Live blog: Top moments from the Tokyo Olympics Opening Ceremony

Posted at 8:28 PM, Jul 22, 2021

Though some competition has already begun, the Tokyo Olympic Games officially, finally get underway Friday night with the Opening Ceremony. 

The Olympic Stadium in Tokyo is hosting the first major global gathering since the global pandemic began last year and will see special performances, pageantry and the Parade of Athletes during the ceremony. Among the plans in store that will feature on the NBC broadcast: Leslie Odom Jr. will tell the story of the hopes and dreams of Olympians in an opening vignette, Dwayne Johnson will introduce Team USA, and Uma Thurman will narrate a special feature leading into the Parade of Athletes. 

Award-winning journalist and co-anchor of TODAY Savannah Guthrie will join NBC Olympics’ primetime host Mike Tirico to host the Opening Ceremony on NBC.

SEE MORE: How to watch the Opening Ceremony of the Tokyo Olympic Games

Watch LIVE on TV: NBC, 6:55 a.m. ET / 3:55 a.m. PT

Stream LIVE on and the NBC Sports app

Primetime Coverage: NBC, 7:30 p.m. ET / 4:30 p.m. PT

Stream on and the NBC Sports app

Follow along below as we take you through all the top moments of the Opening Ceremony, from staples like the lighting of the Olympic flame to the biggest spectacles and surprises. 

Opening sequence

The ceremony opens with a video featuring geometric shapes drawn on a blackboard in chalk, which gradually turn into the Olympic Stadium. The chalk art in the first half is a stop motion animation which took 10 days to film and involved repeatedly drawing and erasing approximately 400 images of solid objects on a single blackboard.

The video then transitions into a live action shot of the Olympic Stadium. Then, it cuts to a live action shot of the field where a lone female athlete stands at the bottom of a seed projected onto the field. It then transitions into a countdown from 2013, when Tokyo won the bid to host the Games, to now.

The final second of the countdown was a bird’s-eye view shot of the Olympic Stadium, which was then surrounded by fireworks for about 20 seconds.

Next, we see a lone female athlete silently running on a treadmill, who becomes surrounded by other lone athletes, all connected by light projections mean to represent an “invisible bond.” The lone running athlete is Arisa Tsubata, a middleweight boxer who is also a nurse and treated COVID-19 patients (Tsubata dreamt of qualifying for the Olympics but her plans were cut short when the last boxing qualifier was called off due to the pandemic).

In the final scene of the performance, dancers used pieces of elastic to represent bodily movements and a “web of emotions,” before the focus transitions back to Tsubata, again running alone.

A japanese athlete runs on a treadmill
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"The Rhythm of Tradition" Performance

The performance begins with the “Kiyari Uta,” a work song that's been sung since Japan's Edo period, performed by members of the Edo Firemanship Preservation Association. Dancers dressed as carpenters begin “woodworking” on large wood tables.

Giant wooden rings, four meters in diameter, are carried onto the stage and surrounded by large displays of paper lanterns. The rings are pulled together to form – gasp! – the Olympic Rings. The rings are made out of lumber from trees planted by athletes from each of the participating nations in the 1964 Tokyo Olympics.

For the 1964 Games, athletes from each participating nation brought seeds to Tokyo to be planted as commemorative trees, which were then distributed throughout Japan to areas where they could best grow.

The Olympic rings are shown during the Tokyo Olympics Opening Ceremony.
The Olympic rings are shown during the Tokyo Olympics Opening Ceremony.
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Parade of Athletes

Athletes are entering the stadium to songs from famous Japanese video games. The signs bearing nations’ names were meant to look like speech bubbles from manga comics. The entrance order is alphabetized in the host nation's language, with the host nation going last.

Greece led the way, followed by the refugee team.

For the first time ever, each nation has two flagbearers – a male and a female representative. That doesn’t mean two flags, however. Instead, the flagbearers are finding creative ways to share one flag pole.

The Argentinian delegation came through with what will almost definitely be the entrance of the night, jumping up and down in a coordinated mob as it moved onto the field.

The United States went third to last, led by flagbearers Sue Bird (basketball) and Eddy Alvarez (baseball).

“It’s very difficult to explain. The energy is difficult to explain. I know our country is in a tough moment right now, but we all feel unified and it’s incredible,” Bird said.

There were reportedly around 200 American athletes marching in the parade out of the 600-plus scheduled to compete.

For these Olympics, athletes aren’t allowed to arrive until five days before competition, so many of the delegations were smaller than usual during the parade. Some athletes, including members of the U.S. women’s soccer team and the U.S. gymnastics team, also chose not to attend because they are competing soon after the ceremony.

Athletes from across all sports got to mingle, like swimming’s Simone Manuel and Katie Ledecky with NBA superstar Kevin Durant.

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SEE MORE: Opening Ceremony marks start of 2020 Tokyo Olympics

Drone Show

Lights shows are becoming a staple of Olympic opening ceremonies, and this year was no different. A fleet of 1,800 drones hovered above the Olympic Stadium to form a stunning three-dimensional version of the Tokyo 2020 logo and then a globe.

A drone display is seen over the top of Olympic Stadium during the Opening Ceremony.
A drone display is seen over the top of Olympic Stadium during the Opening Ceremony.
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Performance of "Imagine"

A slew of global music stars including John Legend and Keith Urban were included in a pre-recorded rendition of John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s popular song “Imagine,” often played or performed to symbolize world unity. A group of children on the field sang the opening lines of the song.

"Imagine" was also performed at the opening ceremonies for the PyeongChang 2018, London 2012, Turin 2006 and Atlanta 1996 Games. 

Thomas Bach Speaks

International Olympic President Thomas Bach addressed the crowd, stressing the unifying power of sports. He also thanked organizers, broadcasters and sponsors for persevering through challenges to put on the Games.

“Today is a moment of hope. Yes, it is very different from what all of us had imagined. But let us cherish this moment – finally, we are all here together,” he said.

Speaking to the athletes directly, Bach added: “You struggled, you persevered, you never gave up. And today, you’re making your Olympic dream come true. You are true Olympic athletes.”

Pictogram Performers

Pantomime performers in full-body suits acted out the 50 pictograms that represent each Olympic sport, which were invented in 1964, the last time Tokyo hosted the Olympics. Dubbed “kinetic pictograms” as a modern update to the original icons, the live versions are also expected to be used in sport presentation videos screened inside the venues, during live coverage of each event, and as an element of other digital ventures.

Performers make replicas of the 50 Olympic sports logos during the Opening Ceremony of the Tokyo Olympics.
Performers make replicas of the 50 Olympic sports logos during the Opening Ceremony of the Tokyo Olympics.

Osaka Lights the Olympic Cauldron

The final lap of the Olympic torch relay featured an array of former and current Japanese stars, as well as medical first responders.

Baseball greats Hideki Matsui, Sadaharu Oh and Shigeo Nagashima were among those who carried the torch toward the Olympic cauldron. The former baseball players passed it off to Hiroko Oohash and Junko Kitagawa, a doctor and a nurse.

Wakako Tsuchida, a seven-time Paralympic medalist, then took it in her wheelchair to a group of six students near the stage, who made the final handoff to four-time Grand Slam champion Naomi Osaka.

Osaka, who begins competition on Sunday, has represented Japan since she was 14 years old and is competing in her first Olympics. She was widely speculated to be the final leg of the relay after her first match, initially scheduled for Saturday, was pushed to Sunday at the request of Olympic organizers.

Naomi Osaka carries a torch to the cauldron inside Olympic Stadium before lighting the Olympic flame at the Opening Ceremony of the Tokyo Olympic Games.
Naomi Osaka carries a torch to the cauldron inside Olympic Stadium before lighting the Olympic flame at the Opening Ceremony of the Tokyo Olympic Games.
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