The Tokyo Olympics officially kicked off Friday with an elaborate yet muted opening ceremony, with athletes from the 206 participating countries and teams parading through a largely spectator-free Olympic Stadium as Japan opened the Summer Games through modern and classical performances representing their culture—and 1,800 drones.
International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach opened the Olympic Games with a message of unity, describing the ceremony as a “moment of hope” amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
Japanese tennis player Naomi Osaka lit the Olympic torch, the athlete’s first public appearance since she pulled out of the French Open in May after boycotting press conferences at the event over concerns about her mental health.
The U.S. Olympic team was led by baseball player Eddy Alvarez and basketball player Sue Bird, who served as the country’s flagbearers during the ceremony’s parade of athletes.
The event was not open to spectators due to Covid-19 restrictions, but there were some stakeholders in attendance, including U.S. First Lady Jill Biden.
Music stars including John Legend and Keith Urban performed John Lennon’s “Imagine” along with Japanese performers, as part of a broader performance that also included traditional Japanese Kabuki performance and an elaborate drone show.
11,656. That’s how many athletes are competing in the Tokyo Olympics, according to Tokyo 2020 organizers. Not all of those athletes were present during the opening ceremony, however, with teams like the U.S. gymnastics and women’s soccer teams holding their own “opening ceremonies” because they couldn’t attend.
Wooden Olympic rings were displayed during the opening ceremony, which were made from lumber from trees that international athletes planted the last time Tokyo hosted the Olympics in 1964.
The Tokyo Olympics kicked off after a year-long delay amid the Covid-19 pandemic, which has remained a concern during the Games as a growing number of athletes have had to pull out due to positive Covid-19 tests. Stringent health and safety protocols are in place, though public health experts have nevertheless expressed concerns. The opening ceremony has also been a source of controversy beyond the pandemic, as multiple people involved with its creation have resigned amid scandals—most recently director Kentaro Kobayashi, who was dismissed on Thursday after jokes he made about the Holocaust surfaced.