Tokyo Olympics: Daily Diary

By Sports Desk July 23, 2021

It's been a long time coming but the Olympics are here at last!

Postponed by 12 months due to the coronavirus pandemic, there was a very real fear these Games wouldn't happen at all.

Yet, after an opening ceremony mixing poignancy with hope in Tokyo, the 32nd Olympic summer Games are officially underway!

Over the next two and a bit weeks, Stats Perform's man on the ground, Peter Hanson, will bring you daily updates from life in Tokyo.


Fireworks, flags, magnificent drones and mixed fashion successes at the opening ceremony 

Amid all the uncertainty over these Games, it was genuinely rather heart-warming to see the athletes arriving at Tokyo's Olympic Stadium.

The flags over 200 nations were waved, as hordes of athletes were paraded in front of a little under 1,000 delegates and dignitaries.

Some teams were looking quite dapper (kudos Team GB), while the sight of topless Tongan, Pita Taufatofua, was a welcome one.

There were a couple of fashion faux pas (those green Germany tracksuits…wow). But whatever controversy there may have been, we are (officially) underway!

And perhaps most impressive was the 1,824 drones used to illuminate the Tokyo sky, switching from the Olympics emblem to a light-up globe.

Dealing with jet lag…

So far, it's been a busy start work wise in Tokyo with writers' briefings and plenty of content to be produced…but due to the fact I have to quarantine life has been consigned to the hotel thus far.

One of the issues to contend with has been jet lag and trying to adjust to being in a different time zone – something I've yet to fully achieve with regular wake-up calls at 2.30am in the morning.

It's not been a problem for Team GB sprint star Dina Asher-Smith, though, who says she has learnt her lesson from a previous bad experience at the Beijing Olympics.

She said: "To be fair, it [jet lag] hasn't been rough, obviously in 2015 we did Japan before we did the Beijing World Championships. That one, and I can be frank about it now, [I] really messed up the jet lag - we were off for about 10 days six years ago!"

Anime to get you in the spirit?

It's fair to say the clamour for these Games from the people living Japan has not exactly been high, in large due to the fear of the spread of coronavirus.

But many are attempting to drum up the Olympic spirit - including a group of artists who have drawn up a series of samurai characters inspired by the flags of competing countries for the World Flags projects, with nations such as South Africa, India and Great Britain represented.

Speaking to BBC News, creator Kamaya Yamamoto said: "Samurais are unique to Japan and we want everyone to get to know traditional Japanese culture."

Djokovic and Murray back on the court together

It has been four years since Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic shared a court for a competitive game of tennis, largely due to the former's well-documented injury issues.

Murray is the two-time defending men's singles Olympic champion, while Djokovic is gunning for top spot on podium as part of his bid to complete a Golden Slam in 2021.

On Friday, fans of these two megastars would have had their hearts warmed to see the pair sharing the practice courts ahead of the start of the tennis tournament on Saturday.

Following their knock, Djokovic took to social media to thank Murray for a "great practice". Isn't that just lovely?

Related items

  • Salazar four-year ban upheld by CAS Salazar four-year ban upheld by CAS

    The Court of Arbitration for Sport has upheld the four-year ban imposed on athletics coach Alberto Salazar for anti-doping violations.

    Salazar, who coached four-time Olympic champion Mo Farah among many athletes, and Dr Jeffrey Brown were banned in 2019 by the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA).

    American Salazar, former head of the now-closed Nike Oregon Project, launched an appeal against the decision.

    It was confirmed by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) on Thursday that the bans handed out to Salazar and Brown, who has worked as a physician and endocrinologist, would stand.

    A CAS statement said the pair had "committed a number of anti-doping rule violations".

    CAS ruled that Salazar was guilty of being in possession of testosterone, complicity in Brown's administration of a prohibited method and tampering with the doping control process.

    Following news of Salazar's ban two years ago, Nike shut the Oregon Project, its elite training group for distance athletes.

    British long-distance runner Farah has never failed a drugs test or been accused of doping and parted ways with Salazar in 2017.

    CAS said that aspects of USADA's handling of the cases against Salazar and Brown "seemed to be out of proportion and excessive when compared to the severity and consequences of the ADRVs [anti-doping rule violations] that have been established".

    In a media release, CAS added that it "emphasised that none of the ADRVs directly affected athletic competition, and that there was no evidence put before the CAS as to any effect on athletes competing at the elite level within the NOP [Nike Oregon Project]".

  • Ronaldo returns – Opta data shows Cristiano was a hit on second Man Utd debut Ronaldo returns – Opta data shows Cristiano was a hit on second Man Utd debut

    There was more than a hint of inevitability about the impact of Cristiano Ronaldo on his second Manchester United debut, as his two goals inspired a 4-1 victory over Newcastle United at Old Trafford on Saturday.

    Wearing United red for the first time since May 2009, Ronaldo looked eager to impress right from the start as he ran at the Newcastle defence and went for goal at almost every opportunity.

    His first attempt of the day was one he would have wanted to get past quickly – a wild, left-footed air kick saw him completely miss the ball and fall on his backside, much to the amusement of the visitors' supporters.

    But he did find the net late in the first half and then again in the second, setting United on their way to an ultimately straightforward win, even if Newcastle gave them something to worry about with Javier Manquillo's equaliser.

    Following his second United 'debut', Stats Perform looks at the data behind his display.

    Woodman topples

    It's worth saying nice and early that Ronaldo was fortunate with his two goals on this occasion. Freddie Woodman endured quite the nightmare in Newcastle's goal.

    While the former England youth international had generally acquitted himself well during the early weeks of the season, on Saturday he palmed Mason Greenwood's effort right to Ronaldo for the first goal, and then saw the Portugal captain shoot through his legs for the second.

    While only the first counts as an 'error' in Opta definitions, the fact xGOT (expected goals on target) conceded data puts him at fault for 1.89 goals in that game is rather damning.

    In that sense, it was the third-worst goalkeeping performance of the 2021-22 season to this point.

    There's debuts and then there's debuts

    Cast your mind back to August 2003. Alex Ferguson brought on this gangly teenager, with blond streaks in his hair that made it seem like he'd had chewing gum rubbed it in by the school bully.

    Bolton Wanderers were party to a dazzling array of party tricks and stepovers in Ronaldo's 29-minute cameo on that occasion.

    He attempted seven – and completed five – dribbles in that brief outing as Ronaldo gave the Bolton defence the runaround. But, now 36, this Ronaldo is entirely different.

    While he still undoubtedly looked comfortable on the ball, Ronaldo didn't attempt a single dribble against Newcastle on Saturday, instead his focus very much on finding the back of the net.

    Back in 2003 he was all about the flash, those seven dribbles not supplemented by a single shot, whereas this time he had six goal attempts. Sure, only two were on target and, as we've said, Woodman gifted him both goals, but you have to speculate to accumulate.

    Longevity quantified

    Ronaldo's finishing has drawn praise since his scintillating 2007-08 season, where he scored 42 goals, but if there's one aspect of his on-pitch significance that his United return has highlighted the most, it's arguably his longevity.

    Of course, Serie A experts may tell you Ronaldo's presence was at times to the detriment of the team effort at Juventus. That may be true, but his ability to keep plundering the goals was undeniable.

    He may be 36, but Ronaldo has arrived at United on the back of a season in which he was unmatched in front of goal in Italy's top flight.

    Ronaldo's longevity is best identified by the fact he set a new record for the gap between two Premier League appearances (12 years, 118 days).

    On top of that, his goals came 12 years and 124 days after his last in the English top flight – only Matt Jackson (13 years, 187 days) has gone longer in Premier League history.

    This rolling back of the years made Ronaldo, at 36 years and 218 days, the oldest player to score a double in a Premier League match since Graham Alexander for Burnley against Hull in April 2010. Alexander was 38 years and 182 days old. Few at this stage would bet against Ronaldo remaining a goal threat by the time he reaches a similar age.

  • Ronaldo's return: How has Cristiano changed since 2009? Ronaldo's return: How has Cristiano changed since 2009?

    Cristiano Ronaldo will pull on the Manchester United shirt for the first time in over 12 years on Saturday, with the five-time Ballon d'Or winner all set for his second Red Devils debut.

    Ronaldo secured his return to United at the end of the most recent transfer window, with the deal reportedly set to cost an initial £12.9million (€15m).

    But it's fair to say the player United have re-signed is rather different to the one they sold for a then world-record fee.

    Then a flying winger, Ronaldo has adapted his game as he's grown older and is now a clinical penalty box poacher – diminishing goal returns he may have, but 36 in all competitions last season would still have had him as the leading goalscorer in English football.

    Saturday's visit of Newcastle United will provide Ronaldo with the opportunity to make his return, and ahead of that match, Stats Perform has used Opta data to look at how the formerly flamboyant trickster has altered his game since his Old Trafford departure in 2009.

    Positional sense

    In his final league game with United – a goalless draw against Arsenal in May 2009 – Ronaldo played on the right, though was given license to roam infield and exert his influence, as had been the case for much of a season in which he scored 26 goals across all competitions. 

    However, only five of his touches on the day came inside Arsenal's penalty area, with the majority out on the right wing and a cluster from an advanced, central position. 

    Contrast that appearance with his final Serie A start for Juve back in May, when he scored in a 3-2 Derby d'Italia triumph against Inter: only three touches in the area but fewer overall, heavily weighted to the centre of the pitch.

    It speaks to the way Ronaldo has greatly changed his game over the past 12 years. 

    During his time at United, he netted 115 goals in all competitions, making him the club's leading scorer in that six-year span from 2003 to 2009. In his final season at Old Trafford, Ronaldo scored eight goals from outside of the area – a feat he matched in four of the next five seasons and surpassed in the other, with 10 in 2011-12 (his third season at Madrid).

    Yet by his final season at Juve, Ronaldo had refined his game to become the poacher United are adding to their squad. Across his three seasons at Juve, the 36-year-old scored just seven times from outside the area, from a total of 101 goals.

    Wing wizard to penalty box king

    During his formative years at United, Ronaldo's mazy dribbling and eye for a showboat caught the eye. It is no surprise, then, to see the numbers back this up. In 2004-05, he attempted 9.55 dribbles per 90 minutes, a career high. 

    As he grew in stature, adapted to the rigours of English football and became a more powerful presence, rather than the wiry winger that burst onto the scene, Ronaldo's dribbling figures dropped – 8.22 in 2005-06, 5.65 the following year and 6.28 in 2007-08.

    By 2008-09, Ronaldo's attempted dribbles per 90 were down at a relatively modest 4.73, completing 1.92. By the end of his last year at Juve, Ronaldo was down to 3.07 dribbles per 90, though his success rate of 61.7 per cent ranks as the highest in his career. He has not lost the ability to dribble, but rather picks his moments to do so.

    Of course, there is less need for taking on the opposition when you are positioned in the opposition's area, ready to pounce on a cross or run onto a throughball.

    Ronaldo's adaptation into a number nine had started before his move to Turin. Indeed, in his final campaign with Madrid, Ronaldo registered 1,913 touches in total, with 409 of these coming in the opposition's area – his highest total in the box in a single campaign.

    Contrast that figure with his totals from his second season in the Spanish capital – just 82 of his 3,344 touches came inside the opponent's box as he scored 60 times in all competitions, a tally he bettered in 2014-15 (61).

    The 2014-15 season was undoubtedly Ronaldo's zenith. Turning 30 halfway through the campaign, he was at his best in front of goal and creatively. His 21 assists were a career high, as were the 97 chances created.

    If United are looking for a creative force now, though, they have chosen the wrong forward.

    Ronaldo's 2008-09 season saw him create 82 opportunities and lay on 10 assists (at an average of 1.71 and 0.21 per 90). Last term, he created a career-low 1.15 chances per 90, with his average of 0.12 assists each game better only than the previous campaign with Juve.

    Ronaldo averaged 50.6 touches per 90 in 2020-21, with 6.8 in the penalty area. In only four seasons, all at Madrid, did the Portugal captain touch the ball less on average, though his figure of penalty box touches ranks as the fourth-highest across his career.

    Heads up

    Looking back at images of Ronaldo's early days at United, it is hard to imagine how that rapid, tricky winger developed into one of the most feared headers of the ball in world football.

    Ronaldo's leap – his ability to almost hang in the air at great height, while generating unbelievable power – is something few players have come close to emulating. It might as well be trademarked, at this stage.

    If his all-round array of talents were not already enough, Ronaldo also gives Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's team an aerial threat that only Edinson Cavani brings. Cavani, another veteran at 34, can no longer play every game.

    Ronaldo scored seven headed goals across all competitions in 2020-21, as many as Cavani and Everton's Dominic Calvert-Lewin, who were the leading players from Premier League clubs in that regard.

    Since he left United, 70 of Ronaldo's 450 club goals have come with his head – no player across Europe's top five leagues has scored more, with Bayern Munich talisman Robert Lewandowski ranking second with 57.

    With Luke Shaw rejuvenated as an attacking force and Marcus Rashford, Bruno Fernandes, Jadon Sancho and Paul Pogba all capable of brilliant deliveries, Premier League centre-backs should fear Ronaldo's leap in 2021-22.

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