Top moments: 2020 Tokyo Olympics Opening Ceremony

The Olympic Games have officially begun.

On Friday, the Opening Ceremony kicked off the 2020 Tokyo Games in style, with dazzling fireworks displays, jaw-dropping performances and breathtaking costumes. This year’s theme is “United by Emotion,” according to the hosts, per ESPN, after the Games were delayed a year by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Things certainly had a different feel this time around, as athletes from more than 200 countries paraded with flags in front of a mostly empty Olympic Stadium in Tokyo. Fewer than 1,000 spectators were present — filling less than 2% of a stadium designed for 68,000 — as Japan is currently under a state of emergency because of rising coronavirus infections in the capital. The entirety of the Tokyo Games, which will feature a record 33 competitions and 339 events held in 42 competition venues, will be held under emergency measures.

Here are the highlights from the Opening Ceremony. 

Tennis star Naomi Osaka lit the cauldron, officiating the start of the Games. The 23-year-old, No. 2-ranked women’s tennis player and Chūō City native will compete in her hometown of Tokyo, looking to bring home Japan’s first gold medal in tennis.

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A montage video of Japan’s journey to the Olympics, featuring athletes practicing in isolation, was shown, and a moment of silence was held to remember those lost due to the pandemic, followed by the singing of the country’s national anthem by Japanese singer Misia.

The mood lightened when, per tradition, the ceremony paid homage to the host country, with dozens of performers doing intricate dance numbers and a tribute to Japanese carpentry.

Wood from 160 pine and spruce trees, along with seeds that came from Canada, Ireland and Northern Europe, were used to build the set of Olympic rings. 

Following the performances, a spectacular and vibrant fireworks display erupted over the stadium to commence the Parade of Nations.

Flags in hand, athletes from more than 200 countries marched through the Olympic Stadium to classic video game songs — yes, you read that right.

Greece, home to the first Games, was the first country introduced, entering to the iconic “Dragon Quest” theme song. Music from “Final Fantasy,” “Tales,” “Kingdom Hearts” and “Sonic the Hedgehog” followed as other nations emerged. 

Greece was immediately followed by the Refugee Olympic Team, a group of 25 athletes from countries including Syria, South Sudan, Eritrea, Afghanistan and Iran. 

The traditional march into the Olympic Stadium is one of the highlights of the Opening Ceremony every year, and this year was no exception. Participating nations brought out all the stops.

For the first time in Olympic history, each nation was allowed two flag-bearers — a man and a woman. 

Representing the U.S. were four-time WNBA champion and Seattle Storm star Sue Bird and speed skater-turned-baseball player Eddy Alvarez, who is aiming to become just the sixth athlete ever to medal in both a Winter and Summer Games. (He won a silver medal in speed skating at the 2014 Sochi Games).

Flag-bearers Sue Bird and Eddy Alvarez of the United States lead their team during the Opening Ceremony of the Tokyo Olympic Games at Olympic Stadium on July 23, 2021.

This year, Team USA has 613 athletes competing, second-most in team history. About 5,700 athletes took part in this year’s Parade of Nations, with some skipping because of early competitions Saturday or to avoid the potential extra exposure to the coronavirus.

The U.S. women’s soccer team and women’s and men’s gymnastics teams were among the athletes who didn’t participate or attend the Opening Ceremony.

USWNT star Megan Rapinoe made a virtual appearance on NBC’s broadcast and explained that the team opted instead to prepare for its upcoming match against New Zealand (7:30 a.m. ET on NBC). 

USA Gymnastics also had their own “parade” but didn’t specify why they didn’t attend the Opening Ceremony. Instead, they held a private event, with three-time Olympian Sam Mikulak acting as honorary flag-bearer. 

Simone Biles also shared an exuberant message. The 24-year-old gymnastics phenomenon is the most decorated gymnast in history and is looking to defend her women’s all-around gold medal. If successful, she’d become the first woman to do so in 53 years. 

To close things out, musicians from around the world performed a rendition of John Lennon’s “Imagine” as 1,800 drones soared in the air to form a glowing Earth overhead.

See every event of the Tokyo Olympic Games and the full schedule here. 

For more up-to-date news on all things Summer Olympics, click here to register for alerts on the FOX Sports app! 

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