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Tear Jerker / Olympic Games

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The Olympic Games is the most prestigious event in sporting worlds, so expect all display of emotions, good or bad, happy or sad, to be noticeably amplified. And in the case of sad, expect lots of tears.

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  • Every time the Olympic Flame is extinguished at the end of the Games. Made even more a Tear Jerker if there is a song playing just before it happens. Some examples include this quintessentially Greek "Farewell to the Flame" at the end of the 2004 Athens Games, the 2012 London closing ceremonies when Take That performed "Rule The World", and at the 2010 Vancouver closing ceremonies when Neil Young performed "Long May You Run".note 
  • On that note, the IOC President's speech at the Closing Ceremonies: "And now, in accordance with tradition, I declare the Games of [insert year here] closed, and I call upon the youth of the world to assemble four years from now in [name of next host city]..." Partly sadness because the current Games are ending, and partly heart-swelling hope for the next generation of Olympians.
  • Here's an Olympic-related story that deserves to be here: Somali runner Samia Yusuf Omar had represented her country at the 2008 Beijing Games, to the fury of Somalia's powerful Islamists, and for her safety had moved to neighboring Ethiopia. Struggling to find a chance to train there, but still determined to run in the 2012 London Games, she traveled overland to Libya, hoping to cross to Italy and find a trainer there. It was not to be. The small boat she was in ran out of petrol. It was spotted by an Italian ship, whose crew attempted to rescue the people in the small boat, but, in the confusion, Samia fell into the sea and drowned.
  • "You can make friends in the moments that really should break your heart". Now that's Olympic Spirit.
  • The news that Usain Bolt will be stripped of his 2008 4*100 relay gold—and, by extension, his triple-triple—due to the discovery that one of his teammates used a banned substance.
    • Related to that, his final competition, the 2017 World Championships in London, were a sorely disappointing end to his magnificent career—finishing third in the 100m dashnote —and collapsing with a pulled hamstring in the 4*100m relaynote . One sincerely hopes he will be remembered for his Olympic victories and not these losses.
  • Those utterly depressing "Abandoned Olympic Venues" slideshows that get put out as every new set of Games approaches. And yes, as of 2017, the Rio venues have been added to that list. Especially bad considering that the Athletes Villages at least could have been used for low income housing—this was specifically the intent after the Athens Games, but the whole project fell through.
  • Spectacular as they are, the Games might be losing their luster—only two cities competed for the 2022 Games and 2024 Games—as more and more cities/countries realize how expensive a venture they are and that the infrastructure built is likely to go to waste afterwards.
    • This is demonstrated by the fact that Paris and Los Angeles were the only two competitors for the 2024 Games (in the past, it's been as many as five or six), and have consequently been awarded the 2024 and 2028 Games, respectively. This was specifically done out of concern that no one might be vying for the 2028 Games.
  • The revelation that numerous United States female gymnasts were sexually abused by the team doctor makes the events quite Harsher in Hindsight. In particular, after Aly Raisman came forward, Gabby Douglas made some insensitive comments insinuating that she was at fault. (She twittered about the need to "dress modestly and be classy" so as not to "entice the wrong crowd".) She retracted her statement after being criticized, only to eventually reveal that she was a victim as well. Some Fridge Horror kicks in when you realize that she was actually blaming herself for what happened to her, like many victims tend to.

    Berlin 1936 
  • The German team for the women's 4*100m relay won the heats by nearly a second, and were all set to win the final, building up a lead that even America's Helen Stephens probably couldn't have beat. And then the team's anchornote , Ilse Dörffeldt, dropped the baton right after the last hand-over, resulting in instant disqualification. Watch it here.
    • "The girls proved they were genuine women by bursting into tears on the field."
    • Even sadder is that this was a result of Damn You, Muscle Memory!; Ilse dropped the baton trying to transfer it to her other hand, which she didn't have to do because she was the anchor, but was used to doing because she was normally in one of the middle legs.
      "Her mouth wide open in shock, Doerffeldt held up her arms in the position of someone who was surrendering...As she turned round to look, the other runners, led by Helen Stephens, stormed past her. For a moment, Doerffeldt looked like a little girl stuck in the middle of a busy street, cars and lorries mercilessly shooting past her." — From Berlin Games: How Hitler Stole the Olympic Dream.

    Mexico City 1968 
  • In the marathon, Tanzanian John Stephen Akhwari got injured and finished last. He in fact ran from Reforma Avenue until the Estadio Olímpico Universitarionote , crossed the finish line and collapsed. He had this to say from his hospital bed the next day: "I don't think you understand. My country did not send me five thousand miles to start the race, they sent me five thousand miles to finish it."
  • In the gymnastics field, Vera Caslavska won 4 gold medals and 2 silvers for Czechoslovakia and turned her head as the Soviet anthem played because of the Prague Spring. That same year she got married in Mexico's Metropolitan Cathedral and received the nickname of "La Novia de México"Translation .

    Munich 1972 
  • The 1972 Munich Massacre. ABC sportscaster Jim McKay's harrowing and iconic announcement of the tragedy sums it up very well:
    We've just gotten the final word. When I was a kid, my father used to say, "Our greatest hopes and our worst fears are seldom realized." Our worst fears have been realized tonight. They have now said that there were eleven hostages; two were killed in their rooms yesterday morning, nine were killed at the airport tonight. They're all gone.
    • What makes the Munich tragedy so much worse is that the organizers had gone out of their way to make this the antithesis of the "Nazi" Games in '36. These were the Sugar Wiki Games, "The Games of Peace And Joy." The opening ceremonies were breathtaking, graceful, almost fairytale in color and feel. Lighthearted pop tunes instead of martial airs were played for the Parade of Athletes, and the Germans wore bright pastels. For the first time, the Olympic Flag was brought in by the athletes themselves instead of soldiers. Thousands of garlanded children—Blumenkinder—danced as a children's choir sang Karl Orff's setting of the medieval tune "Sumer Is Icumen In," and the Flame was brought in by a group of runners representing the continents and islands of the world. And at the closing ceremonies, in spite of everything, they still raised artist Otto Piene's installation, the Flying Rainbow....
      • Perhaps with that in the end, the people were declaring "YOU WILL NOT DESTROY OUR SPIRIT! HOPE, JOY & PEACE WILL STILL TRIUMPH!".
      • And unlike many Olympic venues that have been abandoned or collapsed, the bizarrely beautiful Olympiastadion Munich is still standing. It is used for concerts as well as sporting events.

    Moscow 1980 
  • Not occurring at the Olympics, but most definitely related to it, is the story of 1978 All-Around World Champion Elena Mukhina, a Soviet gymnast who was driven to her breaking point in pursuit of the Games—quite literally. After Nadia Comaneci's astonishing all-around victory in Montreal and with the Moscow Games, the Soviets were desperate to regain supremacy in the world of gymnastics. Mukhina, who had come out of nowhere to dominate the '78 world championships, represented their best hope for victory; her unique blend of consummate artistry and near-impossible difficulty made her breathtaking to watch. But while preparing for the 1979 Worlds, Mukhina broke her leg. Despite her pleading, her cast was removed long before she had healed, and despite having to be rushed in for a second, emergency surgery, she was forced back into training and put on a brutal diet. On top of all of this, her coaches were pushing her to include increasingly dangerous elements in her routines, including a complicated roll-out skill called a Thomas salto where the slightest miscalculation could result in paralysis or death. She pointed this out and was told "Athletes like you just don't break their necks." Two weeks before the Games, weak, starved, and exhausted, Elena landed the salto on her chin. Her spine snapped, and she was rendered instantly quadriplegic less than a month after her twentieth birthday. She later said that her first thought as she lay on the floor was, "Thank God, I won't have to go to the Olympics."
    "Though Mukhina rarely gave interviews, she was vocally critical of the Soviet sports system and others involved in her training"note  "She repeatedly described her accident as 'inevitable' because of the conditions under which she trained—exhausted and injured. 'There are such concepts as the honor of the club, the honor of the team, the honor of the national squad, the honor of the flag. They are words behind which the person isn't perceived,' she said in 1988. 'I was injured because everyone around me was observing neutrality and keeping silent. After all, they saw that I wasn't ready to perform that element. But they kept quiet.'"
  • Shortly before the beginning of the 2014 Sochi Games, there was a profile of the athletes who had not gotten to attend the 1980 Moscow Games because of the boycott, one of whom would have been the first African-American gymnast on Team USA. Despite all the time that had passed, it was evident that their disappointment still lingered.

    Calgary 1988 
  • The much-touted "Battle Of The Carmens" between 1986 World Champion Debi Thomas of the US and defending Olympic champion Katarina Witt of then-East Germanynote , fizzled when Thomas succumbed to nerves, skated poorly, and went from gold-medal contender to just barely earning the bronze.
    • On the plus side, she was the first African-American to earn a medal at the Winter Olympics.
  • It is unanimously agreed that silver medalist Elizabeth Manley of Canada gave the best performance that night and that she deserved to win the gold medal and would have, had it not been for Cold War loyalties among the judges.

    Albertville 1992 
  • Midori Ito falling during her short program. It all worked out in the end, but Ito was so revered in the figure skating community that one rival's coach outright burst into tears seeing it, another claimed it "broke my heart," and even her chief rival for the gold medal, Kristi Yamaguchi, was visibly upset when it happened.
  • Dan Janssen faltering and failing to win a medal. This was to be his redemption after his equally bad performance in Calgary (he was distracted by his grief over his sister's death), but it was not to be.

    Barcelona 1992 
  • Derek Redmond is a good story to start off with here. After running the best time in the first round and winning his quarter-final at Barcelona, he made a good start in the semi-final only for his hamstring to snap 250 meters from the finish line. He hobbled to a stop, collapsed in pain, and then got up again and began limping his way along the track in an effort to finish the race. His father Jim barged past security to help him through the last lap and across the finish line, to a standing ovation from the crowd of 65,000 spectators...but since his father helped him finish, he was officially disqualified and considered a "Did Not Finish."
    • More video footage here and here.
    • Read the description of the second video for an additional Tear Jerker.
  • Kim Zmeskal came to Barcelona as the reigning all-around world champion and was fully expected to come home draped in medals of varying colors. Instead, she tumbled from the balance beam on the first day of competition and never recovered—stepping out of bounds on her floor exercise, sitting down on a vault landing—and aside from a disappointing team bronze, went home empty handed.
    • Her rival, Belarusian Svetlana Boginskaya was also expected to come home similarly decorated. In fact, one of the most hotly anticipated showdowns of the games was expected to be between the two of them for the all-around title. But she faltered also, winning no individual medals.
      • On a bittersweet note, after their poor showings, the two put aside their year-long feud (Boginskaya had made nasty comments regarding Zmeskal's skills and Zmeskal responded in kind) and remain good friends to this day.
  • Tatiana Gutsu of the Unified Team also fell from the beam and bawled her eyes out upon realizing that she had failed to qualify for the all-around competition. Luckily, a teammate who had qualified injured her kneenote , allowing her a second chance—and she won gold.

    Lillehammer 1994 
  • At the 1994 Olympic trials, an assailant hired by the ex-husband of Tonya Harding attacked Nancy Kerrigan. You can't help but feel sorry for Kerrigan sobbing in pain.
  • Harding herself gets this, completely falling apart in competition with disastrous performances and finishing in eight place. It is sad that the first American woman to land a triple axel will instead be remembered for something so notorious. To this day, her name is synonymous with someone ruthlessly trying to take out the competition.
  • U.S. speed-skater Dan Jansen was heavily favored in 1988 Calgary's 500m and 1000m races, but after finding out mere hours before the first race that his sister Jane had died of leukemia, he fell in both races in truly heartbreaking fashion. In 1992 Albertville he struck out again. However, in 1994 Lillehammer, in the 1000m race, which was widely known to be his final shot at Olympic gold, he did better. He set a world record, dedicated the win to his departed sister, and skated a victory lap holding his baby daughter, who, in a final burst of Tear Jerker, was named Jane.

    Atlanta 1996 
  • Muhammad Ali's lighting of the cauldron at the opening ceremony. The identity of the final torchbearer had been kept secret and was only revealed when Ali appeared at the top of the ramp. After maintaining a low profile for the past decade, it was utterly shocking for the world to finally see history's greatest boxing champion and 1960 Rome gold medalist in the limelight again, ravaged by Parkinson's and the many head injuries he had suffered throughout his career. The gradual decline of boxing in recent years has sometimes been partially attributed to Ali's appearance at the Atlanta Olympics, which showcased the extreme injuries that most boxers are subjected to in the ring.
  • After being yanked from the 1992 Summer Games All-Around competition with a non-existent knee injury because teammate Tatiana Gutsu was believed to have a better chance at a medalnote , Russian gymnast Rozalia Galiyeva finally had her chance at Olympic glory...and faltered, winning nothing more than a disappointing team silver.
  • In the "happy tears" department, Bela Karolyi carrying Plucky Girl Kerri Strug to the podium to accept her gold medal.
    • Harsher in Hindsight: A gorgeous photo op, Karolyi played it up for all he was worth. While Ms. Strug hasn't yet spoken out about what, if anything, Karolyi's physician Dr. Larry Nassar did to her, a lawsuit by a 2004-2010 team member reveals that Karolyi and his wife abused the girls physically and verbally, while turning a blind eye to Nassar's molestations.
  • During the time at the Olympics, the Centennial Olympic Park was the site of a terrorist bombing.

    Sydney 2000 

    Salt Lake City 2002 
  • During the opening ceremony, the German athletes asked a local man to carry their country's placard into the stadium. His name was Gail Halvorsen, the man who began dropping chocolate to children during the Berlin Airlift.
  • Michelle Kwan, after falling on a jump in her long program and having to settle for the bronze in Salt Lake City, skated in the exhibition after the competition to the song "Fields of Gold," decked out in gold. She received a standing ovation before and after she skated, and ended her performance in tears.
    • Commentator Scott Hamilton said it broke his heart to watch her fall, knowing that it would cost her the gold medal.
    • If you watch her during the medal ceremony, she's clearly trying not to cry then too.
  • Sale and Pelletier's reaction to their scores. A magnificent, flawless performance, all for naught. It's particularly heartbreaking to watch Sale try her hardest to put on a brave face, only to almost immediately break down in tears.
  • ABC loaned its long-time Olympic host Jim McKay to NBC for these Games. McKay narrated the first half of NBC's opening tease for the opening ceremony, which heavily referenced 9/11, still fresh in everyone's minds almost five months later:
    The sweetly serene Games of Sydney seem as distant now as a star in the night. Games from once upon a time, headlined by stirring and often improbable triumphs, lifted out of fairy tales. Relentless in their cheer and gentility. Games wrapped around ceremonies of innocence we may never see again. [scene shifts to New York City] There's no turning back, no matter how much we wish we could. And so nothing has looked the same since we awoke from a slumber to see the heart of darkness, and came to live with the souls of heroes. And in defense of liberty, summoned a call to arms.

    Athens 2004 
  • During the opening Parade of Nations, when the country of Iraq was announced. The cheers that went up across the stadium easily trebled any that had come for the previous countries.
  • Paula Radcliffe's complete breakdown after the 2004 Athens marathonnote  was even worse. She's one of the finest distance runners in history, but in four Olympics, never earned a medal of any color.

    Turin 2006 
  • Michelle Kwan's withdrawal from Turin 2006, ending her magnificent career without an Olympic gold medal.
  • Sasha Cohen faltering in her long program, costing herself the gold and the chance for the U.S. to three-peat victories in this event. (though she managed to hang on for silver).

    Beijing 2008 
  • During the opening ceremony, when they started singing "We're One World." Retroactively saddening that the athletes from Russia and Georgia walked in the opening ceremony side-by-side, only hours after their countries went to war.
    • Yao Ming carried China's flag in one hand and the hand of nine-year-old Lin Hao in the other. Lin was a child who'd saved the lives of two friends when the three of them were trapped in the Sichuan earthquake just a month before.
  • In the happy tears category, Donghua and Esperanza Li. Donghua was told that he would be forbidden from representing China in the Olympics if he married Esperanza: he gave up his gymnastics career in China for the woman he loved. He would later become a Swiss citizen and represent them in the Olympics.
  • The singing of "God Save the Queen" and accompanying flag-raising at the Beijing Olympics.

    Vancouver 2010 
  • Nodar Kumaritashvili, a Georgian luge athlete, died in a practice run mere hours before the opening ceremonies. The Georgian team marched in with black scarves, and the Georgian flag sported a black band on top for the duration of the Games. Quite a few of the other teams—at least those at the beginning of the Parade of Nations—put a band of black tape on their arms in honor of Nodar. The other Georgian luger, Levan Gureshidze, who grew up with Nodar, tried to get back in practice the next day but couldn't go on and dropped out of the Games.
  • Canadian figure skater Joannie Rochette's mother died two days before she could watch her daughter skate for the short-program. After winning the bronze medal, she placed her medal on her mother's casket for a time.
    • See especially her expression when the thunderous applause starts at the end of her performance, when you realize that, from her point of view, it's a great big "You did wonderful, we are so sorry for what happened to you, and we love you" from the whole of the country.

    London 2012 
  • Emeli Sande's song during the closing Ceremony may belong in Music, but the whole damn thing was so moving, it deserves to be here too, especially when you consider how much the Olympics, in spite of innately being a competition, brings people together:
    Yeah we're all wonderful, wonderful people, so when did we all get so fearful?
    Now we're finally finding our voices so take a chance, come help me sing this.
  • The "God Save the Queen" anthem with Queen Elizabeth in attendance.
  • Take That performing in the closing ceremony at all was a sizable one for many Brits, given lead singer Gary Barlow lost his baby daughter only a few days previously. His voice cracking in the opening verse caused a lot of damp eyes.
  • Mark Hunter and Zac Purchase, a British lightweight rowing duo, narrowly missed out on gold, getting silver instead. After the race was over, they cried in front of the cameras and apologized for letting down their country.
  • In the women's épée semi-final, Shin A-lam appeared to win, but a problem with the timing clock meant that it had to be reset; in the one second it was reset to, her opponent scored a surprise hit and won. While her coaches and team officials were trying to appeal the decision, Shin couldn't leave the arena's piste since it would imply conceding defeat, and she was left there crying for more than an hour. She then lost the bronze-medal bout.
  • Russian gymnast Viktoria Komova had high hopes of winning the All-Around gold after qualifying first in London. In the finals, she stumbled on her vault landing but later delivered an incredible floor routine. When it was revealed that Gabby Douglas had beat her by a tiny margin, she burst into tears. To make it worse, the same thing had happened to her at 2011 Worlds: she qualified first and was the favorite to win, but Jordyn Wieber beat her by just 33 thousandths of a point.
  • Jordyn Wieber herself began crying when she learned she would be kept out of the all-around final due to the two-per-country rule. The worst part was likely that it was completely unexpected; it would probably have stung even if she'd been aware of the possibility all along, but based on the reactions in the aftermath, it was clear that virtually no one had foreseen a situation where Wieber wouldn't be among the top two Americans, and so she was largely blindsided when it happened.
  • Aly Raisman and Catalina Ponor missing out on bronze medals in the all-around and balance beam finals respectively due to tiebreakers. It's hard enough to be the athlete who finishes fourth when it's a true fourth-place finish, but to be the athlete who finishes "fourth" despite having the same score as the third-place winner is truly heartbreaking. Raisman in particular (who was actually at the center of both ties, taking the bronze over Ponor in the beam final) still believes this rule is absurd, especially since ties are permitted to stand in other Olympic events.

    Sochi 2014 
  • Russia's newly-passed laws aganist LGBT people made things especially difficult emotionally for LGBT people.
  • The finale of the closing ceremony in which the bear blows the cauldron away.

    Rio de Janeiro 2016 
  • In the 1976 Montreal Games, Romanian women's gymnastics burst onto the scene with superstar Nadia Comaneci, who revolutionized the sport, and for every Olympics thereafter, Romania never once failed to medal in the team competition. The 2016 Rio Games was supposed to be the golden 40th anniversary, a throwback to the "Golden Age." But at the 2015 World Championships, at which only the top eight teams would automatically qualify for an Olympic team berth, Romania—who had just lost key all-arounder Ana Maria Ocolisan to injury and was made up almost entirely of inexperienced youngsters—completely melted down in competition. They failed to qualify a team for the first time in fifty years, and to make matters worse, an ill-timed injury to their star Larisa Iordache meant that they also failed to qualify at the Test Event, despite injured veteran Catalina Ponor dragging herself out of retirement to lead their team. There was no 40th-anniversary podium spot for Romania in Rio; for the first time almost since its inception, the Romanian program that produced champions like Comaneci, Ponor, Iordache, Emilia Eberle, Ecaterina Szabo, Aurelia Dobre, Daniela Silivas, Lavinia Milosovici, Simona Amanar, Maria Olaru, Andreea Raducan, Ana Porgras, Sandra Izbasa, and so many others was represented by a lone gymnast at the Olympic Games. It is truly the end of an era.
  • The fact that Thai weightlifter Sinphet Kruaithong's grandmother died celebrating his bronze medal lift.
  • The Williams sisters being eliminated in both the singles—Venus in the first round, Serena in the third—and doubles competition. Between their legendary joint and individual reputations and them being the defending gold medalists—along with victories in the 2000 Sydney Games and the 2008 Beijing Games—the losses are simply staggering. Serena did win gold in the mixed doubles to compensate a bit.
  • South African swimmer Chad le Clos finding out just weeks before the Olympics that his father has prostate cancer and that his mother's breast cancer, which had gone into remission a few years earlier, has returned. Even though they were in treatment and his mother had just undergone a double mastectomy, they still came to Rio to support their son in the Games.
  • The backlash against gymnast Gabby Douglas. Despite having been a member of two gold medal winning teams, focus is far more on her being the only member of the team to not win an individual medal, and criticism of her supposed bad attitude. The first time Douglas appeared in 2012 and again in 2016, all social media participants — including Afro-Americans — could say was "What's wrong with her hair?" Simone Biles caught similar flak for her hair. From black people.
  • On the Happy Tears side of things, gymnast Aly Raisman began crying as soon as she finished her floor routine in the all-around final. She clearly knew that she had just secured a medal, which had been her entire reason for coming back to gymnastics after 2012 (she missed out on a medal in the 2012 all-around, and didn't want it to end there).
  • Day 11 had hosts Brazil suffering a Humiliation Conga from their female athletes, despite two men winning a boxing gold and a canoeing silver. The women's handball team that won the 2013 world championship and had a great group stage barely gave a fight in the quarterfinals against the Netherlands; pole vaulter Fabiana Murer, also a world champion, had a hernia cause her to not even pass the first attempts, making her underwhelm in three straight Olympics; the women's football that had just won a nail-biter quarterfinal on penalties again was pushed to the shootouts by an overtly defensive Sweden, who proceeded to win the semifinalnote ; beach volleyball favorites Larissa-Talita lost their semifinal to a German duonote ; and the indoor volleyball team that came from two straight golds and a group stage without losing any sets suffered a huge comeback by China, winning the first set, then the fourth to get to the tie-breaker, only for a possible tying point to become the Chinese winner—the reaction by the coach's grandson makes it even sadder.

     Pyeongchang 2018 
  • For these two brief weeks, the two Koreas set aside their differences and decided to compete as a unified Korea.
  • Gold medal favorite Nathan Chen of the United States faltering so badly in the men's figure skating short program that he ended up in 17th place, well out of medal contention. Didn't make his comeback to climb up to 5th place in the overall rankings thanks to six quads in his free skate which ranked first at 215.08 any less awesome, though.
  • Evgenia Medvedeva finishing up with silver, Sui/Han finishing up with silver, Yuzuru Hanyu with Gold. While just the results are tearjearking for the first two examples, do you want to know what all those medallists have in common? They skated, returning back from serious injury. Want to hear more? None of them were completely healed during their performances. Want to cry even more? It's not the first time for anyof them.
  • Three-fourth of Canada's FS team retiring after Olympics.
  • The US not only failing to medal in ladies' figure skating for the third straight Olympics (the last was Sasha Cohen's silver in Turin), but having its worst results in 50-something years, with 9,10,11 place finishes. This is a sport American women used to dominate, with a medalist at nearly every Olympics (2 in 1956, 1992, 1998, & 2002) for a total of 23 medals, including 7 golds, statistics no other country can boast.
  • For the first time since curling was re-introduced into the modern Olympics at the 1998 Nagano Gamesnote , neither the men's and women's curling teams from Canada will reach the podium; in fact, the women's team failed to even make it to the playoffs. What's worse is team skip Rachel Homan withdrew from the mixed doubles curling team (which made its Olympic debut in Pyeongchang) to play with her women's team upon qualifying for the Olympics from the Canadian trials, and the mixed doubles went on to win gold.
     Tokyo 2020 
  • The Tokyo Games becoming the latest sports casualty of the 2019-2020 Coronavirus outbreak, with the IOC deciding to postpone them until the following year.


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