The Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games Opening Ceremony gives the host city of the postponed Olympics its rightful moment as the epicenter of the sporting world.
With no spectators allowed it was a surreal experience and an honor to be inside the newly-built Olympic Stadium which opened last year.
A mixed response could be heard outside the stadium with hundreds gathered all around the stadium despite being told to stay home as the country is in its fourth State of Emergency until two weeks after the Games end.
Members of the public warmly greeted the media and interacted with them ahead of ceremony while protesters could also be heard from inside the stadium after the four-hour ceremony started.
Around 2,000 people were believed to be in attendance with the media tribunes full. A host of dignitaries and world leaders could be seen during the parade of the nations.
The ceremony, which started at 8pm local time, started by reflecting on the challenges Japan and the world has faced since the country was announced as the hosts of this Olympiad back in 2013 by then IOC President Jacques Rogge.
The year-long delay and its impact on the athletes was touched upon and how they have overcome adversity to keep training to be here to try to fulfil their dreams in Tokyo.
Emperor Naruhito and IOC President Thomas Bach were then shown entering together. Naruhito attended the Tokyo 1964 Olympics when he was just a child and witnessed his grandfather Hirohito open those Games.
The national flag of the host nation of Japan was carried in by a six-strong group which consisted of: Yoshinobu Miyake, two-time weightlifting champion, Olympic marathon champion Naoko Takahashi, YOG medallist in curling Momoha Tabata, Hibiki Sakai, a percussionist, and YOG Sport Climbing champion Keita Dohi, and rescue worker Mizuki Asaba.
The Japanese anthem was sung by acclaimed Japanese singer, songwriter, and producer Misia, 43, who hails from Nagasaki which is on the west coast of Japan’s Kyushu Island.
There was a poignant moment to remember loved ones no longer with us – especially those we’ve lost due to COVID-19. For the first time at an opening ceremony, the members of the Israeli delegation killed by Palestinian terrorists at the 1972 Munich Games were remembered. A moment of silence was observed.
The Olympic rings were assembled one-by-one in the center of the stadium before our first sight of fireworks above the stadium.
It was then time for the parade of the flags and all 205 competing nations. This was conducted in a different format to usual as countries entered according to the order of the Japanese alphabet. Greece still led the way followed by the IOC Olympic Refugee Team. Japan, as is tradition, was last as the host nation.
Athletes looked to be having a great time and soaked up every second on a typically muggy Summer’s night in Tokyo with the temperature still over 30 °C while the teams entered.
Argentina and Portugal in particular were in party mode as they made their entertaining entrances into the magnificent venue which will host events such as football and athletics.
While athletics boasted a highly-impressive 68 flagbearers, there was a few very familiar faces and some athletes who seized their moment and introduced themselves to the world.
Topless Tongan flagbearer Pita Taufatofua made a popular return. The 2016 Taekwondo competitor is something of an all-rounder as he also took part in the 2018 Winter Olympics as his country’s only representative (cross-country skiing 15km freestyle race).
The oiled-up Tongan will compete in taekwondo in Tokyo.
Vanuata rower Rio Rii, the Commonwealth Beach Rowing Sprint Champion, also decided to wear the bare essentials and made an impression for his country.
Guam’s flag bearer and judoka Joshter Andrew, who lives and trains in Japan, will take on Tajikistan’s Akmal Murodov on Tuesday in the -81kg category but spoke to Around The Rings about his immense pride at leading his nation into the stadium on Friday.
“Honestly everything at the moment has been very new to me. It’s a great experience and honour to be selected and I’m sure my family and friends back home are very proud. It means a lot to me.”
Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan athletes were noted for not wearing masks which was understood to be mandatory for all teams as well as officials and media in the venue.
The host nation picked 22-year-old Chiba native and double freestyle wrestling world champion Yui Susaki and NBA ace Rui Hachimura of the Washington Wizards as their joint flagbearers.
Following the arrival of all 205 nations, the newly updated Olympic oath was read out before drones lit up the sky to form the Tokyo 2020 emblem and then the world in the Games’ first viral moment on social media.
In a ceremony dubbed ‘Unity in Diversity’ the Tokyo 2020 emblem was been unveiled in the sky via 1824 drones in an astounding display which drew audible gasps from members of the media.
A special version of John Lennon classic ‘Imagine’ provided a fitting soundtrack before it was time for the president’s speeches.
Tokyo 2020 President Seiko Hashimoto said: “Following the challenges of the first ever postponement in Olympic history, the Tokyo 2020 Games finally open here today. Hopes have been connected one by one by many hands, and we are now in a position to welcome this day.
“The whole world has faced immense challenges with COVID-19. I would like to express my gratitude and respect to all essential workers including those in medical services and others around the world who have shown such determination in overcoming these challenges.
“I would also like to offer my thanks to the people of Japan for hosting the Games, as well as to the International Olympic Committee, the Government of Japan, and the Tokyo Metropolitan Government and other organisations for working so hard to make them happen.”
IOC President Thomas Bach said: “We can only be all together here, because of you, our gracious hosts, the Japanese people, to whom we would like to express all our appreciation and respect.
“The Organising Committee, and the Japanese authorities at all levels have done extraordinary work for which, on behalf of all the Olympic athletes, I want to express our deepest gratitude.
“Ten years ago, you set out on the journey to bring the Olympic spirit back to Tokyo after the outstanding Olympic Games Tokyo 1964. It was a difficult journey, with unprecedented challenges along the way: first, reconstructing after the Great East Japan Earthquake, then the coronavirus pandemic. This is why our gratitude and admiration for you is even greater.
“We thank all the many unsung heroes, the doctors, nurses and all the Japanese people who contribute to contain the pandemic.
“A special thanks goes to the thousands of volunteers, who despite all the challenges they had to face, welcomed us wholeheartedly. You are the best ambassadors for Japan. A big thank you to all volunteers!
Bach then turned his attention to the athletes.
“You inspired us, the IOC and the entire Olympic community. You inspired us to fight like you, and for you, to make this moment possible. This is why, I would like to express my sincere thanks to all the National Olympic Committees, the International Federations, all our TOP partners and sponsors and our Rights-Holding Broadcasters for standing together with us. This made all of us a true community - the Olympic community.
“Dear athletes. This Olympic community is with you tonight and during these Olympic Games. Billions of people from around the globe will be glued to their screens, sending you their enthusiasm, their energy and cheering you on.
“Our Olympic community learned that we can address the many big challenges of our times only if we stand together.”
Emperor Naruhito then declared the Games open and the Olympic flag was carried into the venue and raised to the sound of the Olympic anthem.
In a moment of tremendous creativity and one of the highlights of the ceremony, several people in costumes recreated the pictograms for all 50 sports disciplines.
Judo legend Tadahiro Nomura and wrestling great Saori Yoshida brought the torch into the stadium together after its journey of 121 days over 2,000km. It had been carried by 10,000 torchbearers.
Japanese superstar Naomi Osaka, a four-time tennis Grand Slam winner, had the distinction of lighting the Olympic flame before the most dazzling display of fireworks concluded a memorable ceremony that the organizers will hope can start to change the perception of the Olympics with a star-laden and plentiful schedule set to officially commence on Saturday.