Tokyo (CNN)With no fans in attendance and a reduced number of athletes joining the parade, the Tokyo Olympics‘ Opening Ceremony officially kicked off the Summer Games on Friday as tennis star Naomi Osaka lit the cauldron.
Earlier on Friday, a request from Tokyo 2020 organizers to push back Osaka’s opening match of the Olympics from Saturday to Sunday was granted ahead of the opening ceremony, fueling speculation that the four-time grand slam champion, who is making her Olympic debut on home soil, might light the cauldron.The daughter of a Japanese mother and Haitian-American father, Osaka was born in Japan but moved to the US when she was three years old.Earlier this month, citing her mental health, Osaka withdrew from the French Open, revealing afterwards that she had “suffered long bouts of depression” since winning her first grand slam title in 2018. She later also withdrew from Wimbledon.The ceremony drew to a close around midnight in Japan as a spectacular firework display illuminated the Tokyo night sky.Read MoreThe surreal circumstances of the Games’ curtain raiser — unlike any other previous opening ceremony — provided a glimpse of what is to come over the next 16 days with the coronavirus pandemic set to loom large over proceedings.While opening ceremonies of the Olympics are usually staged in front of packed stands, spectators were kept away in Tokyo. Instead, many lined the fences around the city’s National Stadium throughout the day, while others gathered outside the venue to protest.According to Tokyo 2020 organizers, 950 people attended the opening ceremony — only a handful in a venue with a capacity of 68,000 — as the 206 delegations competing were officially welcomed to the Games. US First Lady Jill Biden and French President Emmanuel Macron attended the event.With athletes expected to arrive in the Olympic Village five days prior to their competition and depart a maximum of two days after, fewer took part in the parade of nations compared to previous Olympics.Fireworks light up the sky over the Olympic Stadium during the Tokyo Olympics Opening Ceremony. READ: US marathon runner’s remarkable journey to Tokyo 2020Team USA, for example, had more than 200 athletes walking through the stadium out of a team that is over 600 strong, while 63 of Australia’s 472 athletes took part. “I think it’s unfortunate,” American triple jumper Will Claye told reporters about some athletes not being able to attend the opening ceremony due to restrictions.”My first Olympics in 2012, I walked and I was able to meet and take pictures with some of my idols in sport, some of the athletes that I look up to like Kobe (Bryant), LeBron (James) and actually being able to spend time with these people while we were preparing to do Opening Ceremonies,” said Claye, referring to the NBA greats.”And those are the memories that last a lifetime … For someone who this may be their first Olympics, it’s a once in a lifetime thing. You never know if you’ll be able to get back to that stage.Traditional Tongan dress If this was an opening ceremony like no other, one thing remained unchanged compared to past Olympics: the shirtless Tongan Pita Taufatofua made a return.Taufatofua first caught the attention of Olympic spectators in Rio five years ago when he appeared wearing traditional Tongan dress and covered in oil. He then repeated the act at the PyeongChang Winter Olympics two years later. Pita Taufatofua leads out Team Tonga during the opening ceremony.However, Taufatofua had competition this time around, with Vanuatu’s flag-bearer, rower Riilio Rii, also coming out shirtless and oiled.Many of the athletes remained socially distant as they walked through the stadium, but others — such as Argentina and Portugal — were exuberant, breaking into cheering and dancingThe procession began with Greece, the first nation to host the modern Olympic Games, whose athletes were followed by those from the 29-strong Refugee Olympic Team, which debuted at the 2016 Rio Olympics. It concluded with the US and France — the two countries hosting the next two editions of the Games — and finally Japan.Legendary basketball player Sue Bird and baseball star Eddy Alvares carried the flag for the US, which was cheered on from the stands by First Lady Jill Biden. Photos: 25 athletes to watch in the Tokyo OlympicsAmerican gymnast Simone Biles is the defending Olympic champion in the individual all-around, and if the high-flying 24-year-old wins in Tokyo she will be the first woman to repeat since Vera Caslavska in 1968. Many consider Biles to be the greatest gymnast of all time. Over the past few years, she has astounded us with never-before-seen moves; there are now four original skills that are named after her. And earlier this year she became the first woman to land the Yurchenko double pike vault in competition.Hide Caption 1 of 24 Photos: 25 athletes to watch in the Tokyo OlympicsNaomi Osaka (Japan): Osaka, one of the biggest stars in tennis, recently made headlines when she withdrew from the French Open, citing her mental health. The four-time major winner also sat out Wimbledon. But the 23-year-old will be competing in her home country for the Olympics.Hide Caption 2 of 24 Photos: 25 athletes to watch in the Tokyo OlympicsKatie Ledecky (United States): Ledecky was one of the biggest stars of 2016, winning five Olympic golds and setting two world records — one in the 400-meter freestyle and one in the 800-meter freestyle. She was the first swimmer since 1968 to win the 200-, 400- and 800-meter freestyles at the same Olympics, and she will be looking to defend all of those titles in Tokyo. She will also be favored in the 1,500-meter freestyle, which is making its debut this year on the women’s side. Ledecky, 24, has broken 14 world records during her illustrious career.Hide Caption 3 of 24 Photos: 25 athletes to watch in the Tokyo OlympicsNyjah Huston (United States): Skateboarding makes its Olympic debut in Tokyo, and Huston is one of the sport’s icons. The 26-year-old, who has nearly 5 million followers on Instagram, has won three of the last four world titles in the street category. He’s also won the most street medals in X Games history.Hide Caption 4 of 24 Photos: 25 athletes to watch in the Tokyo OlympicsNoah Lyles (United States): Lyles, center, is the current world champion in the 200 meters and many people’s favorite to win the event at the Olympics, which Usain Bolt won in each of the past three Games. Bolt’s retirement also opens the door for a new 100-meter champion. Lyles, 23, was expected to compete in that event, too, but he finished seventh at the US Olympic trials and failed to qualify. The winner of that race, Trayvon Bromell, is now among the favorites there.Hide Caption 5 of 24 Photos: 25 athletes to watch in the Tokyo OlympicsStephanie Gilmore (Australia): Surfing makes its Olympic debut this year, and the highly decorated Gilmore will be one of the favorites on the women’s side. The 33-year-old has won more world titles — seven — than any of her competitors. She’ll be looking to beat out American Carissa Moore, the current world champ.Hide Caption 6 of 24 Photos: 25 athletes to watch in the Tokyo OlympicsLaurel Hubbard (New Zealand): Hubbard will be the first transgender athlete to compete in the Olympics. Hubbard, 43, competed in men’s weightlifting competitions before transitioning in 2013. She has been eligible to compete in the Olympics since 2015, when the International Olympic Committee issued new guidelines that allow any transgender athlete to compete as a woman provided their testosterone levels are below 10 nanomoles per liter for at least 12 months before their first competition, according to Reuters.Hide Caption 7 of 24 Photos: 25 athletes to watch in the Tokyo OlympicsAllyson Felix (United States): Felix kisses her daughter, Camryn, at the US Olympic trials in June. Felix, 35, is the only female track-and-field athlete to win six Olympic gold medals, and she also has three silvers. If she wins a medal in Tokyo, she would stand alone as the most decorated female track star in Olympic history. Over the past few years, Felix has been an advocate for change, whether it be taking part in Black Lives Matter protests or standing up for maternal protections in contracts. This is her fifth Olympic Games.Hide Caption 8 of 24 Photos: 25 athletes to watch in the Tokyo OlympicsCaeleb Dressel (United States): Michael Phelps, the most decorated Olympian of all time, has called it a career. But Dressel might be the next big thing in men’s swimming. The 24-year-old has already got two Olympic gold medals, and he’s the world-record holder in the 100-meter butterfly. He’ll be racing in that event as well as the 50-meter freestyle and the 100-meter freestyle.Hide Caption 9 of 24 Photos: 25 athletes to watch in the Tokyo OlympicsJanja Garnbret (Slovenia): Sport climbing is one of four sports making their Olympic debut this year, and Garnbret, 22, is one of the best sport climbers on the planet. The 2019 World Cup champion is heavily favored to win gold.Hide Caption 10 of 24 Photos: 25 athletes to watch in the Tokyo OlympicsShi Tingmao (China): China’s diving teams have been dominating Olympic competitions since 1984, taking home 40 gold medals out of a possible 56. Shi, 29, won two golds in 2016 and will look to add to that tally before calling it a career. She’s owned the 3-meter springboard events since 2015, rarely losing an event.Hide Caption 11 of 24 Photos: 25 athletes to watch in the Tokyo OlympicsSky Brown (Great Britain): The 13-year-old skateboarder lives up to her name, soaring through the air when she competes in the park event. Sky, Britain’s youngest-ever summer Olympian, is ranked third in the world in park skateboarding. Her Olympic qualification finished an inspiring comeback story: Last year, she fractured her skull and broke bones in her left hand after falling from a ramp during training. Sky also was born in Japan. Her mother is Japanese and her father is British.Hide Caption 12 of 24 Photos: 25 athletes to watch in the Tokyo OlympicsSimone Manuel (United States): Manuel made history in 2016 when she became the first African American woman to win gold in an individual swimming event. She won’t be able to defend her crown in the 100-meter freestyle, as she wasn’t able to qualify this time around, but she will be competing in the 50-meter freestyle. The 24-year-old also medaled in two relays in 2016.Hide Caption 13 of 24 Photos: 25 athletes to watch in the Tokyo OlympicsEliud Kipchoge (Kenya): Kipchoge, the only person to complete a marathon in under two hours, is a legend in the sport. The 36-year-old won Olympic gold in 2016 and is one of the favorites to win in Tokyo. Hide Caption 14 of 24 Photos: 25 athletes to watch in the Tokyo OlympicsHend Zaza (Syria): At 12 years old, Zaza is expected to be the youngest Olympian in Tokyo — and the fifth-youngest person ever to compete in the Olympics. The table-tennis player actually qualified in February 2020 when she was just 11. Because of the country’s civil war, she hasn’t been able to enter many tournaments, her coach has said.Hide Caption 15 of 24 Photos: 25 athletes to watch in the Tokyo OlympicsZhu Ting (China): Zhu is the captain of China’s indoor volleyball team, which won Olympic gold five years ago in Rio de Janeiro. The 6-foot-6 outside hitter is 26 years old, but she’s already considered one of the greatest volleyball players of all time.Hide Caption 16 of 24 Photos: 25 athletes to watch in the Tokyo OlympicsShelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce (Jamaica): Fraser-Pryce, right, is looking to become the first woman to win the 100-meter dash at three different Olympics. The 5-foot-1 “Pocket Rocket” finished third in 2016 after winning gold in 2008 and 2012, but she rebounded to win the event at the 2019 World Championships. And in June, she clocked a time of 10.63 seconds, which is the second-fastest 100 time ever for a woman. If the 34-year-old wins gold in Tokyo, she would be the oldest person to win an individual Olympic sprint.Hide Caption 17 of 24 Photos: 25 athletes to watch in the Tokyo OlympicsRyo Kiyuna (Japan): Kiyuna is from the island of Okinawa, which is considered the birthplace of karate, and he is one of the favorites to win gold as the sport appears at the Olympics for the first time. The 31-year-old competes in the kata event, which is a solo discipline where the athletes demonstrate various forms. Hide Caption 18 of 24 Photos: 25 athletes to watch in the Tokyo OlympicsKevin Durant (United States): Team USA has dominated men’s basketball since 1992, when NBA players were first allowed to play and the “Dream Team” became a global phenomenon. The Americans have won the last three gold medals and six of the last seven — only coming up short in 2004. Durant, 32, is one of two returning players from the team that won in 2016, and he’ll be looked to for leadership and scoring. Durant led the team in scoring in 2016, and he averaged 34.3 points in the NBA playoffs this year.Hide Caption 19 of 24 Photos: 25 athletes to watch in the Tokyo OlympicsMasahiro Tanaka (Japan): For the first time since 2008, baseball is back at the Olympics. Unfortunately, baseball-crazy Japan will not be able to cheer on the national team in person, as all Olympic spectators have been banned because of Covid-19. Tanaka, a former New York Yankee who made two All-Star teams, now plays professionally in Japan with the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles. The 32-year-old is one of the most well-known names on a team that includes pitcher Yoshinobu Yamamoto, shortstop Hayato Sakamato and outfielder Seiyka Suzuki. Major League Baseball players are not competing in Tokyo.Hide Caption 20 of 24 Photos: 25 athletes to watch in the Tokyo OlympicsAriarne Titmus (Australia): The biggest threat to Katie Ledecky’s dominance in the pool could be Titmus, a 20-year Australian nicknamed the “Terminator.” Titmus defeated Ledecky in the 400-meter freestyle two years ago at the World Championships. Ledecky was battling a stomach virus at the time, but Titmus has only gotten better since then. She nearly broke Ledecky’s 400-meter world record in June, finishing just .44 seconds off the pace.Hide Caption 21 of 24 Photos: 25 athletes to watch in the Tokyo OlympicsMegan Rapinoe (United States): The US women’s soccer team is packed with superstars, including Rose Lavelle, Carli Lloyd and Alex Morgan. But it’s impossible to take your eyes off Rapinoe, who scored the game-winning goal in the 2019 World Cup final and was named the tournament’s best player. The 36-year-old has also been an outspoken advocate for equality and inclusivity.Hide Caption 22 of 24 Photos: 25 athletes to watch in the Tokyo OlympicsKarsten Warholm (Norway): Warholm broke a 29-year-old world record this summer when he finished the 400-meter hurdles in 46.70 seconds. It was the longest-standing record in men’s track. Warholm, 25, has dominated the event over the last few years, winning the last two world titles.Hide Caption 23 of 24 Photos: 25 athletes to watch in the Tokyo OlympicsDiana Taurasi and Sue Bird (United States): If the US women’s basketball team wins gold — as it has in every Olympics since 1996 — then Taurasi, left, and Bird will become the first basketball players of any gender to win five Olympic gold medals. The two guards are two of the greatest women’s basketball players of all time. Taurasi, 39, is the WNBA’s all-time leading scorer. Bird, 40, is the league’s all-time leader in assists.Hide Caption 24 of 24The ceremony was attended by Japan’s Emporor Naruhito and included performances that paid tribute to the country’s culture and history. A model of Mount Fuji, the iconic peak that towers over Tokyo, was placed in the stadium and presided over the dancers and singers who took to the stage at the start of the event. There were also tributes to those who have lost their lives during the pandemic, as well as to the 11 Israeli athletes killed in a terror attack at the 1972 Munich Olympics. How the coronavirus pandemic has affected athletes over the past 18 months was also acknowledged. Japanese boxer and nurse Arisa Tsubata — whose Olympic dreams were dashed when a qualifying event was canceled — was seen running alone on a treadmill in darkness at the start of the opening ceremony.”Today is a moment of hope,” said International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach. “Yes, it is very different from what all of us had imagined. But let us cherish this moment because finally we are all here together: the athletes from 205 National Olympic Committees and the IOC Refugee Olympic Team, living under one roof together in the Olympic Village.”This is the unifying power of sport. This is the message of solidarity, the message of peace and the message of resilience. This gives all of us hope for our further journey together.”Performers are seen during the Opening Ceremony of the Tokyo Olympics.This is the second time that Tokyo has hosted the Games having previously done so in 1964, but the buildup to the opening ceremony in 2021 was mired in controversyDirector Kentaro Kobayashi was dismissed Thursday following past comments that “ridiculed the painful facts of history,” according to Tokyo 2020 organizers. Local media reports said he made anti-Semitic comments in a 1998 comedy act about the Holocaust. Kobayashi later apologized for his comments.That was after musician Keigo Oyamada, the composer for both the Opening and Closing Ceremonies — announced his intention to step down this week after old interviews of bullying behavior resurfaced.Several sports have already got underway in Tokyo in advance of the opening ceremony: archery, baseball, softball, equestrian, football, rowing and shooting.But Friday’s event — a unique occasion for what is set to be a unique Games — marks the official beginning of the Tokyo Olympics, albeit a year later than originally planned. From Saturday, the first medals of the Games will be distributed; after months of challenges and uncertainties, Olympic organizers will finally be able to let sport do the talking.
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