Athletes are hoping to achieve their dreams in Tokyo at a fragile time in human history: COVID-19 has taken another turn with a rise in delta variant cases around the world, particularly in India, the United Kingdom and the United States.

The stands and arenas in Tokyo are remarkably empty while lifelong dreams of gold unfold, as international officials hoped limitations on attendance would create a protective bubble of vaccinated athletes. The pandemic, which quickly spread around the world in 2019 and 2020, has cast a long shadow on the 2020 Olympic Games — forever dubbed the “Pandemic Games” by some.

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