On Friday, one year after the Games were postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic, Japanese tennis star Naomi Osaka lit the Olympic cauldron and Emperor Naruhito officially declared the Tokyo 2020 Games open in front of a nearly empty Olympic Stadium.
The Olympic torch arrived in Osaka after being carried through the stadium by athletes including baseball legends Sadaharu Oh and Hideki Matsui, a doctor and nurse, and children from the Fukushima region, which was devastated by a tsunami and earthquake in 2011.
“Today is a moment of hope,” International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach said in an address at the Opening Ceremony.
“Yes, it is very different from what all of us had imagined,” Bach said. “But let us cherish this moment. Finally, we are all here together.”
Bach thanked the Tokyo organizers and the competitors for persevering through the pandemic to bring the Olympic Games to fruition.
— Team USA (@TeamUSA) July 23, 2021
“This feeling of togetherness,” Bach said. “This is the light at the end of the dark tunnel.”
The subdued tone of the ceremony reflected the challenging circumstances under which the Games are being held, with no public spectators allowed at events due to a state of emergency in Tokyo as it struggles to contain a spiking number of COVID-19 cases.
Organizers announced that 10,400 people were in the 68,000-seat Olympic Stadium for the Opening Ceremony, including 6,000 members of team delegations, around 900 VIPs and 3,500 members of the media.
Despite the difficulties, the Opening Ceremony was able to provide some memorable moments through a combination of technology and artistry.
In one sequence, 1,800 synchronised drones hovered over the stadium, transforming the Olympic rings into a massive planet Earth, while a children’s chorus sang John Lennon’s “Imagine,” accompanied by singers from around the world via video feed, including John Legend, Keith Urban, and Angelique Kidjo.
A stylised dance sequence featuring athletes training and working out alone before connecting to one another in a brightly coloured web was also performed.
The parade began with Greece, the birthplace of the Olympics, leading the way, followed by the team of refugee athletes. The remaining nations entered the stadium in order according to their names in Japanese.
American athletes came in third to last, just ahead of France and host country Japan, chanting “USA! USA!”
The delegation was led by four-time Olympic basketball champion Sue Bird and Eddy Alvarez, a member of the U.S. baseball team who won a silver medal as part of the 5,000-meter, four-man, short-track speedskating team at the Sochi Winter Games in 2014.
The pair wore microphones and were able to speak to NBC hosts Savannah Guthrie and Mike Tirico during the procession
“The energy’s insane,” Bird said. “I know our country’s going through a tough moment, but we all feel unified.”
“I’m freaking out a little bit,” Alvarez said. “It’s so emotional. I’m feeling the energy from my team.”
Team USA athletes wore Ralph Lauren outfits that included navy blazers, jeans, striped T-shirts, flag-print scarves, and cotton face masks.
This year, Olympic organisers encouraged teams to have two flag bearers in order to create a more equitable balance for female athletes. According to the IOC, these will be the first Games in history to have nearly equal gender representation, with women accounting for 48.8 percent of the total.
Russian athletes marched under the name ROC, for Russian Olympic Committee. They are unable to compete under the country name or use their national anthem due to continuing sanctions for running a state-sponsored doping program.
LET THE GAMES BEGIN ✨ pic.twitter.com/6jYpzT0min
— Simone Biles (@Simone_Biles) July 23, 2021
Pita Taufatofua, Tonga’s shirtless flag bearer who rose to social media fame during the Opening Ceremony of the Rio 2016 Olympics, made his third appearance for the Polynesian nation.
South Korean athletes competed under very different conditions than when their country hosted the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics in 2018. Athletes from North and South Korea marched together under a unified peninsula flag at those Games, kicking off a period of diplomatic engagement. North Korea will not participate this year, citing the coronavirus pandemic, and its relations with the United States and South Korea are strained.
Before the ceremony, U.S. first lady Jill Biden published an open letter in support of the members of Team USA on the NBC News website.
“Your entire nation is cheering you on, and we are grateful for what you’ve given us: the chance to come together in common awe and appreciation for your accomplishments and the shared joy of rooting for our country on the edge of our seats,” she wrote.
Biden is leading the Team USA delegation.
The theme of the Opening Ceremony was “United by Emotion,” and the organizers said they hoped the event would will “be an experience that conveys how we all have the ability to celebrate differences, to empathize and to live side by side with compassion for one another.”
The Opening and Closing Ceremonies are being held at Olympic Stadium in Tokyo, a site used as the main stadium for the Tokyo 1964 Olympic Games and was rebuilt as a new stadium for the Tokyo 2020 Games. Athletics events and soccer matches will be held there during the Games.
The Opening Ceremony was broadcast live on NBC on Friday morning. The Opening Ceremony will be replayed during prime-time coverage beginning at 7:30 p.m. EDT
It remains to be seen how the Opening Ceremony in Tokyo will be remembered in comparison to previous Olympic ceremonies.
The Opening Ceremony of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games took viewers on a colourful journey through Brazil’s past and present, sending messages about conservation and climate change.
The London Olympics in 2012 made an unforgettable splash by featuring Queen Elizabeth II and James Bond appearing to parachute out of a helicopter and into Wembley Stadium.
The ceremony also has been hit with a round of scandals in the closing hours of its preparation.
The director of the Opening and Closing Ceremonies, comedian Kentaro Kobayashi, was fired Thursday after a video from a 1998 skit surfaced in which he made jokes about the Holocaust.
Kentaro’s dismissal came on the heels of the resignation Monday of Keigo Oyamada, the musician also known as Cornelius, who was in charge of composing music for the Opening and Closing ceremonies. An outcry emerged around interviews that surfaced in which he admitted to torturing and sexually abusing special needs classmates when he was a student.
Only a few world leaders attended the ceremony on Friday, including Japan’s Yoshihide Suga and France’s Emmanuel Macron.
Former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who was instrumental in securing the Olympics for Tokyo before stepping down last year due to health issues, was noticeably absent.
A number of Japanese business leaders have also decided not to attend the ceremony, including the CEOs of major sponsors Panasonic and Toyota.
According to a poll conducted this week by the Asahi Shimbun newspaper, 55 percent of Japanese people oppose holding the Olympics, and 68 percent are sceptical that they can be held safely.