With no fans at the Olympics, viewers are experiencing the Games in a whole new way. We’re detailing what this means for the sports and the audiences back at home.
Normally, the Olympic stadiums and stands are filled with fans from all over the world, cheering on their athletes. This year, the cheering comes from their coaches and teammates (if they have any). Looking up to the stands and seeing empty seats is a far cry from what we’ve come to expect from the Olympics, but the lack of audience creates a new opportunity.
In Sunday’s 400-meter women’s swimming final, all eyes were on Katie Ledecky and Ariarne Titmus. The tension in the room grew as the race went on, emphasized by the echoing sounds of the normally muted splashing. It sounded like everyone was holding their breath, waiting to see if Ledecky could be bested.
During one of the U.S.A. softball games, you could hear pitcher Cat Osterman get a “Good job” from one of her teammates as they passed each other. Gymnast Shane Wiskus said the lack of cheering was “…more homey. Like another day at the gym.” The International Olympic Committee has created a crowd ambiance by pulling audio from previous Games and piping it in during competitions so the athletes are not in complete silence.
The emotional weight of victories and upsets is not lost because there are no cheering fans. When Titmus upset Ledecky, her coach went viral for his reaction. Tom Daley’s first gold in diving came earlier this week and there was no mistaking his emotion. When Lee Keifer won the first gold for U.S. women in individual foil fencing, her stunned “Oh my god” and her coach’s jubilant jumping made fans thousands of miles away tear up.
Some are critical that the games won’t be as good because there aren’t family and fans present. But those fans are celebrating at home. All the way in Seward, Alaska, Lydia Jacoby had a watch party cheering her onto gold. Simone Biles was able to speak to her parents before competing via FaceTime; Olympians are still able to connect with those supporting them on social media. Some have taken to TikTok to show fans what living in the village is like and testing just how strong the cardboard beds are.
While the lack of fans is a sign of the times, it allows the natural sounds of the sports to be heard and adds a new element to the centuries-old Olympics.