One year late, Tokyo Olympic Games finally get under way

Brendan Irvine and Kellie Harrington lead Irish team in for opening ceremony

More than 1,800 drones came together to form an illuminated globe above Japan National Stadium during the opening ceremony of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. Video: Reuters

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So it came to pass that on the Friday night of July 23rd, inside a virtually empty Olympic Stadium beyond the flickering of athletes and flags from the 205 competing nations spread out on the floor beneath us, after a sombre and often subdued opening ceremony that still went on too long, Japan’s emperor Naruhito declared open the Games of the 2020 Tokyo Olympiad.

This of course being July of 2021, the postponed Games which at times appeared certain to fall victim to the still clear and present danger of Covid-19 happening one year on, in name at least, only in ways now different and difficult beyond all previous imagination.

Emperor Naruhito was also reprising the role of his grandfather, who opened the last Tokyo Olympics here in 1964 – that’s where all similarities ended.

Once the four-hour ceremony was over, the overriding feeling was one of relief.

Minute’s silence

Earlier, during a minute’s silence for those who had lost their lives in the pandemic, the distinct rallying sounds of a small anti-Olympic protest march could be heard not far off in the distance. It was however entirely peaceful, in spirit at least.

It was just after 11.15pm local time when the emperor finished his duties, and it was close to midnight local time when the Olympic flame eventually entered the stadium, before the utterly unique and lasting honour of lighting the now hydrogen-fuelled cauldron.

As expected it went to Japan’s tennis star Naomi Osaka, who looked decidedly cool even in the searing heat of the Tokyo night as she climbed the steps of the Mount Fuji-shape stage. The top sphere opened like a flower, Osaka lit us all up a little, momentarily at least, and that was that.

By then most of the athletes who had paraded earlier on had long since left for the confines of the athletes’ village. With daily cases of virus still rising daily (Tokyo recorded 1,979 new cases on Thursday, the fifth highest daily tally in the capital since the pandemic began), this wasn’t the time or place to test social-distancing.

Irish flag

With those 205 nations entering by order of the Japanese alphabet, after Greece traditionally led the way, the small entourage of Irish representatives paraded in fourth. Boxers Brendan Irvine and Kellie Harrington jointly carried the Irish flag.

This was a new tradition, bringing the Olympics now close to perfect gender balance – a point also highlighted by IOC president Thomas Bach, as he thanked the Japanese people for making the Olympics possible and hailed the perseverance of athletes.

“You had to face great challenges,” said Bach. “You did not even know if this competition would take place at all. You struggled, you preserved, you never gave up and you are making your Olympic dream come true. You are true Olympic athletes.”

On a night of many uncertainties and some contradictions, that at least rang true.

Team Ireland

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