Olympics chief Thomas Bach said athletes gave “soul” to the Tokyo Games, admitting on Friday that he feared for the event after almost all spectators were barred.
The International Olympic Committee president said the postponed 2020 Games “exceeded (his) expectations” as he underlined that the decision to ban fans was made by Japanese authorities.
“After we had to accept the decision by the Japanese authorities to have no spectators, I must admit we were concerned that these Olympic Games could become an Olympic Games without soul,” Bach said.
“But fortunately what we have seen here is totally different. Because the athletes gave these Olympic Games a great Olympic soul.
“From what I experienced at the Olympic Village and the competition sites, I must say that the atmosphere has been more intense than ever before.”
Two weeks of competition, beamed to a worldwide TV audience, has unfolded in front of empty venues in Tokyo, with teammates, coaches and media often the only people present.
Japan initially banned overseas fans and last month locked out domestic spectators too as the country battles a Covid-19 surge that has left Tokyo and other regions under a state of emergency.
The first postponed Olympics teetered on the brink of cancellation last year but Bach said the IOC had borrowed money to dish out $800 million to struggling sports federations.
He also said it would have been a cheaper and “easier solution” for the IOC to draw on its insurance policy and cancel the Tokyo Games, rather than plough ahead “for the athletes”.
“We decided not to draw on this insurance, but on the contrary to invest even more, and to make the Games happen for the athletes,” he said.