Let the Games begin (at last!): Tennis player Naomi Osaka lights flame as Tokyo Olympics begins

·4 min read
 (AFP via Getty Images)
(AFP via Getty Images)

Tennis player Naomi Osaka lit the Olympic Cauldron to announce the Tokyo Games had officially begun on Friday.

The Tokyo Olympic Games finally launched with a spectacular show — and a message of hope for the world to move on from the coronavirus pandemic.

Organisers of the opening ceremony evoked the spirit of John Lennon and his wife Yoko Ono, 50 years after they wrote the peace anthem Imagine.

Stunning fireworks and amazing 1,800 drones lit up the sky in celebration of the Olympic games.

The ceremony had started out with a procession of flag bearers from 207 nations being led by eight children, symbolising that the future is now in their hands.

The Games were delayed for a year because of the pandemic and many in Japan have called for them to be cancelled — but they were being officially opened at the Olympic Stadium in Tokyo.

Olympic chief Thomas Bach began proceedings with the words: “Welcome to the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020! Finally, the moment has arrived.”

He called the global event “a light at the end of this dark tunnel” only made possible because of the Japanese people’s “incredible ability” to overcome adversity.

The ceremony started with four athletes carrying the Japanese flag into the stadium, followed by a person with disabilities and a health worker who cared for victims of the pandemic.

British rower Mohamed Sbihi, 33, and sailor Hannah Mills were making history leading out Team GB — the first time there have been male and female flag-bearers.

As the greatest show on earth got under way, Tokyo 2020 chiefs said they wanted children to be at the forefront of a “peaceful” and “more diverse” fresh start post Covid-19.

They likened it to the future that Beatle Lennon and his Japanese activist wife Ono imagined without “borders, nationalism, warfare, religious constructs or ownership, where life and all its riches are shared in peace and harmony”.

In a special moment, the Israeli Olympic team members killed by Palestinian gunmen at the 1972 Munich Olympics were remembered with a moment of silence.

The families of the 11 killed had long asked the International Olympic Committee to hold a minute's silence at a Games opening ceremony but had been turned down for almost half a century.

"We, the Olympic community, also remember all the Olympians and members of our community who have so sadly left us, in particular we remember those who lost their lives during the Olympic Games," said an announcer during the opening ceremony.

"One group still holds a strong place in all our memories and stand for all those we have lost at the games - the members of the Israeli delegation at the Olympic Games Munich 1972.”

Elsewhere in the ceremony Imagine, co-written by the couple at their Berkshire home, was performed in front of a crowd of just 950.

Numbers in the stadium restricted to stop the spread of the virus.

A lone performer appeared at the start of the ceremony (Getty Images)
A lone performer appeared at the start of the ceremony (Getty Images)

US First Lady Jill Biden, Emperor Naruhito and French President Emmanuel Macron were among the VIPs, officials and media guests allowed inside.

More than 11,300 athletes, who have had to wait more than a year after the Games were postponed in March 2020, will compete over the next two weeks — with medals to be won in 33 sports.

Sbihi, from Kingston upon Thames, was Britain’s first Muslim flag-bearer. He won gold in the men’s coxless fours in Rio and will compete in the men’s eight at Tokyo 2020.

Mills, also 33, who will be defending her title in the women’s 470 class, said she was “overwhelmed, honoured and proud” to be a flag-bearer.

She said: “I will carry the flag for Team GB, the athletes and the whole of the UK, for the Olympics and what they represent and for the planet and the changes we need to make.”

US First Lady Jill Biden arrives for the opening ceremony (POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
US First Lady Jill Biden arrives for the opening ceremony (POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

Star names competing for Team GB include swimmer Adam Peaty, cyclist Laura Kenny and sprinter Dina Asher-Smith. Even before the opening ceremony started, Team GB was already in action.

Sarah Bettles, from Harold Wood, near Romford, finished 15th of the 64 competitors in the opening ranking round of archery at Yumenoshima.

British rowers also started their campaign with Vicky Thornley making a strong start in the women’s single sculls.

Thornley, the first British female single sculler to gain Olympic selection for 20 years, crossed the line first in her heat nearly three seconds ahead of Switzerland’s Jeannine Gmelin.

British duo Graeme Thomas and John Collins made it through to the semi-finals in the double sculls, finishing second in their heat behind the Dutch.

A series of testing measures have been brought in to stop the Games becoming a “super spreader” event but despite the restrictions, the virus has already hit the Olympics.

Twelve new cases of Covid-19 were reported on Thursday, bringing the total related to Games personnel to 87. There have been eight positive cases among athletes.

US tennis player Coco Gauff had to pull out after testing positive before arriving in Tokyo, while Team GB’s Dan Evans and Johanna Konta and world No1 shooter Amber Hill withdrew for the same reason.

Meanwhile, opposition to the IOC’s ban on protests intensified with more than 150 athletes, academics and social justice advocates signing an open letter demanding changes to Rule 50.

Games chiefs earlier this month relaxed the rule to allow athletes to take a knee for racial justice.

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