Tokyo Olympics Begin with Opening Ceremony amid Host City's COVID State of Emergency
The Tokyo Olympics have officially kicked off.
After a year-long delay due to the COVID-19 pandemic, on Friday, more than 11,000 athletes from 206 nations attended the opening ceremony, which was themed "United by Emotion," at Olympic Stadium, where Emperor Naruhito formally opened the Games of the XXXII Olympiad.
After a video montage that showed athletes from around the world training at home during the pandemic, the live ceremony began with Japanese middleweight boxer Arisa Tsubata running on a treadmill, surrounded by dancers and other athletes training at a distance, but together, on stage. Along with being a national champion boxer, Tsubata is also a nurse who treated COVID-19 patients over the last year.
The opening ceremony stage, designed by Yohei Taneda, is meant to represent the sun and Japan's Mount Fuji.
Most of the arena was left empty, with no spectators allowed other than select organizers, sponsors, dignitaries and press. Throughout the ceremony, and "through these Games, we will acknowledge the way the world came together to face a global threat, while recognising, lauding and demonstrating our sincere gratitude for the immeasurable support and efforts of all those who made Tokyo 2020 possible," the organizers said.
Protestors outside the arena could be heard yelling chants that included "Olympics leave Japan," "Go to hell, IOC" and "Go to hell, Olympics." Recent polling in the country showed that around 70% of residents wanted the Games canceled or postponed due to a rise in COVID-19 cases in Japan, which is currently under a state of emergency.
The marching order for the "Parade of Nations" was determined by each country's Japanese-language names, in katakana order, rather than alphabetically in English. (Greece traditionally marches first.) Team USA, dressed in navy blazers, printed scarves, shoes and personalized masks by Ralph Lauren, will be the third to last country to march because a new rule states that future Olympic host nations will appear at the end. Los Angeles is set to host the 2028 Games and France, which will be second to last to march, will host the 2024 Olympics.
Athletes walked to a medley of orchestral versions of Japanese video game music from Final Fantasy, Mario, Sonic, Dragon Quest and Zelda.
Meanwhile, First Lady Dr. Jill Biden was on hand for the ceremony, marking her second trip to the Olympics as a representative for the U.S. (She and then-Vice President Joe Biden led the U.S. delegation at the 2010 Games in Vancouver.)
A reduced number of dignitaries and VIP guests were among the few to be in attendance after international and domestic spectators were barred from being inside Olympic venues in Tokyo and five neighboring prefectures due to COVID restrictions. The pandemic-delayed Games have become deeply unpopular among local residents amid Tokyo's fourth state of emergency as COVID cases continue to rise largely due to the delta variant.
So far, at least 106 cases tied to the Olympics have been reported. Tokyo 2020 CEO Toshiro Muto recently said he is not ruling out an 11th-hour cancellation of the Olympics.
The opening ceremony was broadcast live on NBC with coverage hosted by Savannah Guthrie and Mike Tirico, marking the network's first-ever live morning broadcast of an opening ceremony.
Next, the Paralympics open on Aug. 24.
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To learn more about all the Olympic hopefuls, visit TeamUSA.org. The Tokyo Olympics begin July 23rd on NBC.