United, move forward with hope -- call from Tokyo Olympic opening ceremony
Tokyo (Japan) July 24: It's a unique opening ceremony that will go down in the history of the Olympic Movement.
With the world still in the shadow of the pandemic and the Japanese capital even under a state of emergency, the postponed 2020 Tokyo Olympics finally came to its formal opening on Friday night, with no further delay.
Despite mixed feelings of many towards this Games, host Japan has sent the world a message to head through the chaotic reality nowadays with a scaled-down opening ceremony -- United, let's move forward with hope.
The opening ceremony usually stands as a grand showcase of the host nation. However, with surging COVID-19 cases in and around Tokyo, a grand show is precisely what the pandemic has made particularly difficult to arrange, which leave the Games' organizers with no choice but to try something completely different.
There were no fans, but fewer than 1,000 people, mostly dignitaries, at the newly-built 68,000-capacity Olympic Stadium in central Tokyo, no synchronized mass choreography at the center stage that the ceremonies have traditionally relied on, and a briefer than usual athlete parade -- It's all about a subdued affair.
When the splendid fireworks lightened up the sky over the stadium following the countdown to kick off the ceremony, which did not receive overwhelming sounds of cheering as before, the empty seats at the spectator stands became more conspicuous.
But the essence of the opening ceremony has never changed. Instead, with a simplified outfit, the role of sport and the value of the Olympics have been amplified throughout the four-hour ceremony.
"Today is a moment of hope, Yes, it is very different from what all of us had imagined. But let us cherish this moment because finally we are all here together," said International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach at the opening ceremony.
"This is the unifying power of sport. This is the message of solidarity, the message of peace and the message of resilience. This gives all of us hope for our further journey together," he said.
Bach's remarks are particularly true, when the 12-year-old Syrian table tennis player Hend Zaza has marched into the center stage of the stadium as one of the youngest Olympians of all time and also the flag bearer of her war-torn country with Ahmad SaberHamcho, a veteran equestrian.
Even mask can't hide the big proud smile on her face. Holding the flag pole tight, the girl, who has started playing table tennis at just five, is living her Olympic dream and shining a light of hope.
Zaza was among 5,700 participants of the athlete parade. After being led out by Greece, over 200 delegations emerged with the songs of famous Japanese video games played in the stadium.
The Chinese delegation is the 110th to march on the center stage. It has dispatched a 777-member delegation to Tokyo, its largest ever participation in an overseas Games, including 431 athletes. But only 90 are present at the ceremony due to the COVID protocols.
However, the entry of Olympic Refugee Team immediately after Greece is more certain to embody the revised Olympic motto -- faster, higher, stronger -- together.
Leading the 29 athlete-strong team, flagbearer YusraMardini was more than excited for her second Olympic appearance after Rio 2016. The 23-year-old swimmer, born in Syria, now lives in Germany.
Surviving a traumatic journey from the Middle East to Europe in an inflatable boat, Mardini said that swimming is the sport that has saved her life on the way to Germany and helped her to rebuild her life from zero.
In her case, coming to Tokyo is not competing for medals, but to help end the stigma of being known as a refugee and inspire others forced to leave their home to dream big.
To carry on the Olympic dreams, the Tokyo Games organizers have decided to take strength from the past.
When the wooden Olympic Rings, four meters in diameter, was raised up at the stage by Japanese "carpenters" singing "KiyariUta," their work song since ancient times, the lasting legacy of Olympics is so tangible and real.
The rings make use of lumber from thinned trees that grew from the seeds borne by athletes from each of the participating delegations to the previous Tokyo Olympic Games in 1964.
Another historical moment came when in a two-minute video played on the big screen of the stadium, Agnes Keleti, a 100-year-old Olympian, looked back on the past century of the Olympics, reminding the world of the true power of resilience.
Keleti, who won a total of 10 Olympic medals when she represented Hungary in the 1952 and 1956 Games, is the oldest living Olympic champion, proving that one can experience the worst aspects of humanity and, against all odds, rise above it, which is in much need by the world, give the fact that the end of the pandemic can't be seen in the near future.
There were also healing moments at the ceremony bringing the world hopes for future.
The scene when the Japanese national flag was carried onto the center stage was unforgettable as among the six flag bearers, a young female healthcare professional in grey uniforms stood out from the fellow bearers, all in red and white costumes.
In addition, to honor those who have fought the disease, eight Japanese, old and young, men and women, working during the pandemic were also among the bearers of the Olympic Flag.
It's not a gathering only for survivors and heroes, however, as millions of people around the world are watching the ceremony on TV or via streaming services.
They may also be happily surprised at the episode of the ceremony when artists, dressed in blue and white full-body tights, revive the kinetic sport pictograms covering all 33 Olympic sports, with fast-changing yet vivid poises.
The light-toned witty show well demonstrated the dynamic beauty of the athletes, and also offered a much-needed distraction for those remained confined to their homes.
When the ceremony came to the end with world No. 2 tennis player Naomi Osaka, who represents Japan, lighting the Olympic flame.
The flame set off from Fukushima prefecture on March 25, 2021, a hard-hit area from the devastating 9.0-magnitude earthquake and tsunami disaster in 2011 which left the nuclear disaster still haunting the world.
It then traversed all 47 prefectures across Japan over a period of 121 days, which showcases the recovery of the areas worst affected by the disaster, in line with the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Torch Relay concept of "Hope Lights Our Way."
The show brought curtain down at midnight, while the new edition of the much loved song "Imagine" sung by singers around the world in relay played before at the ceremony lingers over in the Olympic Stadium -- "You may say that I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one. I hope some day you'll join us, and the world will live as one."