The Tokyo Olympics are officially underway. After a year of delays and uncertainties due to Covid-19, the 2021 Summer Olympics (still officially referred to as the “2020 Olympics”) kicked off with a dazzling though at times subdued Opening Ceremony Friday evening in Japan.
Athletes from more than 200 countries marched into Tokyo’s Olympic Stadium for the traditional kick-off to the two-week-long event, though delegations were considerably smaller this time around, with many choosing to remain at the Athlete’s Village rather than congregate with their peers at the national stadium.
While there were still thousands of athletes taking part in the ceremonial event, Covid restrictions meant there were no spectators in attendance. However, the mood was decidedly hopeful, with officials from the International Olympic Committee thanking the host country for embracing the Games, while also paying tribute to Japan’s healthcare workers, who continue to battle the pandemic on a daily basis.
The U.S. team was led by flag-bearers Sue Bird and Eddy Alvarez, while First Lady Jill Biden was in the stands next to French president Emmanuel Macron and other foreign dignitaries.
Of course the Opening Ceremony is always known for its performances, and the Tokyo Opening Ceremony featured some spectacular set pieces that filled the stadium with lights, music and dancing. Japanese singer MISIA performed Japan’s national anthem, while flag bearers entered the stadium accompanied by orchestral renditions of soundtracks from legendary Japanese video games, like Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest. John Legend and Keith Urban were among the artists who led a performance of John Lennon’s “Imagine,” meantime, toward the end of the ceremony.
For many, the most moving moment was seeing Japanese tennis star Naomi Osaka lighting the Olympic flame. Born in Japan to a Japanese mother and a Haitian father, the 23-year-old has represented Japan on the international stage for much of her career. The Tokyo Opening Ceremony marked Osaka’s first appearance in public since withdrawing from the recent French Open tennis tournament, citing mental health and depression. The message her presence seemed to convey, likely echoes what organizers are hoping to convey as well: We’re here, we’re ready to compete and let the Games begin.