Tokyo Olympics Opening Ceremony: Waving at No One

Highlights from an empty spectacle... no, literally, it was empty

An overview shows the Tokyo 2020 emblem during the opening ceremony of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games,...
It Begins

Against all odds — that would be COVID-19 and an ongoing personnel crisis — the Tokyo Olympics have not been canceled, kicking off Friday morning with the opening ceremony. If you missed it because it was too early (6:55 a.m. EST or 7:55 p.m. in Japan), don’t worry, I did too. Nonetheless, here are some highlights from the event so you can feel as if you too were right there watching the whole thing from your couch.

An abstract opening dance featured a solitary figure on a treadmill, probably representing “lonely effort in the face of overwhelming odds,” per the New York Times, but maybe a tribute to OK Go.. The treadmill runner is Arisa Tsubata, a boxer and nurse who worked on the front lines of the pandemic but was unable to compete in the Olympics when the Asian qualifying event was canceled due to COVID.

This is the treadmill moment that some professional tweeters will likely attempt to force into a meme:

The 68,000-seat arena was almost completely empty due to the Games-wide spectator ban. Per ABC News, only about 950 people were in attendance for the ceremony.

Many athletes also weren’t present — some because they haven’t come to Tokyo yet, per a rule that requires athletes to arrive no more than five days before their sporting event; others, like Simone Biles and her American gymnast teammates, because they’re “focused on preparation” (prancing about). Those who did walk in the “Parade of Athletes” proudly waved at empty seats that appear to have been painted over with different colors so as to better create the illusion of an audience, as can be seen in this video:

Japan showed off its cultural heritage by giving placard bearers manga-inspired signs to hold and by playing video game music from Final Fantasy, Kingdom Hearts, Sonic, and more iconic titles as athletes entered the stadium. Sounds like someone on the creative team read my proposal to play anime clips at the Games… It’s true that I am a gold-medal blogger, what can I say.

A positively glistening Pita Taufatofua of Tonga made a shirtless, oil-slicked appearance for the third Olympics in a row. Who are we to say no to a tradition?

Some strong opinions on Team USA’s outfits, which were designed by Ralph Lauren:

Meanwhile, outside the venue, protesters marched toward the stadium while calling for the International Olympic Committee to “go to hell” for moving forward with the Games in spite of rising COVID cases in Tokyo. Their chants could be heard from inside the stadium during moments of silence, which I’m sure added some auditory texture to the experience within the arena.