TOamid the darkness of the Tokyo skyline, a moment of hope and raging enlightenment. After nearly four hours of an opening ceremony that went from grim to spectacular, the Olympic flame passed to the face of these Games, Naomi Osaka. As the steps of the Mount Fuji stage opened before her, the world-renowned tennis star from Japan trotted to the top, nodded, and then set fire to the cauldron – and perhaps these troublesome 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
It was the culmination of a ceremony that the president of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), Thomas Bach, promised would offer a “moment of hope” in a world divided by Covid.
“Yes, it is very different from what we had all imagined,” he told the 6,000 athletes at 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 darkened the tunnel. But today the flame makes this light shine brighter for all of us ”.
Meanwhile, Seiko Hashimoto, chairwoman 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 entire world has faced immense challenges with Covid-19,” he said. “I would like 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 depressing in Olympic history, charged with a tangible sense of sadness, loss and isolation. It started with an 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 flashed across the stadium, it revealed that dozens of people were also exercising, connected by lines along the stadium floor.
The message was clear: despite everything that has happened over the past 18 months, the world is still bound together by an invisible bond. That was only reinforced when the small number of people inside the Olympic Stadium were asked to observe a moment of silence for all who had died from Covid, as well as for the members of the Israeli delegation who were killed at the Olympic Games in Munich in 1972.
But while the first half was solemn and sad, the final, which took place after a prolonged two-hour break while the Olympians were introduced, was spectacular. First, 1,824 drones lit up the sky over the stadium before the Tokyo 2020 emblem seamlessly turned into a spinning globe. Then came thousands of paper pigeons falling from the stadium roof, and an exuberant pictogram show. Then it was up to Osaka, who has not been seen since withdrawing from the French Open for mental health reasons, to apply magic.
She later described it as “the greatest athletic achievement and honor I will ever have in my life,” adding on Twitter: “I have no words to describe the feelings I have right now, but I know that I am currently filled with gratitude.” and thanks “.
One of the themes when Tokyo won the right to host these Olympics was that they were the “Recovery and Reconstruction Games”, an idea that began to form after the Tohoku disaster in 2011, when an earthquake and tsunami caused more than 10,000 deaths. and a collapse at the Fukushima nuclear power plant. Bach used his speech to praise Japan for its resilience, both then and now.
“Thank you to all the Japanese for making the Olympics possible,” he said. “What is true for the perseverance of the Japanese is also true for you, my fellow Olympians. Like all of us, you lived with great uncertainty. You didn’t know when you could train again. You didn’t know 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, even though the athletes came out wearing masks and in a socially distanced formation. The Argentines jumped like crazy. The Spanish danced. The Americans and the French came into the hands of the mob. Meanwhile, the British contingent, of just 22 out of a team of 376, saluted or fist-banged. Some athletes appeared to go straight out of the stadium to avoid staying.
As the night progressed, it was hard not to imagine a parallel universe in which 68,000 people gathered in this rebuilt Tokyo stadium, showering the 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 witness it.
These Games have a well-deserved reputation as the most troublesome of modern times, dating back at least to the Moscow and Los Angeles boycotts and perhaps beyond. Tokyo 2020 faced corruption and sexism scandals, an increased budget far beyond initial projections, and fears that the intense summer heat could be dangerous for participants and viewers. And then Covid struck.
The organizers had hoped for a great deal of happiness and euphoria as the Games approached. Instead, viewers were banned, the audience remained listless at best, and on the eve of the opening ceremony, its creative director was fired for making a joke about the Holocaust.
But in recent days there has been a softening of attitudes; the feeling that not everything in these Olympics is rotten. It was evident in the crowds gathered outside the steel ring that surrounded the stadium hours before the flame was lit, taking smiling selfies next to the Olympic rings, although there were also a few protesters later.
However, 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 in history,” are underway.
That’s something few would have predicted earlier this year. But now a nation and the world must hold their breath again.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism