Aamidst the darkness of the Tokyo skyline, a moment of unleashed hope and enlightenment. After nearly four hours of an opening ceremony that turned from dark to spectacular, the Olympic flame passed in the face of these Games, Naomi Osaka. As the steps to the Mount Fuji stage opened before her, the world-renowned Japanese tennis star ran to the top, nodded, then set the cauldron on fire – and maybe those Olympics. of Tokyo 2020 troubled.
It was the culmination of a ceremony that the President of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), Thomas Bach, had promised to offer a “moment of hope” in a world torn apart by Covid.
“Yes, it’s very different from what we all imagined,” he told the 6,000 athletes in the stadium. “The pandemic has separated us. But today, wherever you are in the world, we are united to share this moment together. This separation made the tunnel dark. But today the flame makes that light brighter for all of us.
Meanwhile, Seiko Hashimoto, the chair of the Tokyo organizing committee, said she welcomed the athletes “with all my heart” before paying tribute to those who had been on the front lines of the pandemic.
“The whole world has faced immense challenges with Covid-19,” she said. “I want 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.”
The ceremony began as the most pessimistic in Olympic history, loaded with a tangible sense of sadness, loss and isolation. It all started with a female athlete on a treadmill, running alone in the dark. Then came a lone cyclist and a lone rower on an indoor machine. But when the spotlight shone the spotlight on the entire stadium, it revealed that dozens of others were also exercising, connected by lines across the stadium floor.
The message was clear: Despite everything that has happened in the past 18 months, the world is still united by an invisible bond. This was only reinforced when the small number of people inside the Olympic Stadium were asked to observe a minute of silence for all those who had died of Covid, as well as for members of the Israeli delegation who were assassinated at the Munich Olympics in 1972.
But while the first half was solemn and sad, the final – which came after a long two-hour lull while the Olympic athletes were presented – was spectacular. First, 1,824 drones lit up the sky above the stadium before the Tokyo 2020 emblem became a rotating globe. Then came thousands of paper doves falling from the roof of the stadium, and an exuberant spectacle of pictograms. Then it was up to Osaka, who has not been seen since retiring from Roland Garros for mental health issues, to apply magic.
She later described it as “the greatest athletic achievement and the greatest honor I will ever have in my life,” adding on Twitter: “I have no words to describe the feelings I have. ‘ve right now, but I know that I am currently filled with gratitude. and gratitude.
One of the themes when Tokyo won the right to host these Olympics was that it should be the “Games of Recovery and Reconstruction” – an idea that began to form after the Tohoku disaster in 2011, when he earthquake and tsunami killed more than 10,000 people and collapsed at the Fukushima nuclear power plant. Bach used his speech to praise Japan for its resilience, both yesterday and today.
“Thank you to all Japanese for making the Olympics possible,” he said. “What is true for the perseverance of the Japanese is also true for you, my fellow Olympic athletes. Like all of us, you lived in great uncertainty. You didn’t know when you could train again. You had no idea at all if this competition would take place. You fought, you persevered and today you are making your Olympic dream come true.
Many of them certainly seemed happy, despite the athletes marching in masks and in socially distanced training. The Argentines jumped frantically. The Spaniards danced. The Americans and the French came in droves. Meanwhile, the British contingent, made up of just 22 out of a team of 376, saluted or punched. Some athletes appeared to come straight out of the stadium to avoid hanging out.
As the evening dragged on, it was hard not to imagine a parallel universe where 68,000 people crowded into this reconstructed Tokyo stadium, flooding performers and athletes with sustained applause and joy. Instead, when Emperor Naruhito declared the Games of the XXXII Olympiad open, only 6,000 athletes, 900 IOC officials and foreign dignitaries, and 3,500 media representatives and volunteers were there to attend.
These Games have a deserved reputation as the most troubled of modern times, dating back at least to the boycotts of Moscow and Los Angeles and perhaps beyond. Tokyo 2020 has faced scandals of corruption and sexism, an inflated budget far beyond initial projections, and fears that the intense summer heat could be dangerous for attendees and spectators. And then Covid struck.
The organizers had hoped for a wave of happiness and euphoria as the Games approach. Instead, spectators were banned, the audience remained apathetic at best, and on the eve of the opening ceremony, its creative director was fired for making a Holocaust joke.
But in recent days there has been a softening of attitudes; the feeling that all is not rotten in these Olympic Games. This was evident in the compact crowd gathered outside the steel ring surrounding the stadium hours before the flame was lit, taking selfies of themselves smiling next to the Olympic rings – although later there were also some demonstrators.
Yet, after Friday night, Tokyo 2020 can at least say this: These Games have taken off. Whatever happens in the next fortnight, these Olympic Games – which have been described by the IOC as “the most complex of all time” – are underway.
This is something few people would have predicted at the start of this year. But now a nation and the world must hold their breath again.