TOKYO — A quadrennial gathering of nations for unity and camaraderie that honors the ideals of higher, faster and stronger in the field of sports was celebrated Friday as the XXXII Olympiad was officially opened after a year-long delay brought about by the pandemic and the doubts and uncertainties it fostered.
Amid a relatively-subdued if breathtakingly colorful inaugural ceremony missing the exuberance and drama of the London Olympics opening in 2012 and the cultural and social highlights of 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Japan, which is hosting the Olympic Games for the second time since 1964, welcomed more than 200 countries, including the Philippines, as thousands of athletes, officials and delegates went on parade to celebrate life, survival and renewal in a world gripped by a deadly virus.
The two-hour ceremony, attended by Japanese emperor Naruhito, prime minister Yoshihide Suga and International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach, reached its peak when a huge blue-and-white sphere, apparently representing Earth, floated above the multi-billion-dollar National Olympic Stadium, a rendition of the late John Lennon’s immortal classic ‘Imagine’ was sang by children and various artists, including John Legend and Keith Urban, and the Olympic flag was brought out in a meaningful display as orchestral music played in the background.
The Philippines, which qualified 19 athletes to the Games as the country resumed its quest for a first-ever gold medal, had its delegates step out into the white-cloaked track and field surface three-quarters into the march and quickly cross from one end to the other, in masks, like most of their peers, and waiving tiny flags.
Behind flag-bearers Eumir Felix Marcial of boxing and Kiyomi Watanabe of judo came Team PH chef de mission Nonong Araneta, taekwondo coach Carlos Padilla, boxing mentor Boy Velasco, skateboarding coach Daniel Velasco, Philippine Swimming Inc. president Lani Velasco and Gymnastics Association of the Philippines head Cynthia Carrion-Norton.
On the VIP section, where only three dignitaries per country were allowed, sat Philippine Olympic Committee president Bambol Tolentino, POC secretary-general Ed Gastanes and Philippine Sports Commission chairman Butch Ramirez.
Many of the countries had athletes marching and representing them. But Philippine sports officials opted to have the rest of their athletes, after Marcial and Watanabe, forego the parade — a once-in-a-lifetime experience — so as not to risk any health situation with competitions already underway.
Rower Cris Nievarez was first into the fray, qualifying to the quarterfinals of the men’s single sculls Friday morning at the Sea Forest Waterway.
Gymnast Carlo Yulo, boxer Nesthy Petecio, swimmer Remedy Rule and taekwondo jin Kurt Bryan Barbosa will make their debuts Saturday.