Australian swimmer Ariarne Titmus won a gold medal in the women’s 400-meter freestyle event, her coach Dean Boxall was ecstatic. And visibly so—a clip of him vigorously celebrating the athlete’s win went viral. Boxall was seen hip thrusting and punching the air in pure joy. The coach later explained that he just couldn’t control his excitement, and that his energetic gyrations were inspired by American wrestler “The Ultimate Warrior.” 

But as Boxall was enjoying his proud moment as a coach, an Olympic staffer was busy barring him from leaving the balcony he was on. The staff member is seen sticking her hands up in front of Boxall, fruitlessly trying to contain the coach’s enthusiasm. She nervously glanced around, perhaps hoping someone would come help her, or wondering what would happen if Boxall fell into the pool as he lurched about. Either way, she deserves an A for effort. 

Ball people at tennis matches 

The Tokyo Olympics is one of the hottest games on record. With temperatures rising to 34 degrees Celsius and higher, some athletes have experienced heat stroke. Spanish tennis player Paula Badosa was forced to retire from her match, leaving the court in a wheelchair. The intense heat even prompted Russian tennis player Daniil Medvedev to question who would be responsible if he died on the court. 

Tokyo has a humid subtropical climate, but global warming and infrastructure worsen the Olympic conditions. As seen in NASA’s temperature map, Tokyo experiences a heat island effect, which means that it is significantly warmer than surrounding areas. Urban development raises the temperature of land surfaces and the air because building materials like asphalt, steel, concrete, and brick retain more heat, NASA’s report explained. This makes the city particularly hot, humid and dangerous. 

For the Olympics staff fetching stray balls game after game, the heat is not a friend. A best-of-three match ran for about 90 minutes, and they were required to jump out of their shade at a moment’s notice. Some ball people even held machines that blew cold air to cool down athletes. Games started at 11 a.m., but were pushed back to 3 p.m. after July 28 to avoid the worst of Tokyo’s heat. Tennis matches have now ended—hopefully, they’ve all been rewarded with cold showers. 

Camera crew filming athletes’ misfortunes 

Dodging skateboarders and flying rackets may not be in a cameraperson’s job description, but one has to be ready for anything during the Olympics. 

During the qualifying event for men’s park in skateboarding, Australian skater Kieran Woolley accidentally took out a nearby camera operator. The 17-year-old was just finishing his first run in the park and hopped onto a rail, before sliding straight into the person behind the camera and subsequently knocking him onto his butt. 

A visibly shocked Woolley held his head, before walking over to the camera operator and giving him a timid thumbs up. The two men fist bumped before a laughing Woolley picked up his deck again. 

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After winning fifth place in the final, Woolley apologized to the camera operator on his Instagram account with a cool “Sorry mate didn’t see ya there.”

Meanwhile, during the men’s singles tennis match for the bronze medal, Serbia’s Novak Djokovic was seen in a fit of rage. Unhappy with his performance, he threw his racket into a thankfully empty stand, then later smashed his racket into the net post before throwing it into the photographers’ pit. About his outrage, Djokovic said: “We’re all human beings. Sometimes it’s difficult to control your emotions,” according to CBS News

tennis player novak djokovic at the olympics

Serbia's Novak Djokovic smashes his racket during his Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games men’s singles tennis match for the bronze medal against Spain's Pablo Carreño Busta. Photo: Tiziana FABI / AFP

Drivers dropping baseball pitchers in a mitt-shaped cart 

During the Tokyo Olympics’ baseball events, a bullpen cart in the shape of a baseball mitt emerged from the sidelines. In an effort to speed up the games, this car ferries to the field relief pitchers who enjoy a 17-second moment of glory in the glove. Olympic rules stipulate that relievers have 90 seconds to throw their first pitch once they step onto the field; a ride in the cart would help cut transport time. 

Denyi Reyes Hinojosa of Team Dominican Republic at tokyo 2020 olympics

Denyi Reyes Hinojosa of Team Dominican Republic comes out on the cart from the bull pen during round one of the baseball team competition match between Team Dominican Republic and Team South Korea on day nine of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. Photo: Yuichi Masuda / Getty Images

The front of the car has a screen emblazoned with “GO! GO! Tokyo 2020,” and the floor is covered in artificial turf decorated with a baseball diamond. Its rear lights also resemble a baseball’s red seams. 

The car’s gotten some mixed reviews from riding athletes. The Dominican Republic’s Jose Diaz was seen praying before getting in, and United States player Tyler Austin said he had zero interest in “getting in that thing,” according to Reuters. Meanwhile, some athletes have found it amusing, even using it as an opportunity to calm down before playing. Israel’s Jeremy Bleich said the break from jogging let him forget about his less than ideal performance in a previous game. 

Driving elite athletes, who are more than capable of jogging to their mound, in a large baseball mitt surely deserves a shoutout. 

Follow Hanako Montgomery on Twitter and Instagram.