It’s been a longstanding tradition for the best of the best athletes at the Olympics: After earning one of the top spots in a sport, they each take their place on a three-tiered podium and await the glorious moment when someone places a medal around their neck.
But at the Tokyo Olympic Games, which kick off next week, the old tradition is making way for a new reality due to the pandemic. This time around, each athlete will be expected to pick up their medal from a tray and adorn themselves with the gold, silver or bronze.
And that’s not all. When NBC's Tom Llamas spoke about the new development on TODAY Thursday, he said to expect other changes around that coveted experience.
“We understand they’re going to be wearing masks,” he said of the new ceremony guidelines. “There’s no high-fiving, no hugging. So, it’s a sort of DIY medal ceremony.”
News of the changes came Wednesday, the same day Tokyo reported more than 1,100 new cases of COVID-19, its highest since January.
“Winning a medal is an incredible moment, and that is not going to be lost in the way they put on that medal," Llamas added.
And it seems Simone Biles, the most decorated American gymnast in history, would agree.
“It’ll be different, but it will be worth it,” she told TODAY. “At least we get the opportunity to still compete at an Olympic Games.”
The medal ceremony changes follow another big announcement. Last week, Olympics organizers revealed that spectators have been banned after Japan declared a coronavirus state of emergency in its capital city, and it is set to stay in place throughout the games.
When Llamas asked Olympics president Thomas Bach if he lobbied against the ban, he said no.
“We have said from the very beginning one principle. This is that yes, we want to organize this Olympic Games, but we want to organize it in a safe and secure way for everybody.”