Opening Ceremony fireworks can be seen above the Olympic Stadium from the Shibuya Sky Observation Deck for the Tokyo Olympics Opening Ceremony on July 23, 2021. REUTERS / Kim Kyung -Hoon
TOKYO – Your sky above Tokyo National Stadium exploded in indigo and white as fireworks marked the start of Friday’s Olympics Opening Ceremony, celebrating the world’s best athletes ready to compete amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Postponed for a year, organizers have been forced to take the unprecedented step of hosting the games without fans as the novel coronavirus is on the rise again, killing people around the world.
Even the opening ceremony, normally a star-studded exhibit teeming with celebrities, was eerily silent, with fewer than 1,000 people in attendance, strict social distancing rules and signs calling on spectators to “be silent around the venue.”
Either way, it marks a coming together of the world, with audiences of hundreds of millions across the globe and at different stages of the pandemic tuned in to watch the start of the sport’s biggest spectacle.
Indigo and white are the colors of the Tokyo Olympic emblem.
The opening video shown at the stadium recapped Japan’s path to the games and the challenges the world has faced since the selection of the Japanese capital as host in 2013.
He showed how in 2020 the coronavirus struck, with lockdowns forcing the unprecedented postponement just four months before the games open, triggering a period of uncertainty and isolated preparations for athletes.
Some of them are expected to use the ceremony to make statements on equality and justice and several nations will be represented by a man and a woman after organizers changed their rules to allow two flag bearers.
ECHO OF ’64
Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games – Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games Opening Ceremony – Olympic Stadium, Tokyo, Japan – July 23, 2021. Performers are seen during the opening ceremony. REUTERS / Mike Blake
Japan had presented the Olympics as an echo of the 1964 Tokyo Games, which marked the country’s return to the world stage after its devastating defeat in World War II, but this time showing its recovery from the quake. earthquake, the tsunami and the nuclear crisis of 2011.
Shortly before the fireworks display, the opening video turned into a live shot of the stadium where a lone athlete placed her hand on the ground on a single seed.
She then slowly stood up with her elongated shadow in the shape of a seedling, highlighting the theme of the Games rebirth after the pandemic as well as the rebuilding of Japan after the disasters of 2011.
With the streets of Tokyo nearly empty for the long weekend, a small number of the biggest enthusiasts braved scorching heat and heightened security to snap a photo outside the Tokyo Olympic Stadium on Friday morning.
“The coronavirus pandemic has started and it has been a difficult year,” said Etsuko Iyazama, a 62-year-old retiree and ticket holder. “I hope people will say eventually that it was good that we hosted the Olympics.”
But in the evening, hundreds of demonstrators carrying signs reading “Lives over Olympics” demonstrated around the site. The protesters, a mix of people wearing white surgical masks, shouted “Stop the Olympics” as they marched.
OPENING WITHOUT FRILLS
The opening takes place without the usual mass choreography, huge props, and the cornucopia of dancers, actors and lights associated with past celebrations.
A much smaller number of athletes will be marching in the team parade, with many planning to catch a flight just before their competitions and leave soon after to avoid infections.
Only 15 world leaders are present, as well as the Japanese Emperor Naruhito, who will officially open the Games like his grandfather Hirohito did in 1964, and the American first lady Jill Biden.
The ceremony is marked by high-profile absences, including former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who courted the Games in Tokyo. A number of prominent sponsors and business leaders will also stay on the sidelines, underlining strong opposition to sporting extravagance in COVID-tired Japan.
Only a third of the nation had even a single dose of the vaccine, causing concern the games could turn into a super-spreading event. More than 100 people involved in the Olympics have already tested positive.
The Olympics were hit by a series of scandals, including the departure of senior officials for derogatory comments about women, Holocaust jokes and bullying.
The Games run until August 8.
Around 11,000 athletes from 204 National Olympic Committees are expected, along with a team of refugee athletes competing under the Olympic flag.
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