Tokyo Olympics: Tennis star Naomi Osaka lights up the Olympic cauldron at the opening of the Games | Olympic Games
Japanese tennis star Naomi Osaka lit the Olympic cauldron at the opening of the Tokyo Games on Friday after a year of pandemic delay and lingering threats of coronavirus.
Osaka raised the torch towards the sparkling cauldron, which had unfolded atop a ramp depicting Mount Fuji, at the culmination of a ceremony that was stripped by fears of the virus.
TOKYO 2020 OLYMPIC GAMES: FULL COVERAGE
Emperor of Japan Naruhito officially opened the Games at a strangely empty Olympic stadium, after Covid-19 forced organizers to ban spectators from nearly all venues.
“I declare the Tokyo Games open,” said the monarch, wearing a white surgical mask, at the 68,000-seat Olympic stadium in Tokyo.
Osaka received the torch from a group of children from the Fukushima region which was devastated by a tsunami and nuclear disaster in 2011.
It was an exhilarating moment in a low-key ceremony that took place in front of less than 1,000 VIPs and several thousand athletes.
Another highlight, nearly 2,000 synchronized drones formed a rotating globe above the stadium, on a cover of “Imagine” by John Lennon.
A small parade of around 5,700 athletes, far below usual figures, marched through the stadium, not all socially distanced but all wearing masks.
The President of the International Olympic Committee, Thomas Bach, admitted that the Games would be “very different from what we all imagined”.
But “today is a moment of hope,” he said in a speech.
The 16-day Games, with 339 gold medals in 33 sports, look surreal after the pandemic forced organizers to make them the first Games with virtually no spectators.
Athletes are tested daily, but they perform on the biggest stage under the constant risk that a positive test could shatter their Olympic dreams.
– A new era begins –
Fears that the global gathering of 11,000 athletes could turn into a mainstream event made the Games deeply unpopular in Japan, where polls have shown opposition for months.
But hundreds of people gathered outside the stadium cheered and cheered as the fireworks exploded overhead.
Mako Fukuhara arrived six hours before the ceremony to take a seat.
“Until now it didn’t look like the Olympics, but now we’re near the stadium, it looks like the Olympics,” she told AFP.
Japan spent nearly $ 15 billion on the Games, including an additional $ 2.6 billion in costs after they became the first to be carried over in modern Olympic history in March 2020.
Tokyo is also grappling with an increase in virus cases and is under emergency measures despite not being able to adhere to a strict lockdown.
Organizers hope that public opinion will turn when the full sports program kicks off on Saturday, with swimming, gymnastics, road cycling and tennis among the main attractions.
Attention will be focused on a new generation of Olympic stars looking to shine after a decade dominated by Usain Bolt and Michael Phelps.
American swimmer Caeleb Dressel could aim for seven gold medals and 400-meter hurdles runners Karsten Warholm of Norway and Sydney McLaughlin of the United States are among those hoping to become household names.
In gymnastics, Simone Biles will try to crown her meteoric career by equaling Larisa Latynina’s record of nine Olympic gold medals.
Surfing, skateboarding, sport climbing and karate are all making their Olympic debuts, while New Zealand weightlifter Laurel Hubbard will become the Games’ first transgender athlete.
The pandemic was not the only setback, with scandals ranging from corruption in the bidding process to allegations of plagiarism on the Tokyo 2020 logo design.
The controversies continued until the day before the Games, with the director of the opening ceremony being sacked Thursday for making a joke referring to the Holocaust in a 1998 video.
Insiders estimate that the IOC would have lost around $ 1.5 billion in broadcast revenue had the Games been canceled.