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This week in Tortoise: The Lost Olympics

This week in Tortoise: The Lost Olympics

If you can detect a note of tired elation in my writing, allow me to explain. I stayed up late – until some time after 3am, in fact – to watch Adam Peaty win gold in the Men’s 100 breaststroke and become the first British swimmer to defend an Olympic title. And that’s after a pretty full-on weekend becoming a bore about taekwondo and judo. I’m afraid I’ve come down with Tokyo fever.

But as enjoyable as the actual sports are now that they’ve started, the Tokyo Olympics as a whole are a rather strange affair: a state of Covid emergency in the host country; no crowds in the stands; a series of sackings and recriminations; and background arguments, which could come to the fore, about politics, race and trans athletes.

Perhaps it was ever thus. Perhaps all Olympic Games have their peculiarities and controversies. That’s certainly true of the subject of this week’s Slow Newscast, the Moscow Olympics of 1980. Basia Cummings and Simon Barnes go back 40 years to the Games that dozens of countries, led by the United States, sat out in protest against the Soviet-Afghan War. The Games where geopolitics didn’t just participate, it was dominant.

The podcast is titled Boycott! The Lost Olympics because that’s what those Games came to be for so many athletes: a lost opportunity to test their ability against the best in the world. You’ll hear from some who managed to make it to Moscow but who still felt the disappointment of what was happening, such as Sharron Davies and Joslyn Hoyte-Smith. And from some, such as the American swimmer Craig Beardsley, who had their dreams – in Craig’s case, the likelihood of a gold medal – entirely taken away from them.

And none of this is just history. The b-word – boycott! – is being cast around ahead of next year’s Winter Olympics in Beijing, in large part because of the Chinese state’s treatment of Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang. So please do listen to the podcast in the app today, and check out Simon’s accompanying article tomorrow, if you’d like to start predicting the eventual winners and losers.

Of course, our work on #TheArmsRace, Tortoise’s campaign for global vaccinations, continues apace. We’ll be publishing an analysis by Sir Jeremy Farrar, director of the Wellcome Trust, later this week.  

And, as for this week’s ThinkIns, we have a couple of exciting conversations lined up: one with the Labour MP Jess Phillips, who, if the title of her latest book is anything to go by, should tell us everything we really need to know about politics; and the other with the psychologist, author and former professional basketball player John Amaechi, on the subject of giants – where have all the great leaders gone?

Then, on Thursday evening, we hope you’ll join us for the Tortoise Summer Drinkin, a cocktail-fuelled look back at the last 12 months, before we pause our ThinkIns until September. There will be reminiscence, comradery, merriment, and perhaps even some hangovers. Although the alcohol is, of course, optional, just in case you’re training for Paris 2024.

Best wishes,


Peter Hoskin
Executive editor