The virus-delayed Tokyo Summer Olympics finally opened with a dazzling display of fireworks and soaring, made-for-TV choreography that unfolded in a near-empty stadium.
Spectators were barred from the stands as a precaution against the spread of COVID-19.
IOC president and Japanese emperor attend ceremony
Thomas Bach, left, the president of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), stands next to Japanese Emperor Naruhito at the opening ceremony at Olympic Stadium on July 23, 2021.
Opening ceremony fireworks
With a blaze of indigo and white fireworks lighting the night sky, the Tokyo Olympics opening ceremony started.
It began with a single female athlete at the center of the stadium, kneeling. As she stood, the shadow behind her took the shape of a seedling, growing as she walked. A number of athletes were featured in a video that started with the moment Tokyo won the Olympic bid in 2013, then moved eventually to images of a world silenced by the pandemic.
Then came the fireworks, a 20-second blast of light.
Team USA marches in
Athletes from the United States walk during the opening ceremony in the Olympic Stadium at the 2020 Summer Games in Tokyo on July 23, 2021.
Team USA flagbearers
Sue Bird and Eddy Alvares, of the United States of America, carry the flag during the opening ceremony in the Olympic Stadium in Tokyo. The two flagbearers were chosen for the honor by a vote of their fellow athletes.
Bird, a four-time gold medalist with the women's basketball team, is taking part in her fifth Olympics. Baseball player Eddy Alvarez was also a 2014 Olympic silver medalist in speedskating.
Jill Biden attends the opening ceremony
U.S. first lady Jill Biden speaks with French President Emmanuel Macron as they arrive at the opening ceremony.
"The Olympians representing our country in Tokyo are the embodiment of the spirit and drive that makes America a beacon for the globe. I'm so proud of you," President Biden tweeted. "Let's go @TeamUSA."
Britain's Olympic team parades through stadium
Hannah Mills and Mohamed Sbihi, of Britain, carry their country's flag during the opening ceremony in the Olympic Stadium in Tokyo.
Athletes parade through nearly empty stadium
Flag bearers Jessica Rossi and Elia Viviani of Italy lead their team during the Opening Ceremony at Tokyo's Olympic Stadium on July 23, 2021.
Opening ceremony choreography
Dancers perform during the opening ceremony in the Olympic Stadium.
Irish flagbearers parade into the stadium
Team Ireland flagbearers Kellie Harrington, right, and Brendan Irvine carry the Irish tricolor during the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympic Games opening ceremony.
Athletes paraded into the stadium, waving but with smiles hidden behind masks. Most nations had both male and female flagbearers for the first time.
Olympic protests amid COVID worries
Anti-Olympic protesters demonstrate near the stadium in Tokyo where the opening ceremony is taking place.
Hundreds of protesters, many wearing white surgical masks, demonstrated around the venue, Reuters reported. Only a third of the nation have had even one dose of vaccines, prompting worries the Games could become a super-spreader event. More than 100 people involved with the Olympics have already tested positive as the Games began.
Argentina delegation shows enthusiasm
Cecilia Carranza Saroli and Santiago Raul Lange, of Argentina, right, carry their country's flag during the opening ceremony in the Olympic Stadium on July 23, 2021.
Most groups just walked quietly and waved, but the Argentina delegation bounced up and down, Reuters reported.
Fireworks over Tokyo Olympic Stadium
A year after it was originally supposed to begin, the COVID-delayed Tokyo Summer Olympics finally opened Friday night with a dazzling display of fireworks.
Refugee Olympic Team marches
Yusra Mardini and Tachlowini Gabriyesos, of the Refugee Olympic Team, carry the Olympic flag during the opening ceremony.
The team's 29 athletes include Kimia Alizadeh, who became the first Iranian woman to win an Olympic medal when she took bronze in taekwondo in 2016. Alizadeh, who originally competed for Iran in the Rio Olympics in 2016, was granted refugee status in Germany after fleeing her homeland.
Iranian team in parade of athletes
Iran's delegation enters the Olympic Stadium during Tokyo Olympic Games opening ceremony's parade of athletes. Athletes marched into the stadium nation by nation, some socially distanced and others clustering together.
Dancers perform next to Olympic rings
Dancers perform in front of the Olympic rings during the opening ceremony in Tokyo's Olympic Stadium.
There was a moment of silence to honor those lost to COVID-19, with a nod to Japanese tradition represented by wooden Olympic rings linked to the Tokyo 1964 Games.
Smaller, more subdued ceremony
A member of Team Malaysia poses for a photo during the opening ceremony at the Tokyo Summer Olympics on July 23, 2021.
A vastly smaller number of athletes, about 20 per nation, marched in the teams' parade, with many flying in just before their competitions and due to leave shortly after to reduce the risk of COVID-91 infections.
Protesters demonstrate near opening ceremony
Anti-Olympic protesters demonstrate near the stadium where opening ceremonies are taking place..
In addition to worries over the coronavirus pandemic, the Olympics have been hit by a string of scandals, including the exit of senior planning officials over derogatory comments about women, jokes about the Holocaust, and bullying.
Olympic torch relay
Torchbearers relay the Olympic Flame during the opening ceremony of the Tokyo Olympic Games on July 23, 2021.
Naomi Osaka lights Olympic cauldron
Tennis star Naomi Osaka lights the cauldron during the opening ceremony of the Tokyo Olympics.
Osaka, 23, was born in Japan but spent much of her life in the U.S. She has represented Japan in international competitions for years, and gave up her U.S. citizenship in order to compete for Japan in the Olympics.
Enjoying the spectacle
A Japanese supporter looks on as fireworks light up the sky over the Olympic Stadium during the opening ceremony of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games on July 23, 2021.
Wide view of the Olympic cauldron
The Olympic cauldron is lit by Naomi Osaka during the opening ceremony in Tokyo's Olympic Stadium.