Tokyo Olympics opens 354 days after original schedule

(FILES) In this file photo the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic logos are displayed on the Hinomaru driving school building in Tokyo on June 29, 2020. - US Olympic and Paralympic Committee officials said July 15, 2020 they have added three independent mental health officers to support American athletes ahead of next year's Tokyo Olympics. US Olympians were set to be competing next week in Japan before the global coronavirus pandemic forced the Games to be postponed to 2021. (Photo by CHARLY TRIBALLEAU / AFP)

The Opening Ceremony of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics got underway on Friday, kicking off with a subdued performance in front of a nearly empty Olympic Stadium that acknowledged the pandemic that caused the Games to be postponed a year ago.

Dancers and athletes began the performance by working out and training alone, under conditions that reflected the distancing and isolation caused by the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19). The sequence then evolved into a symbol of the Olympics bringing the world back together, with a stylized sequence of dancers connecting to one another with brightly colored red bands.

The Tokyo 2020 Olympics formally opened on Friday night, or 364 days behind the original schedule and with a very different feel than what was originally intended before the pandemic caused by the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) changed everything.

The Olympic Stadium was largely empty. The Tokyo 2020 souvenir store outside the front gates was closed. But that doesn’t mean fans have stayed away. Hundreds of fans gathered outside the gates and along the sidewalks of closed streets, waving at any person with an Olympic credential or any vehicle that went by with an Olympic logo.

Track and field events will be held in the stadium later in these games. The track itself is covered by a large black tarp for the opening ceremony and the infield is covered with a white tarp, one where graphics will be displayed over the course of the evening.

Some dignitaries and invited guests will be in the stadium seats, including U.S. first lady Jill Biden.

The singer Misia sang Japan’s national anthem, and a performance followed featuring dancers dressed as craftsmen constructing the interlocking Olympic rings as traditional Japanese music played.

The Parade of Nations began next, with Greece, the birthplace of the Olympics, leading the way, followed by the team of refugee athletes. Smaller delegations, athletes wearing masks and extended distances between the teams are all reminders of the pandemic conditions under which the Games are being held.

The remaining nations are entering the stadium in order according to their names in Japanese, with teams such as Iceland and Ireland toward the front of the procession.

This year, the next two hosts of the Summer Games, the United States and France, will come in just ahead of Japan.

Just before the ceremony began, 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.

Friday’s Opening Ceremony is a scaled-down version of the usual spectacle of lights, music and eye-catching choreography.Its theme is “United by Emotion,” and the organizers said they hope the event 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.

International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach told Kyodo News that the ceremony would be “very emotional,” as it will be the first time since the pandemic began that “you will see the whole world in one place.”

However, the usual pomp and circumstance have been dialed down significantly. There won’t be any cheering crowds inside Tokyo’s Olympic Stadium. Only around 950 VIPs, including Olympic officials and delegates, are in attendance in the 68,000-seat stadium.

Notably absent from the ceremony will be former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, according to a report by NHK News. Abe was instrumental in securing the Olympics for Tokyo before stepping down last year due to health issues.

A number of Japanese business leaders are distancing themselves from the ceremony, including the heads of major sponsors Panasonic and Toyota.

Also absent will be North Korea, which said in April it would not participate in the Olympics due to Covid-19 concerns.

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