I LOVE the Olympics. I remember prancing about my childhood bedroom in a gymnastics leotard, trying not to whack my toes on the bunk beds or trip over the cat as I clumsily sought to emulate my heroes.

I was 10. In my mind’s eye, I visualised the epic battle for gold between Romania’s Daniela Silivas and Soviet powerhouse Elena Shushunova in the all-around final.

It was 1988. Seoul. Both women achieved near perfection, with two 10.000 scores apiece. In the end, though, Shushunova edged victory by a tiny sliver – a mere 0.025 of a point separating the two.

Four years later, I was prancing about my bedroom again. I was 14 and although, by then, I had given up gymnastics (something I regret to this day), I still squeezed into my old leotard and saluted a row of imaginary judges in the mirror.

This time it was Barcelona. 1992. The dual for all-around gold between Tatiana Gutsu of the Unified Team (the former Soviet Union had disbanded) and the USA’s Shannon Miller. It was another nail-biter with Gutsu snatching glory by 0.012 marks.

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Through each Olympic cycle since I have been captivated by every twist, turn and soaring somersault (sadly the old leotard no longer fits, so my prancing is curtailed).

This year feels different. It’s not simply that the Games have been delayed. Nor the alien concept of there being no spectators allowed inside Tokyo’s stadiums and arenas.

What jars is that the hard work and dedication might not be enough. Those hoping to win medals also have to successfully outrun the snaking tentacles of coronavirus – no mean feat.

It is a galling sentiment that applies to every sport from archery to wrestling. With the pandemic’s dark cloud hanging over Tokyo, a precarious game of chance is playing out long before anyone steps foot inside a competition setting.

The Herald: Gymnast Simone Biles. Picture: Danny Lawson/PAGymnast Simone Biles. Picture: Danny Lawson/PA

In the coming days, I will have everything crossed – fingers, toes, eyes if need be – that each and every athlete makes it unscathed.

Sure, there will be other Olympic Games, but there won’t be another Simone Biles at the peak of her powers. Her talent and skill are akin to catching a glimpse of Halley’s Comet blazing a trail – it doesn’t come around that often.

Tokyo will mark the swansong for Oksana Chusovitina, the Uzbekistan gymnastics legend whose remarkable career has spanned more than three decades. She is 46 now and this will be her eighth Olympics – an incredible feat.

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There are other milestones. For the first time since 1964, the average age of the close to 100 competitors in women’s gymnastics events isn’t in the teens: it is 21. Among the USA contingent, every team member is 18 or older for the first time since 1952.

I am looking forward to an Olympic Games that forever busts the myth of gymnastics as a sport for tiny little girls rather than strong women. Covid-19 better not spoil that.

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