Tokyo, Japan, July 23, 2021: His Majesty the Emperor Naruhito declared the Tokyo Olympic Games open in a subdued but nonetheless colourful and moving Opening Ceremony at the new Olympic Stadium on Friday night.
The honour of lighting the Olympic cauldron was given to tennis player Naomi Osaka, one of the most famous global athletes due to compete in Tokyo with four grand slam titles already to her name at just 23 years old.
The ceremony began at 8pm and the parade of athletes from 205 National Olympic Committees plus the Olympic Refugee Team took almost two hours, despite the reduced number of the delegations due to coronavirus countermeasures.
After being handed the torch at the end of the relay by six students from the earthquake and tsunami-affected areas of Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures, Osaka climbed the steps to put the flame to the cauldron at 11.48pm. The flame will be extinguished at the Closing Ceremony on August 8.
The President of the Tokyo 2020 Organising Committee, seven-time Olympian Seiko Hashimoto, welcomed the athletes to Japan and thanked them for the effort they had made in such difficult circumstances.
The IOC President, Thomas Bach, described the postponed Tokyo Olympics as a “moment of hope” for the world and said the Games would be very different from anything that had gone before.
He expressed his deepest gratitude to the organising committee and to the people of Japan who had faced the natural disaster of the earthquake and tsunami in March 2011 and now the pandemic. He also praised the unsung heroes, including the doctors and nurses and frontline workers who had battled to contain the virus.
The major theme of his speech was the need for solidarity in the world and how everyone must work together – echoing the message of the new Olympic motto of “Faster, Higher, Stronger – Together” – and said the athletes had inspired everyone with their determination and dedication to reach Tokyo and to pursue their dream.
Greece, the home of the modern Olympics, led the parade of athletes, as is the custom, followed by the Olympic Refugee Team appearing in a second consecutive Olympic Games. Japan came in last with a large delegation in what was a fun and festive occasion despite the restrictions.
One of the highlights of the ceremony was the performance of artists bringing alive the 50 sport pictograms in a series of fast, humorous and well-planned sketches.