• Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

Opinion: Marathon, crowd-less Tokyo Olympics opening ceremony mixes in poignant moments

·3 min read
In this article:
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

TOKYO — The opening ceremony of the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games was as utilitarian as expected, filled with small delegations of exuberant athletes from around the world entering a cavernous and crowd-less Olympic Stadium while waving earnestly to empty seats.

It went on for a very long time, with too many skits, and speeches that should have been shorter, but the fact that it happened at all was noteworthy. Postponed for a year due to the global pandemic, the Summer Olympics have officially begun. That’s a sentence many thought never would be written.

And for all the stops and starts of the postponement and Friday’s ceremony, it finished with a grand flourish, when Japanese tennis star Naomi Osaka appeared at the very end of the evening and lit the Olympic cauldron.

In a ceremony steeped in inclusion and diversity, Osaka was right at home, her recent messages about mental health now reaching Olympic heights.

But this opening ceremony was most remarkable for giving the world a moment that was nearly 50 years overdue. For the first time ever, the International Olympic Committee mentioned the 11 Israeli athletes and coaches who were killed by terrorists at the 1972 Munich Summer Olympics. They were honored in a moment of silence that encompassed the COVID-19 pandemic and those members of the Olympic community who were lost.

It is both unbelievable and inexcusable that this was the first mention of the worst tragedy in Olympic history at an opening ceremony. The IOC was prodded and criticized for much of the past 50 years, and especially the past 20, but it refused to budge.

It allowed all kinds of symbolism, fanfare and nonsense into its opening ceremony, but not an acknowledgement of the gravest moment in its history. That error was corrected Friday night, due in large part to the efforts of IOC President Thomas Bach, himself a German.

No matter what this ceremony — held as COVID still rages in many places around the world — was or wasn’t, it will always be notable for righting that horrendous wrong.

Otherwise, with only about 1,000 dignitaries gathered in a corner of the stadium, their applause barely audible, the opening ceremony truly lived up to its billing as a well-produced TV show.

What those watching on TV didn’t see was quite a few athletes and delegations exiting in the shadows rather than standing — or sitting —for several hours on the stadium floor. They circled the stadium and then exited out the opposite end from where they entered.

As the gathering of athletes became a hodgepodge of humanity that didn’t appear to have much use for social distancing, getting out of there seemed like a great option.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Tokyo Olympics opening ceremony: Marathon event with poignant moments