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The COVID-19 restrictions at the Olympics created a new tradition

This one might be worth keeping around when the Games return to normal

Japan team members adjust their gold medals at the medal ceremony for softball game at the 2020 Summer Olympics.
Japan team members adjust their gold medals at the medal ceremony for softball game at the 2020 Summer Olympics, Wednesday, July 28, 2021, in Yokohama, Japan.
Sue Ogrocki, Associated Press

Medal ceremonies at the Olympics have always been a tear-jerking, heartwarming moment of celebration. Elated athletes on the podium, bending down to have a bronze, silver or even gold medal placed around their neck by an Olympic official or dignitary, reported NPR.

But not this year. The COVID-19 protocols at the Tokyo Olympics changed that tradition.

Instead of the usual ceremony, Olympians in Tokyo were left with a “sort of DIY medal ceremony,” reported TODAY. Amid the change, medalists at this year’s Games created a new tradition: athletes giving each other medals.

Why are athletes giving each other medals?

With the COVID-19 restrictions, Olympic officials are not allowed to place medals around the medalist’s neck, reported Today. The change breaks an Olympic tradition that first started at the 1960 Games.

  • Dignitaries or other officials began placing the medal around the winner’s neck at the 1960 Olympics in Rome, Italy, reported Today.
  • The tradition became a staple of the Games, per Today.

But not in Tokyo.

In Tokyo, some athletes have begun placing medals around their teammates’ and partner’s necks, reported NPR.

In some medal ceremonies, the gesture has caught on. In the men’s doubles rowing ceremony, the silver and gold teams placed medals around each other’s necks, as some viewers tweeted.

What are the COVID-19 protocols for medal ceremonies?

The COVID-19 protocols for medal ceremonies involved masked officials carrying the medals out on a tray, reported NPR. Masked athletes were then expected to place the medal around their own necks.

  • Afterward, the Olympian could remove their mask for a brief photo opportunity, per Today.
  • The tradition of Olympic athletes biting their medals has continued, reported Today.

In team sports and partner competitions, these DIY medal ceremonies took a more personal route. Teammates and partners have begun placing medals around each other's necks, reported NPR.

Surprisingly, the COVID-19 restrictions allowed for this adorable new tradition to emerge and, for some, have made the moment even more meaningful, per NPR.

Some teams — like the Canadian women’s freestyle relay team — have taken turns giving each other medals, reported Today.

Will this new tradition continue in future Olympic Games?

The endearing new tradition has been highlighted as a pure example of teamwork under stressful conditions, reported NPR. Athletes and viewers alike have reacted positively to the more personal medal ceremonies.

Some people on Twitter have even called for the new tradition to be kept. The International Olympic Committee has not commented on that possibility.

For now, viewers and athletes can enjoy the intimate celebrations taking place in Tokyo and around the world, reported Today.