From Suni Lee’s gold medal victory in the gymnastics all-around to Athing Mu’s record-shattering performance in the women’s 800m, the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games were full of spectacular triumphs and headline-making athletes. But what about those competitors, events and moments that weren’t necessarily in the spotlight?
Here are amazing moments from the 2020 Tokyo Games that you might have missed, as selected by the editorial staff of NBCOlympics.com.
Celebrate like a rugby player
Fiji might be a small, tiny island, but they showed the world they have big hearts. When Fiji defeated New Zealand in the final, the men immediately broke down on the field. The squad didn’t see their families for several months to prepare for the Olympics. It was an emotional moment to see the men break out in traditional song as well. The song they sang was called “E Da Sa Qaqa”, which roughly translate to “We will overcome”.
The small island has had a lot to overcome with over 25,000 cases of COVID-19 this year. It wasn’t just the athletes that celebrated, the citizens of Fiji immediately went to the streets to celebrate the mighty win.
On the women’s side, the New Zealand squad proved that the women could pay tribute to their heritage in just as meaningful of a way. The Black Ferns performed their own version of the haka, called “Ko Uhia Mai” or “Let it be known”. The emotion in the women’s eyes as Portia Woodman led them, leaves chills every time. In this underrated moment of the Olympics, the two squads shared their rich culture and history with the world, truly embodying the spirit of the Games.
– STEPHANIE DE LANCEY
Zolotic makes taekwondo history
A lot of history was made in Tokyo, but one of the more under-the-radar moments came from USA taekwondo athlete Anastasija Zolotic.
Zolotic defeated Tatiana Minina of the ROC to win taekwondo gold in the women's 57 kg weight class. At just 18 years old, Zolotic became the first American woman to ever win a taekwondo gold medal, and also became the first U.S. taekwondoin to win a gold medal since Steven Lopez won an Olympic title in 2004.
The Largo, Florida, native is considered one of taekwondo's rising stars. Prior to winning Olympic gold, she had already earned gold medals at the Pan American Games and the World Taekwondo Junior Championships, along with a silver medal at the Youth Olympic Games in 2018.
If Zolotic continues her upward trajectory, she could very well become the face of taekwondo in the United States (if she hasn't reached that point already).
– RYAN QUIGLEY
Young women dominate skateboarding’s debut
Skateboarding was added to the Tokyo Games lineup as part of a wider initiative to grow the Olympics' appeal with younger audiences. Purely anecdotally, it appears to have accomplished that goal, as new fans delighted in quirks like athletes wearing earbuds and cargo pants while competing, and well as the overall easygoing disposition.
But what we should perhaps dwell on a little longer is the electric performances – and composure – from the young women in the sport specifically.
Across the two women’s events, four of the medalists who lit up the courses were 13 years old or younger and no one was beyond their teens. A few upset the favorites in their events to put on exactly the show that skateboarding needed in its debut, building the intrigue for Paris 2024 return.
– TORREY HART
Lee Kiefer's patience pays off with fencing gold
In 2012, Lee Kiefer was a teen phenom who made a good run to the quarterfinals in the women's foil event in London. In 2016, she was a Notre Dame student in the middle of a four-year run as NCAA champion, but she lost a round earlier at the Olympics. In 2021, she's a med student who had held the No. 1 ranking and married fellow U.S. fencer Gerek Meinhardt. And a gold medalist. Not that it was easy. Kiefer almost went out in the Round of 16 again, needing to rally twice to beat Canadian Eleanor Harvey. The next two rounds were easier, but defending champion and reigning world champion Inna Deriglazova awaited in the final. After Kiefer led early, the Russian fencer tied it at 12-12. Kiefer again finished strong, taking three of the last four points to claim gold at last.
– BEAU DURE
Hidilyn Diaz lifts golden weight off Philippines’ shoulders
The Philippines is not a small nation. In fact, its population sits well over 100 million, larger France and Australia combined.
Olympic gold medals for France and Australia, all-time: 487. Olympic gold medals for the Philippines all-time, prior to Tokyo: zero.
Enter Hidilyn Diaz. Weightlifter. Four-time Olympian, Rio 2016 silver medalist.
At 30 years old, she felt her best lifting days were behind her. The pandemic didn’t help. She had to leave the Philippines for Malaysia, training predominantly in a rented apartment and using heavy bags for weights as to not damage the floors.
On the Tokyo platform, she managed to get herself back in medal contention ahead of the final clean & jerk attempt. A lift of 127kg (280 lbs.) – 2kg more than her personal best – would deliver her nation its first-ever Olympic gold medal.
Well, it wouldn’t be on this list if she missed, would it?
– ERIC GOODMAN
Barbra Banda lights up the group stage
Zambia entered the women's soccer tournament as the 104th-ranked nation in FIFA. They were the lowest-ranked team in the field. Expectations were low.
Apparently, nobody told Barbra Banda.
The Zambian striker broke onto the scene immediately, recording a sensational hat trick against the Netherlands, FIFA's No.4, on Matchday 1. Despite losing the match 10-3, Banda had captured the headlines.
Then, on Matchday 2 against China, the captain did it again. She found the back of the net three more times, leading Zambia to a thrilling 4-4 draw and its first-ever point in an Olympic soccer competition.
Zambia, despite still failing to advance from the group stage, had gone from an afterthought to must-watch television. And it was all because of the player wearing the captain’s armband – No. 11, Barbra Banda – and her electrifying runs, clinical finishing, and inspiring leadership.
– WILL FOWLER
Andrade breaks Brazilian medal drought in women's gymnastics
Gymnastics fans have long known that Rebeca Andrade could hang with the best of the best, but the Brazilian gymnast always seemed to get injured at the worst times.
That was the case until Tokyo when the 22-year-old looked at the top of her game on the biggest stage. She made history as the first Brazilian woman to win a medal in artistic gymnastics by claiming silver in the all-around and then one-upped herself a few days later by winning gold on vault.
Viewers who only keep up with the sport every four years may not have been familiar with Andrade before the 2020 Games, but they’ll certainly know her now.
– TESS DeMEYER
Lisa Carrington Can’t Be Caught
Usain Bolt in the men’s 100m. Kerri Walsh and Misty May-Treanor in volleyball. Michael Phelps in pretty much any race in a pool. You’ve heard of all of these names hundreds of times, and probably know that they won Olympic gold at their signature events at three consecutive summer games. But have you heard of Lisa Carrington?
In 2020, Carrington became the most decorated Olympian in New Zealand history, and the only Kiwi with five gold medals. The women’s K-1 200m has only been around for three Olympic Games, and Carrington won them all. If that wasn’t enough, she decided to enter a few other contests in 2020, and won them too. She’s now the only woman from New Zealand to win three gold medals in a single year. From any distance, with a partner or by herself, Lisa Carrington has paddled her way to elite status thanks to her untouchable Tokyo performance.
– BRYAN MERCER
David Taylor, Gable Steveson get buzzer-beaters
Buzzer-beaters are generally reserved for basketball, not wrestling. David Taylor, known as the "Magic Man," changed that perception. After trailing or being tied through the final in the 86kg freestyle class, Taylor summed a burst of speed and strength to take down defending champion Hassan Yazdanicharati in the last few seconds.
Gable Steveson did that one better. After surrendering the lead in the 125kg freestyle, populated by massive men in the heaviest class in Olympic wrestling, Steveson trimmed his deficit to one with a late takedown. Surely he couldn't get another as time ticked down, could he? But he did. A video review determined that he did indeed beat the buzzer, and the man celebrated with a signature handspring and backflip that would make Jade Carey proud.
– BEAU DURE
7-man playoff for bronze in men's golf competition
After four rounds of grueling golf in punishing weather, a gold medalist emerged: Team USA's Xander Shauffele, as Slovakia's Rory Sabbatini (!) grabbed silver. But with seven men tied for third, who would win bronze? In a surprisingly intense, fast-paced playoff deathmatch, the field quickly shrunk with each misguided stroke -- until C.T. Pan was the only man left standing.
– DAN LEVINSOHN
Australia finally nets men’s basketball medal
After years of heartbreak and fourth-place finishes, Australia finally won its first medal in men’s basketball at the Tokyo Olympics.
NBA veterans Patty Mills and Joe Ingles refused to walk away from another Olympics empty-handed after finishing fourth in four consecutive summer games. After representing Australia as the first Indigenous man to be a flag bearer in an Olympic Opening Ceremony, this win has to feel extra special for Mills.
The 32-year-old team captain was sensational throughout the duration of the games but shined brightest in the bronze medal win over Slovenia with 42 points and 9 assists.
Although Australia will be thrilled to reach podium this year, the future is bright and they'll be hungry for more in 2024.
– QUINCY GREEN
U.S. skeet shooters deliver gold medals
Swimming and track always get the headlines for the plethora of medals they produce for the United States, but the U.S. shooting team deserves due credit for what they accomplished in Tokyo. Three of Team USA's gold medals came from shooting, more than any other sport besides swimming and track & field, and tied with wrestling. In total, the U.S. took home six shooting medals, level with gymnastics in fourth place. By comparison, the U.S. earned just three medals, one of which was gold, in shooting at the 2016 Rio Games.
There was one day in particular where U.S. shooting excellence was most on display: Day 3 of the Tokyo Olympics. That's when the women's and men's skeet finals were held back-to-back.
The skeet finals probably flew under the radar for many Olympic viewers, but they were both incredibly entertaining events. First, Amber English hit 56 of 60 targets to outlast the defending gold medalist, Diana Bacosi of Italy, and win the women's event in dramatic fashion. Then Vincent Hancock, the 2008 and 2012 gold medalist, put on a nearly flawless performance in the men's event, hitting 59 of 60 targets to set an Olympic record and regain his title as the Olympic champion.
All in all, a great performance from two American skeet shooters and a phenomenal showcase of the sport to millions of Olympic fans around the country.
– SHAWN SMITH