The Tokyo Olympics officially kicked off in a virtually empty stadium on Friday night after a year of delay due to the pandemic.
As the Games face the continuing threat of Covid-19, with the Japanese capital under a state of emergency and many locals firmly opposed to hosting the Olympics, viewers have always been treated to the festivities of the night that marked the start of the world sporting event.
Follow NBC News’ Olympics coverage throughout the Games
But instead of the crowd of 68,000 cheering athletes from over 200 countries marching with flags through Tokyo’s Olympic Stadium, fewer than 1,000 spectators were in attendance for the night’s pageantry and speeches.
Here are some of the highlights of the night.
Osaka lights the Olympic cauldron
Tennis star Naomi Osaka climbed to the top of a pyramid of steps to light the cauldron, officiating the start of the Tokyo Games.
Osaka joins the ranks of other famous athletes who carried the last Olympic torch, including heavyweight boxing champion Muhammad Ali, nine-time Finnish runner Olympic champion Paavo Nurmi and South Korean figure skating champion Yuna Kim.
The return of the shirtless Tongan flag bearer
The shirtless flag bearer has returned.
Pita Taufatofua, a Tongan taekwondo athlete who competed in the Olympic opening ceremony shirtless and oiled up, captured the internet by storm for the third time in a row.
The athlete even caught the eye of the official Olympics account.
“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” the Olympics tweeted with photos of Taufatofua from the 2016 and 2018 Olympics.
Taufatofua, which has become something of a tradition, secured his place at the Tokyo Olympics in taekwondo after beating Steven Tommy of Papua New Guinea in a qualifying event in Australia.
Blue humans or logos?
Towards the end of the ceremony, viewers had a pleasant surprise.
In a series of human pictograms, artists dressed in all-blue outfits pieced together what appeared to be the logo of each Olympic sport, causing confusion, shock or perhaps even joy on social media.
“It was the most stressful thing to watch but it was so cool,” one person tweeted.
Another viewer called the performance “brilliant”, going so far as to say that it “even took my daughters’ attention away from their phones.”
Remember the lives lost
The opening ceremony started on a darker note with a video of Japan’s trip to the Olympics and its montage of athletes training for the Games, at home and in isolation – a significant change from performance usual ornaments that showcase the culture and history of the host country. .
“The creators tried to put this ceremony in its time,” Savannah Guthrie, co-host of NBC’s “TODAY” and host of the Tokyo Olympics, said on the live broadcast.
After Japanese singer Misia performed the country’s national anthem, spectators were invited to observe a minute of silence to remember those who have died from the pandemic.
Commentators also took note of victims who died during the Olympics and athletes who were unable to attend the event.
Tribute to Japanese culture
True to tradition, the ceremony made several nods to the host country of the Olympic Games.
Dozens of artists opened the show against the backdrop of bright moving lights and a steady rhythm. The dancers, dressed in all-white outfits and tied with red strings, were meant to represent the inner workings of the body and heart.
The ceremony then turned into another performance featuring dancers dressed as carpenters who built an Olympic Village in honor of Japanese arts. The carefully choreographed and well-rehearsed display of national pride culminated with the unfolding of the Olympic rings, all made from the lumber of trees that grew from seeds brought to the Japanese capital by athletes the last time they were there. it hosted the Summer Games in 1964.
A spectacular fireworks display erupted above the stadium after the performances.
Parade of athletes
Greece, which hosted the first Olympics, led the field in this year’s first official presentation to the world of this year’s Olympians.
With their flags unfurled and their faces dressed in masks, athletes from more than 200 countries marched around Tokyo’s Olympic Stadium to songs from classic video games – an essential part of Japanese culture. Some countries practiced social distancing, others did not.
Each nation was allowed for the first time in Olympic history to have two standard bearers – a man and a woman – for the traditional Parade of Nations. American basketball player Sue Bird and baseball player Eddy Alvarez wore the stars and stripes.
“Imagine” a new world
After the parade ended, musicians from around the world performed “Imagine” by John Lennon, also performed at the 2018 Olympic Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
Singers John Legend, Keith Urban, Angelique Kidjo and Alejandro Sanz joined in the performance as 1,800 drones flew over the stadium to form the shape of Earth, a circle of light in the dark Tokyo sky.
NBC’s live coverage in the US began at 6:55 a.m., and viewers can tune into the ceremony when it reruns at 7:30 p.m. and once again overnight.