By Nicole Lyn Pesce and Katherine Wiles
Let the Games begin.
A year after they were meant to take place, the 2020 Summer Olympic Games officially kicked off in Tokyo on Friday with a subdued opening ceremony performed for a nearly empty stadium.
The highly choreographed ceremony lacked the usual energy from the crowd, as the stadium was virtually empty due to the continuing COVID-19 pandemic. A few dignitaries, including First Lady Jill Biden and French President Emmanuel Macron, joined Japan’s Emperor Naruhito in the stands.
Outside the stadium, meanwhile, hundreds of protesters marched while chanting for organizers to “go to hell” for hosting the international competition despite the COVID-19 pandemic.
But there were still some moments during the Olympic curtain-raiser that captured the virtual audience’s attention, leading #Tokyo2020 and #OpeningCeremony to trend on Twitter throughout the morning, while the Games dominated real-time Google searches.
Here are 6 of the most memorable moments from the opening ceremony:
The (terrifying?) display of drones
More than 1,800 drones came together in the sky above the stadium to create the Tokyo 2020 logo, which then transitioned to a three-dimensional globe.
And a prerecorded rendition of John Lennon’s “Imagine” featuring stars like John Legend and Keith Urban played as the earth took shape in the sky.
Dancing drones also stole the show at the 2018 Winter Olympics during the Pyeongchang opening ceremony.
A somber moment of remembrance
“As we join together here in the Olympic Stadium, across Japan and around the world, let us all take a moment to remember all those friends and loved ones who are no longer with us in particular because of the COVID-19 pandemic,” a voice said over the speakers of the stadium. “They will forever have a special place in our hearts.”
Global COVID-19 cases climbed higher than 192.6 million on Friday, while deaths reached 4.1 million. The delta variant of the virus continues its rapid spread across the world.
And for the first time in 49 years , there was a moment of silence to recognize the 11 Israeli delegation members who were killed at the 1972 Munich Games.
“We, the Olympic community, also remember all the Olympians and members of our community who have so sadly left us,” the announcer said. “In particular, we remember those who lost their lives during the Olympic Games. One group still holds a strong place in all our memories and stands for all of those we have lost at the Games: The members of the Israeli delegation at the Olympic Games Munich 1972.”
Specially crafted Olympic rings
During the opening show, dancers performed a choreographed woodworking scene that harked back to traditional Japanese carpentry and signified the building of the Olympic Stadium, which was constructed in the same place as the 1964 Olympic Stadium when Tokyo was last home to the Summer Games.
What’s more, the woodworking sequence ended with performers erecting the five Olympic rings, which were made from the wood of trees grown from seeds that the international athletes brought with them the last time Japan hosted the Games.
Wait — is that the theme music from the “Dragon Quest” and “Final Fantasy” games?
The Olympic Games got fans of videogames freaking out on Friday once they realized that the athletes were marching to orchestrated versions of the soundtracks from some of their favorite game franchises. The Parade of Nations proceeded to the theme music from popular Japanese role-playing and fantasy games such as “Dragon Quest,” the “Final Fantasy” series, “Kingdom Hearts,” “Sonic the Hedgehog,” “Chrono Trigger,” “Nier” and “Soul Caliber.”
Notably missing: videogame themes from hit Nintendo games such as “Super Mario Bros.” and “The Legend of Zelda,” however.
Portugal, Tonga steal the show at the Parade of Nations
Athletes from more than 200 countries marched out in the alphabetical order of host country Japan’s alphabet. And this year’s show-stealers included Portugal, which appeared to be competing for most energetic entrance with dancing and chanting.
And the topless male Tonga flag bearer was back. Pita Taufatofua made headlines with his well-oiled muscles in Rio in 2016, and in Pyeongchang in 2018. He strutted without a shirt once again this year — but he had competition from Rillio Rii, a rower from Vanuatu, who bore the flag for the South Pacific country.
Naomi Osaka lights the Olympic cauldron
The No. 2-ranked women’s tennis player in the world, Naomi Osaka, had the honor of being the final torch runner of the Olympic flame’s journey from Pyeongchang and lighting the Olympic flame. Japan’s 23-year-old tennis star has faced scrutiny over the past few months after withdrawing from the French Open to focus on her mental health. She’s also scored praise for normalizing mental health struggles, recently writing in Time that “It’s OK to not be OK.” So chalk this up as a win for Osaka — along with her Barbie doll recently selling out within hours .