It was a rocky road to the 2021 Games in Tokyo, which will now take place without spectators (from Friday) after a one-year delay due to the pandemic. Uncertainty and controversy, as well as a rising number of Covid-19 cases in the city, have increasingly overshadowed the run-up to the Summer Olympics, and early events like the ceremonial torch relay felt subdued.
But despite the circumstances, the games will (almost certainly) go on and that needs to be celebrated. Whether you’re an avid Olympic fan or a casual viewer, these six podcasts will get you in the mood for the Games.
This compelling new investigative podcast series tells the little-known true story of one of the greatest mistakes in Olympic history. Women’s gymnastics got off to a tough start at the 2000 Games in Sydney, Australia, marred by controversy over substance use and fake age – and then it got really weird during a competitive vault event. One by one, elite gymnasts who watched the whole word kept falling out of the vault, embarrassing at best and dangerous at worst. When someone found out what was going on (no spoilers here) the damage was done. In this five-part series, Ari Saperstein delves into the bizarre backstory of what happened through interviews with athletes who were there.
Starting successes: “Episode 1”
Team USA’s first podcast debuted less than a year ago, in November 2020, and is sure to whet your appetite for the long-awaited games. The show is hosted by 2006 Olympic silver medalist in figure skating, Sasha Cohen, and features weekly conversations with guests who are primarily Olympians, including several athletes traveling to Tokyo such as gymnast Yul Moldauer, Paralympic basketball player Matt Scott and softball player Haylie McCleney. Since the show began during the pandemic, many of the interviews touch on topics such as mental health and motivation at a time of uncertainty that are equally relevant to non-athletes. The show only finished its first season in early July, but plans to return in the future.
Starting successes: “Tokyo Bound”
Many of the most popular Olympic podcasts are hosted by top athletes who can speak directly to the competition experience. This is expressly not “Off The Podium”. Instead, it is proudly hosted by three men – Ben Waterworth, Colin Hilding and Jarrod Loobeek – who “dream of Olympic glory and have as much athletic skill as a piece of cheese”. Although they may lack Olympic skills, they have a palpable passion and knowledge of a number of sports. The show has been running since the Rio Games in 2016 and has returned intermittently to discuss events like the 2018 Winter Olympics. Based on coverage from the last few years, you can expect daily episodes with the latest news and highlights during the 2021 Games.
July 20, 2021, 9:11 a.m. ET
Start successes: “The best of ‘Off the Podium’ Part 2”
If a city wins its bid for the Olympics, the impact will go well beyond the only summer (or winter) that the ceremonies were held. Using the city of Sydney as a test case, this six-part show examines what happens when the final medal is awarded and the crowd has dispersed. Twenty years after the Sydney Olympics, journalist Mark Beretta interviews the organizers and officials responsible for delivering on the promise to make “the greenest games ever,” and how that decision drives urban transformation and environmental progress across the board Australia inspired.
Initial success: “How the Green Games influenced a national and international environmental movement”
Basics of the Summer Olympics
Although hosted by Laura Wilkinson, a gold medalist, this show isn’t all about the Olympics. Wilkinson’s interviews with fellow athletes focus more on the training techniques and psychological tools that have set them up for success throughout their careers. Respondents from a wide variety of disciplines share righteous thoughts about the psychological pitfalls of elite sport, overcoming fear in pursuit of goals and how to stay on course despite uncertainty. Even if you’re just getting started with a run or are trying to hit the gym again, there are many insights you can learn from the mindset of Olympic athletes.
Successful start: “17 scars that paved the way to Tokyo with the Taekwondo Olympic champion Victoria Stambaugh”
For a non-American perspective on the Olympic and Paralympic Games, give this laid-back, friendly British show a shot. Year-round, Anything but Footy provides an overview of almost all Olympic sports in England (except, as the title suggests, football) and makes a point of including sports that are not always in the limelight. Moderators John Cushing and Michael Weadock showcase their broad knowledge in the news and analytics segments. There are also a couple of long-running miniseries within the podcast: “Great British Bosses,” which features interviews with sports guides in the UK, and “Back on Track,” which examines how athletes in Tokyo got motivated after the coronavirus delay.