They must have started this thing somehow.
A muted, semi-restricted opening ceremony kicked off the 2021 Tokyo Olympics on Friday morning, first broadcast live in the early hours in the United States by NBC (an abridged rerun will air at 7:30 p.m. EDT / 4:30 p.m. PDT). Far from being as bombastic as the ceremonies in London or Beijing, but still struggling to find the right tone, the Tokyo opening will be remembered for its show and more for the pandemic environment in which it was broadcast. .
The International Olympic Committee is trying to use the ceremony – and the Games themselves – as a step into the future, but the opening competition was a confusing and controversial affair that could not escape the impending present.
It was a strange, at times awkward and tonally dissonant four-hour affair that attempted to balance the weight of the ongoing pandemic with the joy and exhilaration that typically comes with the world’s most prestigious athletic competition. There were fireworks, but no general public to cheer them on. There were memories for those lost to COVID, although some masks slipped under their noses and mouths. IOC President Thomas Bach spoke of “hope” and “resilience” as Japanese protesters vehemently denounced the Games outside the stadium. The theme was one of triumph over a common enemy, except that the world is far from completely “defeating” the deadly virus.
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“There is no way around this: we are in the middle of a pandemic. These games are controversial, especially here, with many Japanese people worried about coming into the world as the virus s ‘spread,’ said Savannah, co-host of the NBC ceremony. Guthrie said as the ceremony beganat 8 p.m. local time. “But Olympic officials have insisted, by tradition in honoring the work and dedication of these athletes and yes, in the aspiration that sport still has the power to connect and heal us.”
NBC, the IOC, the athletes and everyone involved in the Games hope that sport has the power to heal us, and that remains to be seen as the competition begins. But if they imagined that this ceremony would spark a global atmosphere of excitement and hope, they chose the wrong way to show it.
The ceremony opened with a set of video clips that have documented the years since Tokyo was announced as the host of the 2020 Games. Exhilaration, excitement, followed by the silence of blockades and scenes from 2020athletes training at home. In the stadium, we saw the kind of cultural performances that are often a key part of these ceremonies, including a segment honoring ancient Japanese carpentry and an interpretive dance depicting the human heart and circulatory system. It was a mixed bag, but the moments that focused more on the skill of the dancers were much more successful and entertaining.
The Parade of Nations – with delegations carrying the flags of their countries – began less than 40 minutes after the start of the event. It took place in its usual (and sometimes boring) format, although the producers offered the fun twist of using vibrant video game music to mark the parade, which helped overcome the fact that it there was no audience to applaud and encourage the athletes.
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On the NBC stream available in the US, the producers continued their usual Olympics strategy of covering the entire US team all the time. Guthrie and his co-host Mike Tirico interviewed American athletes, including Megan Rapinoe, as Qatar and Kazakhstan marched through the stadium. The network also cut ad breaks during the parade, picture-in-picture style: athletes from smaller countries marched as Peacock and Toyota ads appeared on an adjacent screen.
Once the parade was over, more of the entertainment – including a Kabuki performance and sports “pictographs” with costumed dancers and unsettling camera angles – looked more like filler so late in the event. A performance of John Lennon’s “Imagine” by a Japanese children’s choir and performers from around the world (including John Legend representing “the Americas” and Keith Urban representing “Oceana”) were clearly seen as inspiring. But given the much maligned celebrity video of last year’s song, it felt more like a parody of the cynical and corporate attempts to capitalize on the pain of the pandemic rather than genuine emotion about it. virus that changes the world.
There was no easy way to create an opening ceremony for an Olympics delayed by a year due to a global health crisis. There is no precedent, no scenario to follow in attempting to excite a world still hampered by death and tragedy watching sports.
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So, in a sense, the producers of the ceremony were successful just by putting something together. As tennis star Naomi Osaka had the honor of lighting the Olympic cauldron, there was a small sense of awe. But in another – especially given the controversy behind the Games and the record they are making in Japan and around the world – this rather lackluster ceremony is a huge disappointment. What’s the point of all the risks, all the testing, the quarantine, and the masks, if that’s the best emotion and the best show we can muster?
Maybe once the athletes get involved, things will improve.
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