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Tokyo Rewind, July 23: Tokyo Olympics officially underway

The Opening Ceremony kicked off the Olympics while much of America was sleeping. But there's a second chance to see it Friday.

WASHINGTON — The pandemic-delayed Tokyo Olympics officially got underway on Friday. 

The Opening Ceremony was a made-for-TV affair this year, even more so than past years, as fans have been banned from all Olympic events in Tokyo to combat a surge in COVID-19 cases. 

The Opening Ceremony aired live on TV in the morning in the U.S. for the first time ever and will be shown again in primetime Friday night. 

The Tokyo Games have arrived at last

After a yearlong delay, the Opening Ceremony kicked things off in a mostly empty stadium with a blaze of indigo and white fireworks lighting the night sky.

Organizers expected about 5,700 athletes to take part in the Parade of Nations. Some skipped it because of early competitions on Saturday or to avoid risk of exposure to the coronavirus. And this parade differed from most others in the past because the nations were spaced out — a nod to social distancing.

Team USA's big entrance

Sue Bird and Eddy Alvarez had flagbearer duties for the U.S. It was a particularly emotional moment for Alvarez, a Cuban-American from Miami — given the current times in his home city.

Protests and demonstrations have been common in Miami for several days, a show of support for Cubans who have taken to the streets in the communist nation to air grievances about poor economic conditions and other complaints.

First lady Jill Biden was among those in attendance at the stadium to cheer on the Americans. 

Pita's back in the Olympics, shirtless again

Pita Taufatofua returned for the third time and was shirtless and oiled up again in the Opening Ceremony.

It’s the third consecutive Olympics in which Taufatofua has competed as an athlete. He competed in taekwondo at the Rio Games, took part in skiing at Pyeongchang in 2018 — yes, shirtless for that one, too — and is back in Tokyo as part of his taekwondo team again. Taufatofua tried to qualify in kayaking, but didn’t make the Tokyo cut in that sport.

He’s also used his fame for good. Taufatofua is a UNICEF ambassador, works with homeless shelters and is busy raising money for sporting equipment for nations in need.

A dazzling show in the sky

Nearly 2,000 drones formed an illuminated globe high above the stadium as part of the Opening Ceremony. 

Credit: AP
Drones perform above the stadium during the opening ceremony in the Olympic Stadium at the 2020 Summer Olympics, Friday, July 23, 2021, in Tokyo, Japan. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)

Naomi Osaka lights the cauldron

Tennis star Naomi Osaka lit the cauldron at the Opening Ceremony of the Tokyo Games, ending the flame’s long journey from Greece to these delayed Olympics.

The cauldron sat atop a peak inspired by Mount Fuji. It’s a sphere that opened like a flower, “to embody vitality and hope,” organizers said. A second cauldron has been placed in Tokyo’s waterfront area was to be lit after the opening ceremony.

Osaka makes her return to the tennis court Friday night, U.S. time, for the first time since she withdrew from the French Open.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.