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Paris 2024: The Games to reignite the Olympics

In Sports
April 17, 2024

NEW YORK — Olympians assembled Wednesday in the cultural capital of the world to amplify a long-awaited moment. There are 100 days until Paris 2024. One hundred days until the City of Light will ignite. One hundred days until an unprecedented Opening Ceremony will (probably, maybe) float down the River Seine and ring in the 30th Summer Olympics — which are not just any Olympics.

These, to many Americans, are the Games that must re-energize the entire Olympic movement.

“We get to, in some ways, reintroduce the country to the Olympic and Paralympic Games,” USOPC CEO Sarah Hirshland said here Monday at a three-day media summit. “It’s been a minute.”

It has been 983 days since Tokyo — but Tokyo, as gold medalist Nevin Harrison said, “was really weird.” It has been much longer, more than six years, since a normal Olympics — without COVID, with fans and traditional pageantry. And it has been eight years since the last Olympics west of Beijing, fewer than 12 time zones away.

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In that interim, the Tokyo Games were the least-watched ever on American television. Ratings for Beijing 2022 were even worse. U.S. Olympic officials know that three straight Games in Asia — South Korea hosted the 2018 Winter Olympics — harmed their reach and resonance. They know they have to re-engage kids and young adults. They have to reverse the trend.

And their plan, in a word, is Paris. It’s beach volleyball beneath the Eiffel Tower. It’s equestrian at the Palace of Versailles. It’s open-water swimming in a (supposedly) sanitized Seine.

“It’s so central, it’s so stunning,” sprinter Gabby Thomas said of the host city. “It’s gonna be an incredible setting, especially coming off of a weird Tokyo Olympics, where no one could be there.”

These, in that sense, are the palate-cleansing Games. Viruses, controversy and Russia have been disinvited. Simone Biles and NBA MVPs will return to center stage.

“This,” Hirshland said, “is about an opportunity to really focus on this incredible thing called Olympic and Paralympic sport.”

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To athletes, it’s also a chance to share incredible things with friends and family. Tokyo, to some, felt like an anonymous local race, “where you might hear one parent cheering for their kid coming down the final stretch,” as BMXer Alise Willoughby said; to others it felt like a training camp. Some stayed at “secluded” hotels. “We didn’t really get the full Olympic Games experience,” U.S. gymnast Brody Malone said.

Paris will be that, and much, much more — as long as security threats and geopolitics don’t scupper the party.

(Mallory Bielecki/Yahoo Sports illustration)
(Mallory Bielecki/Yahoo Sports illustration)

Opening Ceremony and security

It will begin, on July 26, with over 100 boats drifting down the world’s most alluring river. For decades, Olympics have opened with parades and theatrics inside a stadium; Paris 2024 will open with a procession down the Seine, through the heart of the city. Some 10,000 athletes will travel nearly four miles, past hundreds of thousands of spectators stationed on the river’s embankments. The world will watch in awe.

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Or at least that’s how organizers have dreamt it.

They’ve envisioned a fantastical Opening Ceremony, underneath a gleaming Parisian sunset, snaking past iconic landmarks, concluding at the Trocadéro, wowing tourists and rekindling the Games.

Some policing experts, on the other hand, saw “just about the worst configuration imaginable.”

When USOPC security chief Nicole Deal first heard details, she let out an astonished, crescendoing chuckle.

“Oh,” she thought, “this is gonna be interesting.”

There are not yet any credible threats to Team USA, Deal said. But the world is fraught; wars are ongoing; an uncontained, open-air Opening Ceremony presented as a logistical nightmare for French authorities. Paris has been targeted by terrorists in the past. The entire country has been on high alert. “The terror risk is extremely strong,” France’s interior minister, Gerald Darmanin, said in January.

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So the French are “stay[ing] nimble,” as Deal said. With 100 days to go, the audacious Ceremony plan is still in place, but it’s evolving. In recent months, organizers have rolled back some grandiose elements. They initially promised 600,000 spectators; this winter, due to logistical and security concerns, they officially cut the estimate to 300,000. Deal was “thrilled,” because she saw the reduction as an example of flexibility.

The French have also tapped into every imaginable resource. They’ve consulted allies and private agencies. They “are taking a whole-of-government approach to these Games,” Deal said. They’ll welcome help from thousands of foreign troops. They’ve designed an elaborate, mostly unseen security operation that Deal said she’s “very comfortable with.”

But it’s all subject to change. French president Emmanuel Macron said Monday that the Ceremony could move to the Stade de France if necessary. “If we think there are risks, depending on our analysis of the context, we have fallback scenarios,” he said. “There are Plan Bs and Plan Cs.”

Pont Alexandre III bridge, which spans the River Seine in Paris. The 2024 Olympic Games gets underway in 100 days' time in the French capital. The Games will start on July 26 with the first opening ceremony to be staged outside a stadium, each national delegation instead sent bobbling 6km down the city's major artery before disembarking in front of the Eiffel Tower. Picture date: Wednesday April 17, 2024. (Photo by Gareth Fuller/PA Images via Getty Images)
The 2024 Olympic Games gets underway in 100 days’ time in the French capital. The Games will start on July 26 with the first Opening Ceremony to be staged outside a stadium, each national delegation instead sent bobbling down the city’s major artery before disembarking in front of the Eiffel Tower. (Gareth Fuller – PA Images via Getty Images)

Team USA

Then, assuming all goes well, the Games will begin.

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Biles will be the American face of these Olympics. She’ll appear at her third Summer Games, and take aim at several medals that “the weight of the world” and the “twisties” stole from her in Tokyo.

In the pool, Katie Ledecky will be back for her fourth Olympics — but her and Team USA will be challenged by Australians and Canadians. And the most celebrated swimmer in Paris might be Frenchman Léon Marchand.

On the track, Noah Lyles has emerged as the fastest man in the world. Sha’Carri Richardson, who missed Tokyo because she tested positive for marijuana at Olympic trials, should make her Games debut.

On the court, USA Basketball will reportedly bring LeBron James, Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Joel Embiid and eight other all-stars. Its women’s team may or may not include Caitlin Clark; it will be heavily favored to win a record-extending eighth consecutive gold either way.

There will be some 600 American athletes in all. They are projected to win 123 medals, including 39 golds, a slight uptick from their tally of 113 and 39 golds in Tokyo — perhaps partially attributable to layered bans on Russian athletes, mostly stemming from the war in Ukraine.

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The American teams in women’s volleyball and women’s water polo will be looking to repeat and four-peat. Women’s soccer, the USWNT, will look to rebound from back-to-back disappointments. U.S. men’s soccer, represented by a mostly-U23 team, will return to the Games for the first time since 2008 — and open against a French team that could include Kylian Mbappé. (Mbappé wants to play, and Macron wants Mbappé, but Real Madrid, his soon-to-be new club, might not allow him.)

American individuals, meanwhile, will compete for podium spots in fencing and shooting, wrestling and canoeing, cycling and skateboarding, BMX and surfing — which will be held halfway across the world in Tahiti.

And for the first time, breaking — popularly but mistakenly known as breakdancing — will join the Olympic program.

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - APRIL 16: Breaking athlete Victor Montalvo poses for a portrait during the 2024 Team USA Media Summit at Marriott Marquis Hotel on April 16, 2024 in New York City. (Photo by Mike Coppola/Getty Images)
Victor Montalvo is set to represent Team USA in breaking, the newest Olympic sport that will make its debut in Paris. (Mike Coppola via Getty Images)

Breaking, the new sport

The newest and most scrutinized Olympic sport was born in the Bronx, as a 1970s Black American art form. Breaking originated as one of the four pillars of hip-hop. It boomed in the 1980s, and soon spread globally. It morphed from impromptu street dance into mainstream phenomenon — and then, as it faded within the Black and brown communities that pioneered it, it became a competitive sport.

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As a sport, it is controversial for a variety of reasons. It is governed by the World Dance Sport Federation, whose roots are in ballroom dancing. It has risen to the Olympic stage without much representation or input from the Black men and women who popularized it. Many top competitive breakers (often called B-boys and B-girls) are Asian. Two leading American B-girls, Sunny Choi and Vicki Chang, came from jobs as a cosmetics executive and ecological consultant, respectively. They are far from the original demographic.

But they aren’t trying to co-opt a culture. Choi and Victor Montalvo, the two American breakers already qualified for Paris, spoke here in New York about paying homage to the sport’s pioneers. They acknowledge the incongruities; but they are pumped for Paris and the opportunity to bring breaking to a broader audience, all while honoring its roots.

Oh, and they are indisputably cool.

So is their sport. For all its imperfections, it captivated the Youth Olympic Games when it first appeared in 2018. With music and unique personalities, it will surely be a hit this summer.

And then it will fade away. This, for now, is breaking’s one and only Olympic moment. It’s the lone new sport in Paris. It will then be replaced by squash, cricket, flag football, lacrosse, baseball and softball in 2028, when the Games come to Los Angeles.

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