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The Olympic watch parties have become of the highlights of the games

This is the best new Olympic tradition.

The light crowds at the Olympics in Tokyo are an ever-present reminder of how Covid has impacted the world, but there have been a couple of surprising bright spots left as a result. The biggest by far has been NBC’s broadcast showing footage of athlete watch parties all over the United States, and damn have they been delightful.

It started earlier this week, when we got to see Lydia Jacoby’s high school classmates absolutely lose it back in Alaska when she won gold in the 100m breaststroke.

In the past we would have cut to the stands to see family members celebrating the victory, which is obviously nice — but something about this made it so much more special. Interviewing Jacoby after the race she was shown footage of her friends back home, and smiled ear-to-ear, and laughed watching the Alaskan mosh pit forming in her gymnasium.

It humanizes the Olympic process beyond what we already expect. It shows how many people stand with Olympians, other than their direct family and trainers. Obviously it’s stuff we know, but seeing it unfold in real time makes it so much more fun.

The next night at the University of Virginia we saw this happen again, and it was just as delightful. This time it was the UVA swim and dive team cheering on their teammates Alex Walsh and Kate Douglass.

To round out the week we had the family of Caeleb Dressel, overcome with emotion as they watched him win gold.

Hopefully this is the last Olympic games where families have to watch from home, rather than be at the event in person. However, even if things return to normal I hope we keep the footage from back home showing dozens of people celebrating who aren’t able to make the trip in person — because this is what the games are all about.