An Olympics like no other means an opening ceremony like no other. After months of uncertainty over what these Games would look like, and indeed whether they would even take place at all, the Opening Ceremony was the IOC and Japan’s first statement to the world on how it would proceed. As athletes, we don’t actually get to see much of the ceremony itself so I’ll leave it to others to judge what that statement looked like. Personally, I’m just happy we’re here and our years of hard work and perseverance will soon be put to the test.
With Los Angeles set to host the 2028 Olympics, we knew the US delegation would be one of the last nations to march into the stadium with only the 2024 hosts, France, and the current hosts, Japan behind us. This meant that we got to see many of the other countries’ athletes taking photos and milling around the village in their outfits, some in traditional garb, while others dressed with the hot and humid weather clearly under consideration.
We got decked out in our Opening Ceremony uniform and began the long wait to be taken to the stadium. The US didn’t end up leaving the village until many of the other countries had already gone so we were excited to finally get moving. There have been plenty of COVID restrictions and precautions and the team busses were no different. There were far more busses available than Rio to account for the social distancing space needed onboard.
When we finally arrived at the stadium we were ushered straight into a line of waiting countries that snaked around to the tunnel. The excitement was contagious and on several occasions we overtook the country in front of us and had to be corralled back into place. It’s an incredibly emotional and special experience to be surrounded by your fellow teammates, many of whom are incredibly famous. Despite that fame and notoriety, it’s almost impossible to not get caught up in the excitement. Spontaneous chants of “USA!” would break out, to which the French behind us responded with songs of their own, only leading to even louder chants from our group. One fun moment was when one of the US basketball players announced that it was a teammate’s birthday. We were told his name was “Kevin”, and so the entire group began serenading a very bemused Kevin Durant.
After a lot of waiting, the electricity in the air as we came out of the tunnel was indescribable. While it was obviously a very different experience from walking into a packed stadium in Rio, the overwhelming feeling of pride was still there. It finally felt like the Games were really starting in that moment, and all the anticipation was reaching a crescendo. I loved my Opening Ceremony experience in Rio, and while last night was certainly different due to the enforced changes from the pandemic, the same atmosphere of optimism, excitement, and energy pervaded through everyone.
This moment is a chance for the whole world to come together to celebrate competition and sport. So it’s no surprise for the athletes who have spent years of their lives pursuing a goal to get caught up in that moment. This evening, the athletes were able to forget about all the hurdles and delays the previous year had caused and completely absorb the moment. We were all able to reflect on everything we’d done to get to this moment, and dream about what the ensuing days of competition have in store for all of us.