Tokyo Olympics: Live Coverage Everything you need to know about the Summer Games
NPR's coverage of the Olympics

Live Updates: The Tokyo Olympics

What you need to know about this year's Summer Games

Yuto Horigome of Team Japan practices on the skateboard street course before winning a gold medal at the Tokyo Summer Olympic Games at the Ariake Urban Sports Park on Sunday. Ezra Shaw/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Yuto Horigome of Team Japan practices on the skateboard street course before winning a gold medal at the Tokyo Summer Olympic Games at the Ariake Urban Sports Park on Sunday.

Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

TOKYO — In the neighborhood where he grew up skateboarding, 22-year-old Yuto Horigome won the first ever Olympic Gold medal for skateboarding.

In the street skate competition, Horigome expertly flipped his board in the air, sailed over staircases and glided on rails. On the fourth trick of the final he accomplished a most difficult one: a "nollie 270 noseslide." After taking off, he flipped his board, then slid it down the rail on its nose.

Though he now lives in Los Angeles, Horigome won his medal in a city where skateboarding is still frowned upon and considered a renegade hobby. There are signs around Tokyo posted that read "No skateboarding."

After he won, Horigome told reporters that practicing in the streets and parks is what made him an Olympic champion.

Brazilian Kelvin Hoefler won the silver medal. "Yeah, man, I feel blessed to skate with the best," he said afterwards, adding that he's been stopped for skateboarding in public spaces before, but "now it's gonna be more chill. Hope so." Hoefler said his father is a police officer. "Back in the day when I was jumping into school yards, my daddy was with me," he said, "it was fun."

Jagger Eaton, from Mesa, Ariz., said he was "beyond stoked" to win the Bronze. "The last time I got bugged for skating I was filming my street park. We got kicked, but most of the time, the people are cool." he said. "You gotta understand that skateboarding's so much bigger than a sport, it's an art form. It's a creative outlet. A lot of people don't see it that way, and that's unfortunate, because that's how we see it."

Gold medal favorite, Nyjah Huston of the U.S., placed seventh.

The street skateboarding competition for women will be on the street course at Ariake Skate Park on Monday. And in August, park skateboarders will compete in a large skatepark built for the Games.

U.S. gymnastics star Simone Biles performs on the vault during the women's artistic gymnastic qualifications on Sunday at the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo. Ashley Landis/AP hide caption

toggle caption
Ashley Landis/AP

U.S. gymnastics star Simone Biles performs on the vault during the women's artistic gymnastic qualifications on Sunday at the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo.

Ashley Landis/AP

TOKYO — The U.S. women's gymnastic team took the mat for the first time at the Tokyo Olympics, and a few stumbles – including from star Simone Biles – allowed Russia's team to take the lead.

Russia came out one point ahead in the total team score – 171.62 to 170.56. Biles faced multiple penalties but still posted the top score of the day so far.

The U.S. team came into the competition as the heavy favorite, and its star Simone Biles is widely considered the greatest gymnast of all time. For the U.S to not be in the lead at the end of the qualifier is very unexpected.

"I feel we did a pretty good job. Obviously there are little things we need to work on, so we'll go back and practice and work on that, just so we can do our best performance at team finals, because that's what matters," Biles told reporters.

Tom Forster, a coordinator for the U.S. team, acknowledged after the competition that it was a challenging start for the team.

"We had great performances today, and some not-so-great ones. But the errors that we made I think are mental, because the girls have been training incredibly well," he said. Forster chalked up the mistakes to nerves.

The qualifiers on Sunday determine the gymnasts going to the team finals, individual all-around finals, and the finals for each apparatus.

The U.S. will start with a clean slate at the team final on Tuesday — qualifying scores do not carry over into the final competition.

18-year-old from Minnesota who is a contender to medal in the individual all-around competition, particularly dazzled in the uneven bars – one of her best events. She is second in the all-around standings, behind Biles and ahead of Russia's Angelina Melnikova.

Biles stepped off the mat twice by mistake – in the floor exercise and in one of her vaults – resulting in penalties. Because of the degree of difficulty and her execution, she still brought in scores higher than each of the rest of the U.S. gymnasts in those two events.

The United States' team wave prior to their women's artistic gymnastic qualifications performance at the 2020 Summer Olympics on Sunday in Tokyo. Natacha Pisarenko/AP hide caption

toggle caption
Natacha Pisarenko/AP

On uneven bars, Biles' least favorite event and one where Lee excels, her teammate outscored her. Lee also narrowly received a higher score on the balance beam.

Biles recently debuted a move no other female gymnast has ever pulled off in competition due to its difficulty – the Yurchenko double pike vault. She did not perform it today, though she has said that she'd like to do it during the Tokyo Olympics.

Jade Carey, who is competing as an individual, had particularly strong performances in both the floor and individual competitions. She came in narrowly behind Biles in both and appears poised to move on to the finals in the single event competitions.

Forster praised the performance of the team from Russia. "What a transformation they've made since 2019," he said. "They're way deeper, they were cleaner...yeah, they did really well."

Like other events in Tokyo, women's gymnastics – one of the most popular Olympic sports for fans – kicked off with nearly empty stands. Strict coronavirus measures mean that only journalists and people linked to teams or Olympic committees can watch in person. Team officials occasionally clapped in unison, trying to amp up the energy of the quiet venue.

Bryson DeChambeau of the United States tested positive for the coronavirus before leaving the U.S. for the Tokyo Olympics. He's shown here earlier this month playing at the Open Championship in Scotland. Chris Trotman/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption
Chris Trotman/Getty Images

Bryson DeChambeau of the United States tested positive for the coronavirus before leaving the U.S. for the Tokyo Olympics. He's shown here earlier this month playing at the Open Championship in Scotland.

Chris Trotman/Getty Images

TOKYO — The golf world is reeling after two of the best golfers will miss the Tokyo Summer Olympics because of the coronavirus. World #1 Jon Rahm of Spain and #6 Bryson DeChambeau of the U.S. both tested positive before leaving for Japan.

Spain's Jon Rahm acknowledges the crowd during the final round of The 149th British Open Golf Championship earlier this month. Paul Ellis/AFP via Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption
Paul Ellis/AFP via Getty Images

A statement from USA Golf said DeChambeau tested positive for the coronavirus as part of the final protocol before he left the U.S. for Japan. He'll be replaced by Patrick Reed who competed in the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics. Reed will now go through the testing protocol before flying to Tokyo.

In a statement, the Spanish Olympic Committee said Rahm was positive after undergoing a third straight test - the first two were negative. The multiple tests were required since he was in the United Kingdom last week playing in the Open Championship, where he finished third.

Rahm's test result is a startling repeat of last month, when he had to withdraw from a tournament he was leading after testing positive. Spanish officials say there's not enough time to find a replacement for Rahm leaving the squad with just a single player to represent the country at the Olympics. The men's competition begins Thursday.

Even before DeChambeau's positive test, the American had a tough year. He's publicly feuded with fellow pro Brooks Koepka, and he was jeered at this month's Open Championship when he complained about his clubs after playing poorly.

As of Sunday, 137 people in Japan connected to the Olympics have tested positive for the coronavirus, including at least 13 athletes. Neither Rahm nor DeChambeau is included in that total because they were not in Japan.

Tunisia's Ahmed Hafnaoui celebrates after his unexpected victory in the final of the men's 400-meter freestyle at the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo. Martin Meissner/AP hide caption

toggle caption
Martin Meissner/AP

Tunisia's Ahmed Hafnaoui celebrates after his unexpected victory in the final of the men's 400-meter freestyle at the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo.

Martin Meissner/AP

TOKYO — An 18-year-old Tunisian managed to pull off a surprise upset in the 400 meter freestyle swimming event, winning the fifth gold medal ever for his country.

Ahmed Hafnaoui erupted in jubilation when he realized he won in the extremely tight race, pumping his fists and placing both hands on his brow as he took in the victory.

He seemed genuinely shocked at the result: "I just can't accept that - it is too incredible."

Hafnaoui came into the race with the slowest qualifying time of the eight swimmers – but he touched the wall first, beating out Australia's Jack McLoughlin by just 0.16 seconds. Kieran Smith from the U.S. took bronze, about a half-second behind the winner.

"It's amazing. I feel better in the water than yesterday, and that's it," Hafnaoui told NBC after the race. "I'm an Olympic champion now."

When asked how he kept his lead, he simply said: "I don't know, I just put my hand in the water, that's it." The swimmer seemed at a loss for words. Shaking his head, he said, "it's a dream that became true."

Just three years ago, Hafnaoui was competing in the Youth Olympic Games, placing 8th in this same event in Buenos Aires.

The last swimming Olympic medal for Tunisia was in 2012 at the London Games, when Oussama Mellouli won gold in the 10 km marathon.

Ash Barty, of Australia, played against Sara Sorribes Tormo, of Spain, on Sunday at the Tokyo Olympics. Seth Wenig/AP hide caption

toggle caption
Seth Wenig/AP

Ash Barty, of Australia, played against Sara Sorribes Tormo, of Spain, on Sunday at the Tokyo Olympics.

Seth Wenig/AP

TOKYO — It's a stunning upset for the world's top-ranked female tennis player. Australia's Ash Barty was a favorite to win gold in women's singles tennis.

But underdog Sara Sorribes Tormo, from Spain, beat her in straight sets in the first round of Olympic competition in Tokyo.

Barty won Wimbledon just two weeks ago.

Sorribes Tormo, 24, is currently ranked 48th in the world by the WTA tour. She defeated Barty 6-4, 6-3 to go on to the next round in Tokyo.

Barty is eliminated from the singles tournament but still has a chance at a medal – she's also competing in women's doubles.

Chase Kalisz of the U.S. celebrates after winning the final of the men's 400m individual medley swimming event during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games on Sunday. Attila Kisbenedek/AFP via Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption
Attila Kisbenedek/AFP via Getty Images

Chase Kalisz of the U.S. celebrates after winning the final of the men's 400m individual medley swimming event during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games on Sunday.

Attila Kisbenedek/AFP via Getty Images

TOKYO — The first U.S. medals of the Olympics went to U.S. swimmers, with Team USA athletes winning medals in every final swimming event on Sunday morning in Tokyo.

The very first U.S. medal — and the only gold — went to 27-year-old Chase Kalisz in the men's 400 meter individual medley race.

Kalisz was nearly a full body length ahead of his closest competitor at the end of the race, with a time of 4:09.42. Kalisz pumped both fists and yelled, "Let's go!" as the small group of U.S. athletes and representatives cheered in the stands.

U.S. swimmer Jay Litherland took silver in that race, 0.86 seconds behind him. Brendon Smith of Australia won bronze.

Kalisz, who is originally from Maryland, is the second-oldest swimmer to ever win the Olympic event.

This Olympics is the first one since 1972 where the U.S. did not win a medal on the first day they were awarded.

U.S. swimming legend Michael Phelps has held the world record in this event for 13 years. His winning time, 4:03.84, is more than five and a half seconds faster than the time that won today's gold medal.

Minutes after Kalisz's win, U.S. swimmer Kieran Smith took bronze in the 400 meter freestyle. Tunisia's Ahmed Hafnaoui, who had the slowest qualifying time of the finalists, pulled off a major upset and won the race.

The U.S. earned two medals in the women's 400 meter individual medley race. Emma Weyant won silver, and Hali Flickinger took bronze. After the race, Weyant hugged the winner, Japanese swimmer Yui Ohashi.

U.S. women also won bronze in the 4 x 100 meter relay, with a team of Erika Brown, Abbey Weitzeil, Natalie Hinds, and Simone Manuel. Canada beat them out for silver by just 0.03 of a second.

Alex Morgan (#13) celebrates another Team USA goal against New Zealand with teammate Christen Press (#11) at the Tokyo Olympics on Saturday in Saitama, Japan. Francois Nel/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption
Francois Nel/Getty Images

Alex Morgan (#13) celebrates another Team USA goal against New Zealand with teammate Christen Press (#11) at the Tokyo Olympics on Saturday in Saitama, Japan.

Francois Nel/Getty Images

The U.S. women's soccer team bounced back in a big way Saturday, beating New Zealand 6-1. The win came after a disappointing and surprising loss to Sweden in the Americans' opening match earlier this week.

The game was played to a nearly empty stadium — a common theme in this year's uncommon Olympics, which are happening without spectators because of the coronavirus pandemic. But there was at least one person in the stands cheering for Team USA: first lady Jill Biden.

The U.S. team started out the game strong, with Rose Lavelle scoring in the first 10 minutes. Lindsey Horan and Christen Press both scored later in the game. Overall, goals this match were a bit complicated — four were negated in the first half by offside calls against the U.S., and two of Team USA's points were own goals, scored accidentally by team New Zealand against itself.

The U.S. came into these Games seeking to become the first women's team to take Olympic gold after winning the World Cup, which they did in 2019. Saturday's win against New Zealand makes that goal still a possibility.

The team heads to the coastal city of Kashima on Tuesday for a game against Australia, which will conclude their Group G play. The top teams from each group will head to the quarterfinals.

'Rebel' Skateboarding Is Ready For Its Olympic Debut in Tokyo

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://balancedmommagazine.com/player/embed/1020110407/1020224711" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

The U.K.'s Sky Brown is one of the youngest athletes who will compete at the Tokyo Olympics. Charlie Neibergall/AP hide caption

toggle caption
Charlie Neibergall/AP

The U.K.'s Sky Brown is one of the youngest athletes who will compete at the Tokyo Olympics.

Charlie Neibergall/AP

Skateboarding is ready for its time to shine at the Tokyo Olympics. Competitors will show off the skills they developed in the streets and skateparks around the world, and the hope is that they attract younger fans to watch the Games.

It's been an interesting ride for the sport that has rebel roots in southern California.

The skatepark on the beach in Venice, Calif., is a mecca for the sport. For decades, the area was known as "Dogtown," with skateboarders coming there to show off their skills, doing acrobatic flips and tricks.

"They would build homemade ramps and just do sort of like hard-core shredding, and it was just their getaway," says Ruby Molina, whose family owns a nearby skate shop. "And all the kids would just come, and like it was their getaway."

Back in the day, skateboarding was an offshoot of surfing, another sport making its Olympic debut. In fact, it was first known as "sidewalk surfing" — with kids on long wooden boards with metal wheels, riding on cement as though they were riding waves.

Skateboarding has deep rebel roots

The pioneering 1970s skateboard crew Zephyr, known as the "Z Boys" from Dogtown, boasted of sneaking into and draining backyard swimming pools to skate inside them. Skateboarders looking for off-limits locations would get stopped by police. Sometimes they still do.

Legendary skateboarder Tony Hawk told NPR in 2006 that skateboarding always had a bit of an outlaw street culture with a bad reputation. And it received a lot of negative labels: "It was a kid's fad, a waste of time, a dangerous pursuit, a crime," he recalled.

Tony Hawk, shown here during a competition in 2003, helped popularize the sport of skateboarding. Chris Polk/AP hide caption

toggle caption
Chris Polk/AP

Skateboarding became popular around the world and Hawk turned his childhood hobby into a career. He's always talked about how the Olympics need skateboarding to attract young fans. Now that day is here, and Hawk, now 53, is in Tokyo as an official Olympics commentator.

"We used to see ourselves as a family of misfits," Hawk said in a promotional video. "But now the world will call us Olympians."

At the Games, street skaters will compete on a course that includes stairs, handrails, curbs, ledges, and benches. Park skaters will try to outdo each other's mid-air tricks on a course with steep slopes and deep valleys.

Before coming to Tokyo, Team USA skateboarders rode in formation past American flags in downtown Los Angeles. Among them was street skater Nyjah Huston. The tattooed 26-year-old from Laguna Beach, California is already the top-ranked, highest-paid skateboarder in the world. He's been a pro since he was 10.

"I love skateboarding because it's the funnest thing on Earth," he told friends and fans at the L.A. event introducing the team. "That goes for not only if you're one of us, about to skate the Olympics, or just a kid out there skating in a skate park, just having fun. It's the freedom, the love it brings us all together and the non-stop challenge and the progression."

Nyjah Huston is a medal contender for the U.S. in the men's street skateboarding event. Charlie Neibergall/AP hide caption

toggle caption
Charlie Neibergall/AP

Nyjah Huston is a medal contender for the U.S. in the men's street skateboarding event.

Charlie Neibergall/AP

The sport moves from the street to the world stage

It's that free spirit that first attracted 34-year-old Olympian Alexis Sablone. She's a New Yorker, an artist and architect with a masters from MIT who grew up skating in Connecticut.

"You didn't call skateboarding a sport," she recalls. "It was like the anti-jock thing to do."

Sablone says skateboarding for fun has always been about self expression, creativity and style — not the pressure of winning an Olympic medal.

And she says skating on the street has a different vibe than high-stakes competition.

"You only get one try, you know it's like you're almost a machine in a way," she says.

Alexis Sablone of the U.S., shown here in 2018, will compete in the Olympic debut of skateboarding. Speed Media /Icon Sportswire via Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption
Speed Media /Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Alexis Sablone of the U.S., shown here in 2018, will compete in the Olympic debut of skateboarding.

Speed Media /Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

"At the end of the day, it's still skateboarding, but there's the nostalgic younger part of me that kind of wants to rebel against this new format of skateboarding," Sablone added. "The thought that people will grow up skateboarding in the future with an Olympic gold medal in mind is so foreign to me, you know?"

As strange as it feels to her, Sablone says it's still an honor to be competing at the Olympics. Here in Tokyo, Sablone and her U.S. teammates face rivals from Brazil, Japan and the U.K — including young star Sky Brown. The 13-year-old X-Games champ is here to grinds rails and do kickflips with the best of them.

The Dutch Olympic team, shown here during the opening ceremony on Friday, has had three athletes test positive for coronavirus at the Games. David J. Phillip/AP hide caption

toggle caption
David J. Phillip/AP

The Dutch Olympic team, shown here during the opening ceremony on Friday, has had three athletes test positive for coronavirus at the Games.

David J. Phillip/AP

A Dutch rower has become the first athlete at the Tokyo Olympics to receive a positive coronavirus test after they competed in their event.

Finn Florijn, a 21-year-old vaccinated Dutch rower, tested positive after his Olympic debut in the men's single sculls race. He finished fourth in his heat and was scheduled to row again on Saturday, but now he's out of the competition and isolated for 10 days.

"I wasn't completely satisfied with my race yet. But I was hopeful to improve in the rematch. Now it's over in an instant," the athlete said in a statement.

Florijn is the son of a two-time gold medalist in crew and has said that he aspires to win more medals than his father, Ronald. Those dreams will now need to wait until a future Olympics, if he can qualify again.

Just one day after the official start of the Games, at least 12 athletes who came to Japan for the Olympics have tested positive for coronavirus, including U.S. beach volleyball player Taylor Crabb and U.S. gymnastics alternate Kara Eaker.

Dutch skateboarder Candy Jacobs, who had a positive coronavirus test prior to competition, has been posting on Instagram from isolation.

"I don't even know what to say. It's the weirdest situation I could possibly, possibly be in at the moment," she said. "All my friends being at the Olympic Village. It's so close, but I can't see them."

"I just want to let you know that I'm doing good," Jacobs added. "My heart still hurts, but I'll definitely get through it."

A third Dutch athlete and a staff member of the rowing team have also tested positive. A statement from Team Netherlands officials said they believe the infections may have originated on their flight. The head of the Dutch team expressed devastation in a statement, saying, "We have no words."

The positive tests have raised alarm among other athletes desperate to stay healthy and compete.

Serbia's Novak Djokovic practices for the men's tennis competition on Thursday at the Summer Olympics. Patrick Semansky/AP hide caption

toggle caption
Patrick Semansky/AP

Serbia's Novak Djokovic practices for the men's tennis competition on Thursday at the Summer Olympics.

Patrick Semansky/AP

In men's singles tennis, no athlete has ever won a "golden slam" — meaning winning all four major tournaments and an Olympic gold medal in a single year.

Serbia's Novak Djokovic is trying to change that. If he takes gold at the Tokyo Olympics, he'll only need to win one more major tournament — the U.S. Open — to complete the historic feat.

He's off to a good start on the first day of Olympic tennis competition, easily defeating Bolivia's Hugo Dellien 6-2, 6-2. Afterwards, he took to the court and bowed in four directions to the nearly empty stands and quiet applause of a few dozen people watching.

The tennis star has already won the Australian Open, French Open and Wimbledon in 2021. Ahead of the match, Djokovic was circumspect about his chances of completing a golden slam.

"It's still a very long way from potential achievement, historic achievement," he said. "I am privileged and motivated to be in this position ... let's talk about history if everything goes great here after I finish with the tournament."

He acknowledged that it "seems more and more realistic," and was clear that it's a dream of his. Djokovic praised Steffi Graf, who in 1988 became the only woman to complete the feat.

One factor might really help Djokovic — some of his chief rivals are not competing in the Olympics. Switzerland's Roger Federer is suffering from a knee injury, and Rafael Nadal from Spain decided to sit out this competition.

"I have not experienced too many big tournaments in the past 15 years without Roger and Rafa playing," he said. "So it's a little bit strange, to be honest. ... But still, you know, some of the best players in the world are here."

Djokovic has been open about the fact that he was initially hesitant to come to these Games because strict coronavirus protocols mean that fans will not be in the stands.

"It's different, but it's still the Olympic Games. I was in a dilemma for a little bit, but ultimately I decided to come," he said.

"And I'm glad because, you know, for me there are many more things that are beautiful about the Olympic Games."

Syria's Hend Zaza competes during a women's table tennis singles preliminary round match against Austria's Liu Jia at the Summer Olympics in Tokyo. Kin Cheung/AP hide caption

toggle caption
Kin Cheung/AP

Syria's Hend Zaza competes during a women's table tennis singles preliminary round match against Austria's Liu Jia at the Summer Olympics in Tokyo.

Kin Cheung/AP

The youngest Olympian at the Tokyo Games was knocked out of the competition in her first round on Saturday.

The Syrian table tennis player, Hend Zaza, just 12 years old, took it all in stride. She snapped a picture with her Austrian opponent, Liu Jia before leaving.

In her Olympic debut, Zaza played a woman more than three times her age at the women's singles preliminary round. She's beat players more seasoned than herself before. To qualify for the Games she bested a 42-year-old Lebanese player when she was 11.

"I was hoping to play better but it's a tough opponent so it's a good lesson for me, especially with this being my first Olympics," Zaza said to reporters after the match. "I will work on it to get a better result for the next time, hopefully."

Born in Hama, Syria, the table tennis player is the fifth-youngest Olympian of all time and the youngest at the Games since 11-year-old Spanish rower Carlos Front competed in 1992.

Zaza was one of Syria's flag bearers in the "Parade of Athletes" at the Opening Ceremony Friday. She's been celebrated for her skill at such a young age and for her drive to train and compete despite the challenges of the pandemic and the civil war in Syria. She turned to table tennis at the age of five because she wanted to play the same game her brother did.

Power outages at home curbed night-time practices and she couldn't participate in as many matches outside Syria because of the conflict.

After her loss she had a message for other kids.

"For the last five years I've been through many different experiences, especially when there was the war happening around the country, with the postponement with funding for the Olympics, and it was very tough," she said. "But I had to fight for it and this is my message to everyone who wishes to have the same situation. Fight for your dreams, try hard, regardless of the difficulties that you're having, and you will reach your goal."

Her opponent, Jia, was also a flag bearer on Friday. The 39-year-old Austrian player said when she first told her daughter she was going up against a player just two years older than her, her daughter said 'You better not lose.'

Jia is happy to advance but "there's sport and there's life," she said after the match.

"There are people who have to endure difficulties. They are amazing, it hasn't been easy for them," she said. "She's a girl too — to be in the Olympics at 12, in my heart I really admire her."

Qian Yang of China celebrates after winning the gold medal in the women's 10-meter air rifle at the Asaka Shooting Range in the Summer Olympics on Saturday. Alex Brandon/AP hide caption

toggle caption
Alex Brandon/AP

Qian Yang of China celebrates after winning the gold medal in the women's 10-meter air rifle at the Asaka Shooting Range in the Summer Olympics on Saturday.

Alex Brandon/AP

The first gold medal of the Tokyo Olympics goes to Qian Yang from China, after the 21-year-old came out on top in the women's 10 meter air rifle competition.

Yang narrowly beat out Russia's Anastasiia Galashina and set an Olympic record. The bronze medal went to Swiss shooter Nina Christen.

Yang jubilantly held up her medal during the ceremony, along with a small bouquet of flowers. Due to coronavirus protocols, medals were passed to the winners on a tray and they placed them around their own necks. Usually, a dignitary would put the medals on the winners.

Qian Yang holds her rifle aloft after winning a gold medal. Anastasiia Galashina (left) of the Russian Olympic Committee took the silver medal and Nina Christen of Switzerland took the bronze medal. Alex Brandon/AP hide caption

toggle caption
Alex Brandon/AP

Mary Tucker from the U.S. took 6th place in the competition. The field was fairly open, with none of the medalists in this event from the 2016 Rio Games competing.

It was a disappointing day for the competitor from Norway. Jeanette Hegg broke an Olympic record during the qualification round, but ultimately finished fourth.

In the event, shooters stand 10 meters (almost 33 feet) from a stationary target and fire at it with an air rifle. In other shooting events, competitors use different kinds of firearms, fire from positions including kneeling or lying on the ground, shoot at targets from different distances, or take aim at moving targets.

Performers acted out pictograms of basketball and other Olympic sports during the Tokyo Olympics' opening ceremony. Cameron Spencer/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption
Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

Performers acted out pictograms of basketball and other Olympic sports during the Tokyo Olympics' opening ceremony.

Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

Pictogram people become unlikely MVPs

One of the most striking sequences in the Tokyo Olympics' opening ceremony revolved around pictograms. Tokyo organizers have been touting their "kinetic pictograms," which show figures bursting into motion across dozens of disciplines. For Friday's ceremony, they brought all 50 of those pictograms to life.

Dressed in the stark hues of white and dark blue, their heads encased in large spheres, pictogram performers jumped on blocks and posed with props to act out the iconography as upbeat techno-pop blared in the background.

The performers are a collection of mime artists and actors who normally work either solo or in a duo, Tokyo organizers said.

"Are they the real MVPs of the Opening Ceremony?" the Tokyo Olympics Twitter feed asked.

The last time Tokyo hosted the Summer Olympics was in 1964. That was also the year organizers debuted the Olympic pictograms.

Pita from Tonga continues his Olympic tradition

Tonga's flag bearers Pita Taufatofua (left) and Malia Paseka lead their delegation into the opening ceremony of the Tokyo Olympic Games. Odd Andersen/AFP via Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption
Odd Andersen/AFP via Getty Images

Tonga's flag bearers Pita Taufatofua (left) and Malia Paseka lead their delegation into the opening ceremony of the Tokyo Olympic Games.

Odd Andersen/AFP via Getty Images

A highly anticipated standout moment came midway through the opening ceremony, when Tonga's Pita Taufatofua once again vied to steal the show by marching into the stadium bare-chested (and well-oiled).

It's the third consecutive Olympic appearance for Taufatofua: He competed in taekwondo in Rio's Summer Games and took on cross-country skiing for the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics.

Along with Taufatofua, big-name athletes who led their delegations include Japanese NBA star Rui Hachimura and Jamaican sprinter Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce.

"Imagine" plays in a near-empty stadium

It's a tradition for Olympic opening ceremonies to culminate with a new rendition of "Imagine," the call for unity written by John Lennon and Yoko Ono. The Tokyo version nourished those international roots, with artists from different continents — Angélique Kidjo, John Legend and Alejandro Sanz trading verses.

The song began quietly, with the Suginami Children's Choir singing its first lines. From there, it built into a global collaboration as stars joined in remotely. The choir, whose members range from 3 years old to university students, was formed in 1964 — the same year Tokyo last hosted the Olympics.

Naomi Osaka lights the cauldron

Tennis star Naomi Osaka carries the Olympic torch to light the cauldron at the opening ceremony of the Tokyo Olympics. Bai Yu/VCG via Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption
Bai Yu/VCG via Getty Images

Tennis star Naomi Osaka carries the Olympic torch to light the cauldron at the opening ceremony of the Tokyo Olympics.

Bai Yu/VCG via Getty Images

When the 2020 Olympic flame at last illuminated an enormous cauldron in Tokyo's Olympic Stadium, it was lit by Naomi Osaka, Japan's 23-year-old tennis superstar.

There was speculation that Osaka would have a role in the ceremony after organizers pushed her opening tennis match from Saturday to Sunday, without an immediate reason given. With the opening ceremony taking place on Friday night in Tokyo, Osaka would have had little rest before a Saturday morning match.

The Olympics will be Osaka's first competition since she dropped out of the French Open in May, after being penalized for refusing to attend post-match news conferences. She said she has suffered long bouts of depression and experiences intense anxiety when speaking with the press.

The Olympic cauldron Osaka lit is powered by hydrogen. Sitting atop a structure that recalls Japan's famed Mount Fuji, the cauldron was revealed after a huge white orb slowly opened itself, like a flower.

An athlete, alone, runs on a treadmill

The ceremony began with an artistic display reflecting on the isolation witnessed globally over the past year. Performers were seen on treadmills and rowing machines, highlighting how athletes had been confined to working out by themselves.

But at the same time, it highlighted how sports can serve as a mechanism to unite and bring people together in times of trouble.

A moment of silence was also observed to remember the lives lost during the pandemic.

"Yes, it is very different from what all of us had imagined," International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach said. "But let us cherish this moment because finally we are all here together."

Joint flag bearers (mostly) share their country's flag

Uruguay flag bearers Deborah Rodriguez and Bruno Cetraro Berriolo lead their team out during the opening ceremony of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Olympic Stadium. Jamie Squire/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption
Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Uruguay flag bearers Deborah Rodriguez and Bruno Cetraro Berriolo lead their team out during the opening ceremony of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Olympic Stadium.

Jamie Squire/Getty Images

This is the first Olympics where male and female athletes could share honors as joint flag bearers. That left pairs of athletes to figure out the best way to share their country's sole flag.

There were mixed results: Some did so very politely, while others seemed to compete to see who could wave the banner more vigorously. Some pairs took turns holding the flag, while others maintained joint control.

Vigorous flag-waving — and seeming moments of uncertainty — by Uruguay's Deborah Rodriguez and Bruno Cetraro Berriolo quickly set off discussions, as people wondered whether the pair might be struggling either for control or to make sure their flag was upright.

Team USA enters Olympic Stadium

Flag bearers Sue Bird and Eddy Alvarez led Team USA into Olympic Stadium toward the end of the parade of nations — a spot designated not by the Japanese alphabet but by the U.S. hosting the 2028 Summer Games in Los Angeles.

Alvarez won a silver medal in speed skating at the 2014 Winter Games and is on the U.S. baseball team in Tokyo. Sue Bird is a perennial star in women's basketball who is now at her fifth Olympics.

Alvarez is a Cuban-American who hopes to become just the sixth athlete ever to medal in both the Winter and Summer Games.

A drone world floats above Olympic Stadium

Exactly 1,824 drones were used to form the massive orb over Tokyo's Olympic Stadium during Friday's opening ceremony. Toru Hanai/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption
Toru Hanai/Getty Images

Exactly 1,824 drones were used to form the massive orb over Tokyo's Olympic Stadium during Friday's opening ceremony.

Toru Hanai/Getty Images

A glittering spectacle took center stage during the opening ceremony: nearly 2,000 drones moving in perfect concert to form a revolving globe as they soared over Tokyo.

Exactly 1,824 drones were used to form the massive orb, floating above the Olympic Stadium in Tokyo.

Remembering those we have lost

A moment of silence was held around 20 minutes into Friday's opening ceremony, as Olympic organizers encouraged people around the world to take a private moment to remember loved ones they've lost.

The sparse crowd of attendees in the stadium stood for the observance.

Similar moments have been held at previous Olympics — but this year's is particularly poignant, as the world mourns millions of people who have died during the pandemic.

The moment of silence also recognized the 1972 deaths of Israeli Olympic athletes who were killed by terrorists at the Munich Games. It was the first time the Olympics has noted that massacre during an opening ceremony.

The ceremony later featured a striking kabuki performance, which brought a serious tone to the jubilation on the field at Olympic Stadium. That juxtaposition promises to be a recurrent theme at an Olympics held in a city under a state of emergency because of COVID-19.

"This invigorating performance where tradition meets modernity contains our wish to cleanse the stadium of negative energy," the organizes said, "while offering up a prayer that all disasters and misfortunes in the world will come to an end."

Franck Robichon/AP
A poster is displayed during a presentation event in Tokyo.
Franck Robichon/AP

The U.S. Olympic Committee board made a decision after the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Games to give Paralympians a 400% increase for each medal win.

U.S. Paralympians who win medals in Tokyo will earn the same as Olympians in Tokyo, thanks to a decision made a few years ago by the U.S. Olympic Committee board.

The change came shortly after the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics and was made retroactive to those Games.

In previous Olympics, Paralympic athletes had received $7,500 for every gold medal, $5,250 for a silver and $3,750 for a bronze, according to The New York Times.

But the USOC decision put them at parity with U.S. Olympians, who receive $37,500 for a gold medal, $22,500 for silver and $15,000 for bronze.

The U.S. Paralympic Team took home 36 medals at PyeongChang. The retroactive increase meant medal-winning athletes from 2018 got an extra $1.2 million.

You can read about the USOC's decision in a statement on their website from September 2018.

Flag bearers Phumelela Luphumlo Mbande and Chad Le Clos of Team South Africa lead their team out during the opening ceremony of the Tokyo Olympic Games on Friday. Jamie Squire/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption
Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Flag bearers Phumelela Luphumlo Mbande and Chad Le Clos of Team South Africa lead their team out during the opening ceremony of the Tokyo Olympic Games on Friday.

Jamie Squire/Getty Images

The most anticipated part of any Olympic opening ceremony is the Parade of Nations — when athletes from each competing country enter the stadium together, marching under their flag.

Here's everything you need to enjoy this year's event, including some flag bearers to keep your eye out for.

When did the Parade of Nations begin?

The first Parade of Nations took place at the London Games in 1908.

Why isn't the Parade Of Nations in alphabetical order?

With a few key exceptions, they do arrive in alphabetical order — just not according to the English alphabet (unless an English-speaking nation is hosting!)

The order is alphabetical by the names of the nations as they're spelled in the host country's language. So for the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, Iceland came before Azerbaijan.

There are two exceptions to this though:

Greece always enters first. The modern Olympic Games began in Athens in 1896. So Greece gets the honor of starting in the Parade of Nations.

The countries that are hosting the next few Games go at the end, with the host country last. So for this 2020 Summer Olympics, the last three countries will be the U.S. (the hosts of the 2028 games); France (the 2024 hosts); and finally this year's host, Japan.

Flag bearer Sema Nancy Ludrick Rivas of Team Nicaragua. Maja Hitij/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption
Maja Hitij/Getty Images

Flag bearer Sema Nancy Ludrick Rivas of Team Nicaragua.

Maja Hitij/Getty Images


Who are the flag bearers in the 2020 Summer Olympics Parade Of Nations?

Athletes from the 205 participating countries (and the refugee team) carry their country's flag into the opening ceremony. For the first time, this year each nation was represented by two flag bearers each: one male and one female athlete.

Here's the full list of countries and flag bearers.

But as you're watching this year's opening ceremony, here are a few to keep your eye out for:

Flag bearers Sue Bird and Eddy Alvarez of Team USA lead their team during the opening ceremony. Maja Hitij/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption
Maja Hitij/Getty Images

Flag bearers Sue Bird and Eddy Alvarez of Team USA lead their team during the opening ceremony.

Maja Hitij/Getty Images

U.S. flag bearers Eddy Alvarez and Sue Bird: As NPR's Merrit Kennedy puts it, Alvarez is a first-generation Cuban American, 31, is competing on the U.S. baseball team. He won a silver medal in speed skating at the Sochi Winter Games in 2014 and is aiming to become just the sixth athlete to medal in both the Winter and Summer Games. Alvarez was selected by his fellow athletes to be one of Team USA's two flag bearers. The other is U.S. women's basketball legend and five-time Olympian Sue Bird.

Jamaica's flag bearers Ricardo Brown (L) and Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce lead the delegation. Hannah McKay/AFP via Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption
Hannah McKay/AFP via Getty Images

Jamaica's flag bearers Ricardo Brown (L) and Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce lead the delegation.

Hannah McKay/AFP via Getty Images

Jamaican sprinter Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce: The legendary sprinter has won the 100-meter final in two previous Olympics and aims to become the first woman to win three gold medals at this distance.

Flag bearers Hannah Mills and Mohamed Sbihi of Team Great Britain lead their team out. Jamie Squire/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption
Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Flag bearers Hannah Mills and Mohamed Sbihi of Team Great Britain lead their team out.

Jamie Squire/Getty Images

British rower Mohamed Sbihi: Sbihi is making history as the first Muslim to carry the British flag at an Olympic opening ceremony. He won a gold medal at the Rio Olympics.

Flag bearers Yui Susaki and Rui Hachimura of Team Japan lead their team. Patrick Smith/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption
Patrick Smith/Getty Images

Flag bearers Yui Susaki and Rui Hachimura of Team Japan lead their team.

Patrick Smith/Getty Images

Rui Hachimura of Japan: Hachimura, 23, became the first Japanese player ever selected in the first round of the NBA Draft in 2019, when he was picked by the Washington Wizards, for whom he still plays.

Flag bearers Malia Paseka and Pita Taufatofua of Team Tonga lead their team out. Patrick Smith/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption
Patrick Smith/Getty Images

Flag bearers Malia Paseka and Pita Taufatofua of Team Tonga lead their team out.

Patrick Smith/Getty Images

Tonga's shirtless sensation, Pita Taufatofua, is back. Tongan Taekwando athlete Pita Taufatofua first set the internet aflame at the opening ceremony of the Rio Summer Games in 2016, where he won hearts and blew minds as a bare-chested, oiled-up flag bearer. Two years later, he competed in the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics as a cross-country skiier (after just 12 weeks of training in snow) and reprised his role as shirtless flag bearer once again. He's back in Toyko to compete in Taekwando. And ... he's done it again (this time carrying the flag with fellow Taekwando athlete Malia Paseka).

Will Jones, Arielle Retting and Emily Alfin Johnson contributed to this reporting.

Performers are seen during the Opening Ceremony for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Olympic Stadium on July 23 in Tokyo, Japan. Pixsell/MB Media/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption
Pixsell/MB Media/Getty Images

Performers are seen during the Opening Ceremony for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Olympic Stadium on July 23 in Tokyo, Japan.

Pixsell/MB Media/Getty Images

As expected, viewers who woke up early in America to watch NBC's first live morning telecast of an Olympics opening ceremony Friday were greeted with a subdued presentation, kicked off by an explosion of fireworks erupting around a nearly empty Olympic Stadium in Tokyo.

Hosts Savannah Guthrie, on loan from NBC's Today show, and sports anchor Mike Tirico tried to bring a little enthusiasm early on, offering a giddy energy that resolved into a factoid-sprinkled patter reminiscent of the Macy's Thanksgiving parade narration. ("I have research here which says the last gold [medals] Uruguay won were in the 1920s," Guthrie said at one point, poking a little fun at the celebratory mood of the country's delegation.)

But their game efforts were undercut a bit by the presentation's somber beginning, which included video of athletes working out in their homes and a performance on the stadium floor started by an athlete in white running on a treadmill in a spotlight.

Of course, the ongoing worldwide pandemic loomed large, with rows and rows of empty stadium seats standing as silent evidence of COVID protocols that led Japanese officials to ban general spectators at the games. According to Tirico, this left about 10,000 media workers, Olympics staffers and athletes, dignitaries and assorted folks to fill a space designed to hold more than 68,000 people (including a masked First Lady Jill Biden, gamely clapping in the stands).

In particular, the ceremony offered a moment of silence for those who lost their lives in the coronavirus pandemic and the Israeli delegation killed by terrorists at the Munich Games in 1972. Tirico said recognition of the Israeli incident during the opening was a notable first for the games.

It was also an appropriate acknowledgement that this would be an Olympics like no other, where the shadow of COVID diagnoses and lack of an audience for games held in a country with a low vaccination rate will likely loom over every athletic triumph and medal win.

The "creative portion" of the Opening Ceremony, featuring dancers and performers telling the story of the host country, unfolded in spectacular precision. Dancers twirled around, connected by bands of red elastic, mimicking visual effects projected onto the stadium floor.

Moments later, dancers paid tribute to Japan's history as builders — with moments of tap dancing, even! — in a display which seemed to come off without a problem, despite the firing on Thursday of the opening ceremony's director over a Holocaust joke he made during a comedy show in 1998.

That controversy, along with a string of positive COVID tests among athletes and the ouster of a few other key officials, have contributed to a sense that the games are proceeding under a cloud of bad timing and enormous challenge. So seeing the opening ceremony proceed without a major hitch might be just the encouragement the games needs now.

By the time the parade of athletes began, with representatives from about 200 countries walking onto the stadium floor, waving their home countries' flags, NBC producers deftly focused on close-up shots of the delegations — avoiding too many images of empty seats which could dampen the mood. There was no avoiding the lack of crowd response — another factor that could affect the athletes' performance as competition unfolds.

In a moment that seemed to sum up the oddness of these new circumstances, Tirico interviewed U.S. soccer star Megan Rapinoe during the opening ceremonies while she was riding in a bus with her team after a practice.

But Rapinoe — arguably among the biggest American stars competing in Tokyo — and the rest of the U.S. soccer team wouldn't be appearing in the opening ceremonies at all. Instead, Rapinoe's fiancee, WNBA player Sue Bird, would later appear as a flag bearer for Team USA.

The ceremony did pick up, once the parade of athletes ended, as a succession of Japanese entertainers finished the show, including a jaw-dropping performance from pianist Hiromi. Dancers clad in special blue and white costumes also provided live recreations of the pictograms — graphical depictions of the 50 Olympics sports developed decades ago — in a stunning visual sequence marred only slightly when one of the performers dropped a prop midway through.

International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach spoke of "a moment of hope," in highlighting how the world's athletes have come together in spite of COVID. "This feeling of togetherness ... this is the light at the end of the dark tunnel of the pandemic," Bach added.

Tennis champion Naomi Osaka — a citizen of Japan who will compete for that country — received the Olympic flame, capping the opening ceremony by lighting the games' cauldron in a potent symbol of unity.

But the ceremony also highlighted the challenge which awaits NBC over 17 nights of primetime coverage planned for this year's games — including a rebroadcast of the this morning's event with additional material at 7:30 tonight — as the lack or crowds and somber circumstances lend a bittersweet edge to the most majestic Olympic achievements.

The Olympic Rings are included at the opening ceremony of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games on Friday. Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption
Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

The Olympic Rings are included at the opening ceremony of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games on Friday.

Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

TOKYO — In some ways, the opening ceremony of the Tokyo Olympics looks very normal. Delegations of athletes decked out in clothes representing their countries march triumphantly into the stadium, waving flags. A beautifully choreographed spectacle from the host country, Japan, celebrates its art and traditions.

But these are not normal times. The fanfare and celebration are unfolding in a virtually empty stadium, as Japanese protesters gathered nearby to register their discontent over the world's largest sports event happening amid a raging pandemic.

The organizers faced a challenge in striking the right tone at the official start of these postponed Games.

The ceremony is an effort to inspire people around the globe by celebrating the world's best athletes coming together, while also acknowledging the trouble and anxiety these Games have caused.

It featured a moment of silence for lives lost to COVID-19. Health care workers were honored, and an elaborate dance and lights routine acknowledged the isolation the athletes — and everyone else — have faced during the pandemic.

The honor of lighting the Olympic torch went to Japanese tennis star Naomi Osaka, a Grand Slam winner who has advocated for social justice and for athletes' mental health.

The majority of the program was made up of the "Parade of Athletes," which welcomed competitors arriving from around the globe. They're coming from very different realities, and with varying access to vaccines. In Japan, less than a quarter of the population is fully vaccinated.

The ceremony preached a message of unity in adversity while showcasing Japanese traditions and culture — traditions that include anime and video games. Japanese celebrities performed and the emperor of Japan also appeared.

Fireworks go off during the opening ceremony on Friday. Carl Court/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption
Carl Court/Getty Images

The ceremony highlighted Japanese traditions and culture

From manga to Mount Fuji, Japanese art and culture was on full display during the ceremony.

When the athletes entered the stadium, the sound of video game theme music played, and placards featuring the names of their countries in manga-style designs announced them.

The main stage is meant to symbolize Mount Fuji, an active volcano that has been a feature of Japanese art. The podium is reminiscent of a fan, with a pattern meant to symbolize a prayer for growth and prosperity.

A percussion and tap-dancing performance highlighted a traditional work song used by firefighters in old Tokyo. The ceremony also showcased a famous performer of kabuki, a style of theater famous in Japan.

A kabuki performer takes part in the opening ceremony of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. Clive Rose/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption
Clive Rose/Getty Images

A kabuki performer takes part in the opening ceremony of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.

Clive Rose/Getty Images

The Olympic rings used in the ceremony were wheeled in surrounded by softly lit paper lanterns. They are made out of wood, using a traditional Japanese style of craftsmanship called yosegi-zaiku. The wood comes from trees planted by athletes when Japan last hosted the Olympics, in 1964.

The ceremony also featured a wacky skit where actors reenacted pictograms of Olympic sports, first used during the 1964 Games.

A nearly empty stadium for the start of the pandemic Olympics

The audience for the show is almost entirely virtual – the massive Olympic Stadium, which can accommodate 68,000, had fewer than 1,000 people in the stands. Those were largely journalists, Olympic officials and dignitaries such as first lady Jill Biden.

To get into the stadium, guests sanitized their hands, scanned their credentials and presented their ticket.

The entrances and stairs leading to the national stadium were lined with hydrangea plants. In Japan, the plant represents understanding, emotion and apology. Each plant was affixed with a note written by elementary students from schools nearby.

"Welcome to Tokyo! Let's support each other!" one read. Another said, "Good luck in the world."

On the stadium grounds, a small gaggle of journalists and other spectators took pictures of one another with the Olympic rings. Only a couple snack stands were open. The red, white and green seats were almost entirely empty.

Outside, a small group of Japanese fans filmed and took pictures of the dribble of guests headed inside. Some wore surfing shirts, a new sport for the Tokyo Olympics.

The ceremony was met with protests in Tokyo

The messages of hope from inside the stadium stood in stark contrast to the sentiment of hundreds of Japanese protesters who gathered in central Tokyo at Harajuku station shortly before the ceremony started.

Demonstrators gather in Tokyo on Friday to protest the start of the Olympic Games. Tom Goldman/NPR hide caption

toggle caption
Tom Goldman/NPR

Demonstrators gather in Tokyo on Friday to protest the start of the Olympic Games.

Tom Goldman/NPR

The majority of Japanese people see the Olympics as an unnecessary danger that puts the population's health at risk while depriving them of any of the joy of hosting the Games — namely attending and showcasing the beauty of their country.

A demonstrator held up a sign that said, "No Olympics 2020! Use that money for COVID-19!" An older man in a pageboy hat clutched a large banner that said, "Bread Not Circuses."

Rows of police escorted the demonstrators as they marched through town, chanting and banging on drums.

The protesters said they're angry about the money and the attention being poured into the Olympics. They think that money should be used to battle COVID-19. They vowed to continue fighting.

The ceremony organizers nod to the anxiety that these Games are causing

The program acknowledged the deep anxiety of the moment — not just because of the coronavirus, but also from the decision to hold the Games at all.

The very first images of the ceremony were short videos of athletes practicing at their homes, alone — then a countdown showed athletes coming together and competing, as fireworks exploded above the stadium.

"Everyone has different feelings about holding a Games in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic," the organizers said. The opening segment of the ceremony is designed to "be modest and intimate, in the hope that it will reach every single person."

Another segment, titled "apart but not alone," is meant to acknowledge the difficulty of the often solitary training athletes had to go through to be in shape for these Games.

That performance opened with a lone athlete — Japanese boxer Arisa Tsubata — working out on a treadmill. Other athletes joined her on different parts of the field, and a light show and dancers symbolized individuals making connections, even though they are apart.

The ceremony ended stressing global unity. An array of drones rose high over the stadium in the shape of the emblem for these Games — then morphed into the shape of a globe.

Singers from around the world sang "Imagine" by John Lennon, each representing a continent. Angélique Kidjo from Benin represented Africa, for example, and John Legend appeared for North America.

"Let us cherish this moment," International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach. "Finally, we are all here together." He thanked the Japanese people for allowing the Games to happen.

A lone athlete runs during the opening ceremony at the Olympic Stadium on Friday in Tokyo. Kirsty Wigglesworth/AP hide caption

toggle caption
Kirsty Wigglesworth/AP

Athletes celebrate in a scaled-back parade

About 5,700 participants were expected to march in the parade — a small fraction of the number of athletes that would typically appear at an opening ceremony.

Still, despite the lack of roaring crowds, the athletes were jubilant and waved to TV cameras and empty seats. Many were decked out in clothing showcasing the traditions and fashion of their nations. For example, Afghanistan's flag bearers wore intricately embroidered clothing; Ghana's team had on crisp white suits with colorful patterned accents. The flag bearers from the tiny island nation of Tuvalu marched barefoot in colorful skirts, flower crowns and leafy arm bands.

Argentina's team bounced excitedly in unison together, and the Irish delegation made a respectful bow to the Japanese cast members as the athletes entered the stadium.

And the oiled-up flag bearer from Tonga, Pita Taufatofua, is back for his third consecutive Games.

In a shift for this Olympics, two flag bearers are allowed to represent each country — one male athlete and one female athlete.

Team USA expected approximately 200 of its athletes to march in the Opening Ceremony — about a third of the total group. The athletes were able to choose whether they would participate, and much of the team is not yet in Japan.

The U.S. flag bearers were U.S. basketball star Sue Bird, who is taking part in her fifth Olympics, and Olympic speed skater-turned-baseball player Eddy Alvarez.

At least one large delegation decided to skip the opening ceremony, only sending its flag bearers and two other representatives. Brazil announced before the ceremony that it decided participating in the parade was too risky for its athletes.

Eddy Alvarez , shown here during a game last month, will be one of the U.S. flag bearers in the Opening Ceremony of the Tokyo Olympics. Mark Brown/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption
Mark Brown/Getty Images

Eddy Alvarez , shown here during a game last month, will be one of the U.S. flag bearers in the Opening Ceremony of the Tokyo Olympics.

Mark Brown/Getty Images

TOKYO — What do speed skating and baseball have in common?

U.S. Olympian and flag bearer Eddy Alvarez. He won a silver medal in speed skating at the Winter Games in Sochi in 2014, and is competing on the U.S. baseball team at the Tokyo Summer Olympics.

Otherwise, not much, as Alvarez joked in a recent interview: "I would say the only link is the fact that we go left. There's really nothing similar about them."

Alvarez, 31, was selected by his fellow athletes to be the flag bearer at the Opening Ceremony on Friday, along with U.S. women's basketball legend and household name Sue Bird. This will be Bird's fifth Olympics.

Alvarez is aiming to become just the sixth athlete ever to medal in both the Winter and Summer Games.

His Olympic dreams started with speed skating

Alvarez, who is first-generation Cuban American, started rollerblading in Florida when he was five years old.

"I was just cruising around the streets of South Beach and got scouted," he recently told Team USA. "Two ladies stopped my parents and said, 'This kid needs to try the sport of inline speed skating,' so I did and I remember falling in love with it and the thrill of racing."

He loved both skating and baseball while growing up in Miami – but years later, after a knee injury, he focused entirely on skating to try to make the Olympic team.

In 2014, he represented Team USA in the Sochi Winter Games in four events. Alvarez and his teammates took home a silver medal in the 5,000 meter relay. The team missed out on gold by just a fraction of a second against the team from Russia.

"When you're so close to winning and you have to stand on the podium and listen to someone else's anthem, it leaves just a little bit of that bittersweet feeling," Alvarez recently told the Miami Herald. "This trip is like a second chance."

When he got back from the Sochi Games, at the age of 24, Alvarez started charting his course into playing professional baseball as an infielder.

The White Sox accepted him into the team's minor league system, where he spent five seasons before he was traded to the Miami Marlins.

Last year, Alvarez made his major league debut.

USA's Eddy Alvarez (center) competed in speed skating during the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. Harry E. Walker/Tribune News Service via Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption
Harry E. Walker/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

That gave him some experience at playing without in-person spectators, which will come in handy during the Olympics.

"I have some experience with the no fan thing. Do I like it? Absolutely not. I absolutely hate it. At the same time, I understand the precautions they are taking; it's still an honor to represent my country and the goal is still to bring home a medal," he told Team USA.

The stars aligned for Alvarez when baseball returned to the Games

Baseball is returning to the Olympics for the first time since 2008. It's a sport that is very popular in Japan, and the host country was able to successfully push for its inclusion. That meant the stars aligned for Alvarez to make his return to the Games.

His return is now extra sweet. Alvarez was visibly moved when his coach gave him the news that he'd been selected as flag bearer, as his teammates cheered.

"As you can probably tell, I'm extremely emotional right now," he said in a video released by USA Baseball.

In an Instagram post later, he wrote, "I must say this feels way more than just a personal achievement."

"The significance runs much deeper ... This represents the American Dream," Alvarez said. It honors his family's sacrifice, he added, and "solidifies that the journey was worth all the time and struggle."

Six nations will face off in baseball in the Tokyo Games. The U.S. team will play its first game next Friday, against Israel.

An Olympic Opening Ceremony For An Olympics Like None Other

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://balancedmommagazine.com/player/embed/1019587579/1019611022" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

Police manage the crowd outside the Olympic Stadium in Tokyo on July 23, 2021, ahead of the opening ceremony of the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games. Behrouz Mehri/AFP via Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption
Behrouz Mehri/AFP via Getty Images

Police manage the crowd outside the Olympic Stadium in Tokyo on July 23, 2021, ahead of the opening ceremony of the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games.

Behrouz Mehri/AFP via Getty Images

TOKYO — The COVID-delayed Tokyo Summer Olympics officially begins with a parade of athletes (more than 200 of them from Team USA), waving flags and marching inside a mostly-empty stadium. It's not clear yet what else will happen during the opening ceremony which is usually a chance to showcase the host country and inspire pride from countries throughout the world.

But these are no ordinary Games, with strict restrictions in place to try to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Even things behind the scenes are strange: just days ago, the ceremony's creative director and musical composer were both fired.

Kentaro Kobayashi, a former Japanese comedian and manga artist, was ousted from his post directing the Opening and Closing Ceremonies. The president of the Tokyo Organizing Committee announced his resignation after news reports surfaced that in 1998, Kobayashi and his comedy partner had parodied a Japanese children's TV show. In a skit, he reportedly held up small paper dolls and joked "Let's play holocaust."

Tokyo 2020 president Hashimoto Seiko announced Kobayashi's dismissal, and read aloud a letter of apology he penned. Kobayashi wrote that he realized he had made a mistake in his act, and that he had decided to aim for laughter that does not hurt people. In his more recent stage shows, Kobayahi's comedic stylings have included pantomiming on stage sets that resemble animated sketch drawings.

His dismissal was just the latest in a saga in what some are calling a "cursed Olympics." In March, Kobayashi replaced the ceremony's previous creative director Hiroshi Sasaki, who resigned for offensive comments he made. Japanese news reports cited his private conversations suggesting that plus-sized celebrity Naomi Watanabe dress as a pig for the opening ceremony to play the role of an "Olympig."

Fans of NPR's Tiny Desk concerts may have seen Keigo Oyamada, known as Cornelius, performing for the network in 2018. Cornelius had composed music for the Opening and Closing ceremonies of the Olympics and the Paralympics. But earlier this week, he also stepped down from his role over his past comments. In the 1990's, Oyamada was quoted in magazines "Rockin' On Japan" and "Quick Japan" confessing that as a student, he wrestled down and humiliated his disabled classmates.

Cornelius tweeted an apology, but the Tokyo organizing committee soon accepted his resignation.

There's no telling yet how any of these scandals will affect the opening ceremony. The motto of the event — and the Tokyo Olympics — is "United by Emotion." U.S. women's soccer star Megan Rapinoe mused as to what emotion that may refer to.

"It could be a collective grief from the pandemic that's still obviously raging in a lot of parts around the world," Rapinoe said. "It could be relief in finally getting to do things again, and hopefully, you know, a sense of joy in having something to do and something to watch."

And the board chair of the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee, Susanne Lyons, put it this way: "I think it's gonna be a delayed gratification for everyone if all goes the way we hope and expect that it will... The memory of these Games is not that it should be the COVID Games, it should be that it is the Games that really showed the world the resiliency of humanity, that gave hope at a time when the entire world needs hope."

People take pictures as the Olympic rings lit up at dusk on the Odaiba waterfront in Tokyo on Thursday, the eve of the official start of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. Philip Fong/AFP via Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption
Philip Fong/AFP via Getty Images

People take pictures as the Olympic rings lit up at dusk on the Odaiba waterfront in Tokyo on Thursday, the eve of the official start of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.

Philip Fong/AFP via Getty Images

It's Opening Ceremony day in Tokyo, heralding the official start to another Olympics. Although we've already had two days of sports competition, there's the knowledge that once the smoke settles after tonight's ceremony-ending fireworks, the gates are flung open to 16 straight days of unprecedented drama.

As a reporter, it'll be fine to have a daily plan — but as always, I'll be ready to wad it up and throw it away as unforeseen stories capture the imagination.

So at this point, there is a sameness about these Tokyo Games.

But in so many ways, they are hugely different from the 12 previous Olympics I've been lucky enough to cover.

Never have I been through an hours-long gauntlet of paperwork and QR codes and of course a saliva test at the airport on arrival. Never have I quarantined in a tiny hotel room for four days before getting a real view of the host city. Never have I seen in that city, once sprung from isolation, so little fanfare or physical evidence that it's about to host the globe's biggest sports spectacle. Never have I seen the level of dissatisfaction and even anger among the locals, about the Olympics coming to their home. And as a long-time chronicler of Olympic doping, never have I seen so much talk of positive tests that have nothing to do with steroids, EPO or other performance-enhancers of choice.

Will those increasing numbers of positive coronavirus tests drive the daily drama? We're about to find out. The athletes will do all they can to keep the narrative focused on their stories — irresistible stories of sportsmen and women who've toiled for years in obscurity, and now get to emerge on a world stage for the briefest of moments.

We root for them, not the Olympic leaders who many believe are unwisely forcing these Games into a surging pandemic.

And in those cheers for the competitors ... cheers that will come from living rooms and not the empty, lifeless Olympic stadiums ... these Games are exactly the same as they've always been.

Banners of the Czech Republic (bottom) and the Olympic Refugee teams (top) are seen on a building at the Olympic and Paralympic Village ahead of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. The Czech team is investigating a cluster of coronavirus cases. Behrouz Mehri/AFP via Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption
Behrouz Mehri/AFP via Getty Images

Banners of the Czech Republic (bottom) and the Olympic Refugee teams (top) are seen on a building at the Olympic and Paralympic Village ahead of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. The Czech team is investigating a cluster of coronavirus cases.

Behrouz Mehri/AFP via Getty Images

Czech Olympic officials are looking into a cluster of coronavirus cases that are linked to a charter flight that brought a contingent of athletes and staff to Japan. The country's team has six coronavirus cases in total.

A doctor who was on the flight was reportedly among the first to test positive. As of late Thursday, four athletes had also tested positive for the coronavirus.

Road cyclist Michal Schlegel is the latest athlete to test positive, joining a list that includes two beach volleyball players and a table tennis player. Schlegel will not be able to compete in Saturday's Olympic road race, the Czech Olympic Committee said.

Another athlete who tested positive is beach volleyball player Markéta Nausch Sluková, who will miss her match that was also slated for Saturday.

The national team says it's urgently investigating the flight, which brought a large part of the Czech Olympic delegation to Tokyo last week. In a sign of how deep the suspicions about the flight run, after Schlegel's test was confirmed, only those cycling team officials who were on the charter plane were required to report directly to Tokyo for further coronavirus testing.

The cluster of cases tied to the charter flight has become a big story in the Czech Republic, especially after media outlets there reported that many passengers had taken off their masks immediately after the plane took off.

"Prime Minister Andrej Babiš has described the situation as a scandal and unfair to the athletes," Radio Prague International reports.

Much of the scrutiny is falling on a doctor who was on the flight, Vlastimil Voráček, who was reportedly not vaccinated and who has spouted outlandish theories about the COVID-19 pandemic — including the idea that people could protect themselves by gargling regularly with mouthwash, according to the news outlet Seznam Zprávy.

The country's Olympic officials say they want the inquiry to focus on whether all precautions against COVID-19 were observed before, during and after the charter flight — and whether some of the plane's passengers may have failed to fulfill their responsibilities.

John Coates, president of the Australian Olympic Committee, has come under fire for his remarks to Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk, ordering her to attend the opening ceremony of the Tokyo Olympics. Toru Hanai/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption
Toru Hanai/Getty Images

John Coates, president of the Australian Olympic Committee, has come under fire for his remarks to Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk, ordering her to attend the opening ceremony of the Tokyo Olympics.

Toru Hanai/Getty Images

Australian Olympics chief John Coates is being criticized after lecturing Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk and ordering her to attend the opening ceremony of the Tokyo Olympics. Palaszczuk had previously said she wouldn't be attending Friday's ceremony.

"I was reading some questions about you going to the opening ceremony," Coates told Palaszczuk. "You are going to the opening ceremony," he then said, crossing his arms as he spoke.

Coates made the remarks at a news conference where he and Palaszczuk were celebrating the Queensland city of Brisbane's successful bid to host the 2032 Games. He said the premier should attend Tokyo's kickoff event for her own edification, to help Queensland officials prepare for their hosting duties.

"All of you will get along there, and understand the traditional parts of that, what's involved in an opening ceremony," Coates said. "None of you are staying behind and hiding in your rooms, all right?"

Criticism pours in, with accusations of mansplaining

Palaszczuk looked away from Coates as he spoke. When she later addressed his remarks, she merely stated with a brief laugh, "I don't want to offend anybody."

YouTube

But Coates' comments were quickly criticized as awkward at best and belittling or even bullying at worst. In response, he said people have distorted what happened.

"My comments regarding the Premier and the Opening Ceremony have been completely misinterpreted by people who weren't in the room," Coates said in a statement sent to NPR. "Absolutely I believe the Premier should come to the Opening Ceremony and she has accepted. I am thrilled about that. Attending the Opening Ceremony has always been her choice."

Those words did little to allay critics who note that Coates took his forceful stance not in a closed meeting but in an international news conference that put the world's spotlight on Brisbane and Queensland.

If Palaszczuk must attend an Olympic opening ceremony, some also said, she should be free to choose one that doesn't occur during a pandemic.

The premier responds

Palaszczuk said she and two other officials now plan to be at Friday's ceremony.

Clips from the exchange have been airing steadily on news programs in Australia. In an interview with Australian public broadcaster ABC, Palaszczuk downplayed the incident. It was natural, she said, to change her position on attending the opening ceremony now that Brisbane has been tapped to become an Olympic city.

She also said Coates played a pivotal role in the successful bid.

"He's fantastic. If we didn't have John Coates, this would not have happened," the premier said.

"I've known John for years," Palaszczuk said. "So what's happened now is that the lord mayor [of Brisbane] and the federal minister and I are expected to go. So I will leave that to John Coates and [International Olympic Committee President] Thomas Bach, but let me make it very clear: I am not going to offend anyone, now that we've just been awarded the Games."

''You don't know the protocols,'' Coates said

At the joint news conference, Coates also interrogated the Queensland leader about her familiarity with the Olympics' biggest single event.

"You've never been to an opening ceremony of the Olympic Games, have you?" he asked. After Palaszczuk shook her head, he added, "You don't know the protocols. I think it's part of a very important lesson for everyone here."

He then took a deep breath and explained that the ceremony costs tens of millions of dollars and is an important opportunity to set the tone at an Olympics.

"My very strong recommendation is the premier and the lord mayor and the minister be there, and understand it," Coates added.

Some of Coates' critics called his remarks quintessential mansplaining.

"John Coates is another one of those men who, even if you've never worked with him, you've worked with him," writer Anna Spargo-Ryan said of the video. "His body language and tone is so familiar it makes your stomach turn."

Coates is a longstanding Olympics leader

Defending his remarks to Palaszczuk, Coates said in his statement, "The Premier and I have a long standing and very successful relationship. We both know the spirit of my remarks and I have no indication that she was offended in any way."

Coates, 71, wields a great deal of power. He has led the Australian Olympic Committee for some 30 years. He is also a longstanding member of the International Olympic Committee, where he currently serves as a vice president. He has played central roles in a number of Games, including the Sydney Olympics in 2000.

Coates survived a rare challenge to his leadership role in 2017 when he defeated Danni Roche in the election for AOC chief. During the campaign, she had promised to overhaul Australia's Olympic Committee — a message that resounded in part due to allegations from the organization's former chief executive, Fiona de Jong, who said a culture of bullying and intimidation had thrived under Coates' leadership.

NPR's coverage of the Olympics

Live Updates: The Tokyo Olympics

What you need to know about this year's Summer Games