Tokyo Olympics opening ceremony: Best moments from the event

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(TOKYO) — After a yearlong delay and a string of scandals, the 2020 Summer Olympics is officially opening in Tokyo.

All eyes are on the opening ceremony to see whether the host city can not only put on a good show but also lift spirits and unite a world battered by a raging pandemic. The event, which is taking place in Tokyo’s newly rebuilt Olympic Stadium, began Friday at 8 p.m. local time (7 a.m. ET) and is being broadcast live on NBC.

The Games were initially scheduled to kick off in the Japanese capital last summer but were postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Here are key moments from the opening ceremony. All times Eastern:

Jul 23, 7:45 am
Ceremony commences with light-filled dance, national anthem performance

The opening ceremony kicked off with a dance inspired by how sports can bring people together after a difficult year marked by a global pandemic. Bright, moving lights filled the empty venue and the rhythm was meant to imitate a heartbeat as dozens of Japanese performers pranced across the stadium.

Arisua Tsubata, a boxer and nurse who treated COVID-19 patients, helmed the opening dance performance from a treadmill in the center of the stadium grounds.

Following the colorful dance event, the Japanese national anthem was sung by artist MISIA as the as the iconic flag was raised by members of Japan’s Self-Defense Forces.

Japan’s Emperor Naruhito was in attendance, taking on the same role his grandfather held when he opened the Tokyo Olympics in 1964.

The ceremony then featured percussive performances meant to honor traditional Japanese carpentry arts. Beloved Japanese tap dancer Kazunori Kumagai also made a cameo performance.

Fireworks erupted over the stadium, lighting up the sky and officially commencing the Summer Olympics.

Jul 23, 7:04 am
Opening ceremony kicks off

The opening ceremony for the 2020 Summer Olympics has begun in Tokyo.

The event at Tokyo’s Olympic Stadium, which is virtually empty, will feature a lighting of the Olympic cauldron, some of the athletes and plenty of music.

Basketball player Sue Bird and baseball player Eddy Alvares have been selected to carry the flag for Team USA during the lap of the stadium.

Traditionally, each nation chooses just one flag-bearer. But this year, countries have been encouraged to select both a male and female representative to carry their flag.

The stands will be virtually empty with less than 1,000 people in the venue, which can hold up to 68,000.

No spectators are allowed to attend the opening ceremony — or any event in an Olympic venue in Tokyo during the Games — as part of efforts to reduce the risk of COVID-19 infection. There are also a limited number of athletes and dignitaries in attendance. U.S. first lady Jill Biden is among them.

The Tokyo Olympics organizing committee and the Japanese government have faced criticism for pushing ahead with the Games this year, despite public health concerns amid rising COVID-19 cases. The opening ceremony is already mired in controversy of its own, with the latest incident happening on the eve of the event. The Tokyo Olympics organizing committee fired the ceremony’s director, Kentaro Kobayashi, over a joke he made about the Holocaust as a comedian in 1998.

“We have been preparing for the last year to send a positive message,” Seiko Hashimoto, president of the Tokyo 2020 organizing committee, said during a press conference Thursday. “Toward the very end now there are so many incidents that give a negative image toward Tokyo 2020.”

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