Simon Denyer

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author. Former bureau chief with The Washington Post and Reuters.

Jul 23, 2021
Published on: Washington Post
2 min read

TOKYO — The Tokyo Olympics officially began Friday with the Opening Ceremonies, a four-hour extravaganza of flag-waving, parades, music, lights and cultural celebration that culminates with the lighting of the Olympic cauldron.

TOKYO — Before she made her much-anticipated public return to the tennis court after a nearly two-month mental health break, Naomi Osaka cemented her status as the global face of the Tokyo Games.

The world’s No. 2 tennis player and one of Japan’s biggest celebrities had the honor of lighting the Olympic cauldron. Osaka, 23, did so wearing her hair in long red braids and held the torch high.

Three famous Japanese baseball figures take part in torch relay

The torch relay in Japan featured a few prominent Japanese baseball figures whose names might be familiar to baseball fans. Former New York Yankee Hideki Matsui was one of the players involved. Matsui played 10 seasons in MLB, including seven with the Yankees, making two All-Star Games and winning the 2009 World Series MVP.

He was joined by two other Japanese baseball greats: Shigeo Nagashima and Sadaharu Oh. Oh holds the world record for most career home runs with 868 during his professional career. Oh and Nagashima combined to lead the Yomiuri Giants to nine straight Japanese Series victories during their careers.

Torch relay concludes its long — delayed — journey from Greece

TOKYO — The Olympic flame had quite a journey thanks to the Games’ yearlong delay. According to Tokyo 2020 organizers, it arrived from Greece to the city of Higashi Matsushima, one of the areas hardest hit by the devastating earthquake of 2011. For a year, it was carefully kept alight in a lantern until the torch relay could resume. It arrived in Tokyo on July 9.

Past Olympians, a doctor, a nurse and a Paralympian helped carry it to a crowd of students holding sunflowers. Sunflowers turn toward the sun when they bloom and were meant to represent the forward-looking perspective these Games are meant to symbolize.

Kabuki makes its way into the Opening Ceremonies

TOKYO — Japan’s traditional theatrical art form, known as Kabuki, earned a spot near the end of the Opening Ceremonies. According to the Tokyo 2020 organizers, the performance on the broadcast featured aragoto, “a kabuki performance style that makes use of fierce kumadori makeup and exaggerated costumes, to portray dynamic, vigorous characters with superhuman powers.”

The Opening Ceremonies included a tribute to... pictograms?

TOKYO — Near the end of the Opening Ceremonies, after the broadcast went through an animated flip book celebrating all the different Olympic hosts since Tokyo first staged the Games in 1964, the Tokyo 2020 organizers saw fit to remind viewers of all 50 Olympic sports. Using just a few people. Who were wearing blue suits.

This live-action tribute to pictograms had performers act out the symbols for each sport in the Olympic program. It was one of the more creative — and funniest — parts of the Ceremonies.

Japan’s Emperor Naruhito officially opens the Tokyo Games

TOKYO — After a one-year delay full of loss and uncertainty, Japan’s Emperor Naruhito finally declared the Tokyo Summer Olympics open Friday night. The host nation and International Olympic Committee hope the Games demonstrate the perseverance and global unity the Olympic movement is meant to represent.

Naruhito punctuated an elegant and staid Opening Ceremonies that both celebrated the endurance of the athletes and lauded the essential workers that helped Japan weather the onset of the pandemic.

“This is the light at the end of the dark tunnel,” IOC President Thomas Bach said before Naruhito appeared. “...Today, wherever in the world you may be, we are united in sharing this moment together. The Olympic flame makes this light shine brighter for all of us.”

U.S. Olympians prank Kevin Durant by singing ‘Happy Birthday’ to him

Brooklyn Nets forward Kevin Durant, the headlining star of the United States men’s basketball team, doesn’t turn 33 until Sept. 29.

But that didn’t stop dozens of fellow United States athletes from serenading him with the “Happy Birthday” song at the Parade of Nations during the Opening Ceremonies of the Tokyo Olympics on Friday.

Although Durant looked a bit annoyed to be the center of attention under false pretenses, he didn’t stop dozens of athletes from completing the entire song in his honor. At the song’s conclusion, he shook his head as several of his teammates laughed and led a round of cheers.

The video was captured by Denver Nuggets center JaVale McGee, who was a late addition to USA Basketball’s roster following the abrupt departure of Cleveland Cavaliers forward Kevin Love earlier this month.

Tokyo 2020 organizing committee head and IOC president make remarks

TOKYO — Before Japan’s Emperor Naruhito officially declares the Games open and precisely 288 fireworks go off in celebration, choir students from Tokyo and Fukushima — the site of the 2011 triple disaster these Games are in part celebrating a recovery from — sang “Imagine” with singers from around the world piping in on video before doves were released as a symbol of peace.

Tokyo 2020 organizing committee head Hashimoto Seiko and International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach then made remarks, and organizers then took a moment to honor essential workers.

Because the order of the Parade of Nations at this year’s Tokyo Olympic Opening Ceremonies is determined by the Japanese language, Tonga and its shirtless, glistening flag bearer — taekwondo athlete Pita Taufatofua, back for his third Games — were followed in short order by athletes from the South Pacific island nation of Vanuatu, led by rower Riilio Rii.

Rii is one of three athletes from Vanuatu (population: 307,815) to compete at these Games, joining judoka Hugo Cumbo and table tennis player Yoshua Shing. He finished sixth and last in his single-scull heat Thursday night but will get another chance to advance in the repechage Friday night.

TOKYO — The U.S. men’s and women’s gymnastics teams didn’t attend the Opening Ceremonies, but the athletes held their own private parade of sorts. The gymnasts dressed in the apparel given to Team USA athletes for the ceremonies, and three-time Olympian Sam Mikulak served as a flag bearer with Simone Biles behind him.

The gymnasts waved to an imaginary crowd as staffers cheered. Lisa Spini, the coach of MyKayla Skinner, posted the video on social media, and in the background, someone jokingly said, “Oh my gosh, is that Shane Wiskus?” in reference to a member of the U.S. men’s team.

The men begin competition Saturday with the qualification round, and the women start competing Sunday. Athletes with upcoming competitions sometimes do not participate in the Opening Ceremonies because they can be a long, energy-zapping affair. The Parade of Nations alone is expected to take about two hours.

After winning two gold medals at her first Olympics in 2016, swimmer Lilly King is in Tokyo hoping to leave with more. King said it’s “awesome” to be back at the Olympics.

“I forgot how excited I was going to be walking into the village for the first time and seeing all the different nations and being able to trade pins with other athletes,” King said to NBC’s Savannah Guthrie.

King did admit that it’s definitely quieter in the Olympic Village compared to when she went in 2016. She said fewer people are moving around the village generally, but she joked that the dining hall is “as active as ever.”

The two-time Olympian will be participating in the 100- and 200-meter breaststroke in Tokyo. She holds the world record for the 100-meter breaststroke with a time of 1:04:13.