India's flag bearers for the Tokyo Olympic Games' opening ceremony, boxer M C Mary Kom and Manpreet Singh, captain of the Indian men's hockey team, just before the start of the event on Friday (Image courtesy: Twitter/@manpreetpawar07)
The massive National Stadium in the Japanese capital was nearly empty but millions of Indians all over the world cheered in excitement as boxer M C Mary Kom and Indian hockey team skipper Manpreet Singh walked out with the Indian flag during the opening ceremony of the Tokyo Olympics Friday.
As the 19 athletes, part of the strong 127-member Indian contingent to the Tokyo Games, made their way to the middle, there was a huge sigh of relief. The moment many had been waiting for years had finally arrived.
"They're here and they're representing over 1 BILLION people! Proudly carrying the flag are Olympic boxing medallist Mary Kom and hockey star Manpreet Singh for India," tweeted the official Olympics twitter handle.
After an unprecedented one-year postponement due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the opening ceremony kicked off the Games even as many had hoped for a further deferment till the last moment.
It has been a long wait, indeed as was highlighted by a video right at the beginning of the three-hour ceremony. It showed Tokyo's eight-year journey since it was awarded the 2020 Games in 2013. Quite befittingly, spectacular fireworks were launched from the roof of the stadium as soon as the video ended.
They're here and they're representing over 1 BILLION people! #IND
— Olympics (@Olympics) July 23, 2021
Japanese boxer Arisa Tsubata then walked silently on a treadmill, displaying how athletes the world over trained despite the challenges faced during the Covid pandemic.
The Japanese Emperor Naruhito and Thomas Bach, President of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), then entered the stadium, followed by the raising of the host nation's flag and singer Misia performing a rendition of the Japanese national anthem.
After a brief pause in rememberence of Covid-19 victims and the Olympians who have passed away, a performance by Japanese tap dancer Kazunori Kumagai followed.
Five giant wooden Olympic rings, made from the wood of trees planted during the 1964 Olympics in Japan, were then brought into the stadium followed by a performance from a group of artists dressed as carpenters.
As has been the tradition, Greek athletes were the first to enter the stadium with others following in the Japanese alphabetic order.
A 29-member IOC Refugee Olympic team which will compete in Tokyo under the French acronym EOR, which stands for Equipe Olympique des Réfugiés, was next. It was at Rio 2016 that the first-ever IOC Refugee Olympic Team, consisting of 10 athletes, had competed at the Olympic Games and captured the attention of the world through their inspirational journeys and performances. Six of those athletes – swimmer Yusra Mardini, judoka Popole Misenga and runners Anjelina Nadai Lohalith (1,500m), James Nyang Chiengjiek (800m), Paulo Amotun Lokoro (1,500m) and Rose Nathike Likonyen (800m) – are part of the team again in Tokyo.
It was also for the first time that all National Olympic Committees were allowed one female and one male athlete as flagbearers at the opening ceremony.
The IOC worked with renowned composer Hans Zimmer to take viewers on a musical journey around the world. Starting in the Olympic Stadium in Tokyo, the Suginami Children’s Choir, representing Asia, passed the baton on to the artists from Africa, Europe, the Americas and Oceania, all of whom joined remotely. They were supported with music from Taik Project and the Synchron Stage Orchestra and Stage Choir.
As teams marched to the beats of songs from Japanese video games in colourful traditional outfits, the Indian contigent made its way into the middle much to the excitement of fans watching the live telecast on TV back home.
Just like the rest of the participating countries, in order to prevent the spread of Covid infection, the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) too had decided to send just 19 athletes, along with six officials, for the opening ceremony.
Indian table-tennis player Sharath Kamal at the Tokyo Olympics Games Village (Image courtesy: Twitter/@sharathkamal1)
"To be the flag bearer of your country at Olympic Games is an unquestionable honour – what an incredible feeling! Cheer for India," tweeted hockey team skipper Manpreet along with a picture with Mary Kom just ahead of the opening ceremony.
The rest of the Indian contingent watched the opening ceremony at the Games Village while cheering for their colleagues present in the stadium.
Some like members of the US soccer team also staged their own version of opening ceremony.
— U.S. Soccer WNT (@USWNT) July 23, 2021
Opening ceremony done, all eyes will now be focused on India's showing at the Games as the biggest-ever contingent to the Games looks forward to improve their showing at the biggest sporting extravaganza.
While the Indian archers have already started their campaign in the Tokyo Olympics today, all eyes will now on the Indian men's and women's hockey teams as they play their first pool game against New Zealand and the Netherlands, respectively on Saturday.
Archers Pravin Jadhav and Deepika Kumari will also feature in the mixed team eliminations followed by medal matches while
Saurabh Choudhary, Abhishek Verma and Elavenil Valarivan will go all out in their efforts to bag a medal for the country in the men's and women's category of the 10M air rifle shooting event.
Another medal prospect, weightlifter Mirabai Chanu will also begin her campaign in the 49 Kg finals.