Although fans had to wait an extra year for the opening ceremony to kick off, the international stage didn't disappoint with more than enough viral moments going for gold.
After a year-long delay due to the coronavirus pandemic, the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics kicked off on Friday, July 23 in the capital city of Japan.
A scaled-down opening ceremony in the newly rebuilt Olympic Stadium was witnessed by less than 1000 spectators in a venue built for 68,000, as the threat of COVID-19 still looms over the world sporting event. But even as local support for the Games lagged, athletes were disqualified for testing positive for the virus and teams opted out of the parade of participants, the Olympics proved just as exciting and memorable as ever.
Keep reading for the all the best moments from the 2020 Summer Olympics opening ceremony that kept fans talking and tweeting, below.
A Japanese Boxer and Her Treadmill Steal the Show
Although Japanese boxer and front line nurse Arisa Tsubata lost her chance to compete in the Games due to the pandemic, she was able to capture the world's attention at the opening ceremony with her one-woman treadmill show. In a gesture signifying the social distancing challenges faced from COVID-19, Arisa spent almost five minutes alone running on the machine. And she instantly became the first viral moment of the Games, as Twitter exploded with their take on the solitary exercise showcase.
*turns on Olympic ceremony*— Jim Waterson (@jimwaterson) July 23, 2021 @jimwaterson
Fifteen minutes of a star Japanese boxer jogging on a treadmill in an empty stadium, her story of triumph against odds... then an announcement that she won't get to actually compete because her qualification tournament was cancelled due to Covid.
Treadmill running person going nowhere for a really long time at the Opening Ceremony is basically a perfect metaphor for 2020-21. #OpeningCeremony— Stop It I Love It (@StopItILoveIt) July 23, 2021 @StopItILoveIt
Every time I've attempted to get on a treadmill since the pandemic started. #TokyoOlympics pic.twitter.com/cYycCA7rxl— Ryan Schwartz (@RyanSchwartz) July 23, 2021 @RyanSchwartz
If they asked me to run on a treadmill in front of the world I would simply hide forever. S/o to the performer— gwyn || olympics era (@TennisGwyn) July 23, 2021 @TennisGwyn
Oiled-up Shirtless Tongan Flag Bearer Returns
Pita Taufatofua returned in all his bare-chested glory, as he once again carried the Tongan flag for the opening ceremony. After causing fans to swoon at the 2016 Rio Summer Games and the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, Pita, who will be competing in Taekwondo, was joined this time by Malia Paseka, Tonga's first-ever female Taekwondo Olympian.
Let’s be honest, this is the only reason we all watch the #OpeningCeremony #Olympics #Tokyo2020 #Tonga pic.twitter.com/drZyKUh0KS— tb (@TmmyBaks) July 23, 2021 @TmmyBaks
The whole world when Tonga man showed up 🇹🇴🙌🏼🌎❤️ He became an Olympic tradition. #Olympics #Tokyo2020 #OpeningCeremony pic.twitter.com/6JhmGm8pYI— . (@Lettie4u) July 23, 2021 @Lettie4u
That’s a lot of lube pic.twitter.com/6of3jOsah2— Big Cat (@BarstoolBigCat) July 23, 2021 @BarstoolBigCat
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Another Celebrity Imagine Video Gives Gal Gadot Flashbacks
The opening ceremony including a rendition of John Lennon's "Imagine" once again (the 1996, 2012 and 2018 Olympics all featured the ditty), causing one of this year's organizers to proclaim, "If the Games were a song, 'Imagine' would be the song," according to NBC's Savannah Guthrie. Tokyo's Suginami Junior Chorus started off the first verse, with international sensations Angélique Kidjo and Alejandro Sanz joining in. But it wasn't until John Legend and Keith Urban flashed onscreen that caused major flashbacks to Gal Gadot's ill-received version she debuted at the beginning of the pandemic.
I wonder if someone saw the celebrity "Imagine" IG video w/ Gal Gadot and thought it was awesome and decided to include in the Olympic Ceremony— gifdsports (@gifdsports) July 23, 2021 @gifdsports
Gal Gadot said Imagine, and the Olympics were like, okay— Cameron Williams (@MrCamW) July 23, 2021 @MrCamW
Did they consult Gal Gadot before recording the Opening Ceremony montage of Imagine? #Olympics— J.D. Sanderson - A Sci-fi Writer (@ascifiwriter) July 23, 2021 @ascifiwriter
Don’t know how the Olympic organizers saw Gal Gadot and co singing Imagine and thought “yes. We need THAT” but here we are.— Abby Mickey (@abimickey) July 23, 2021 @abimickey
Imagine song doesn't hit like it used to after Gal Gadot thought she did something by singing it to remind us that we're all in this together during the pandemic, from her million dollar mansion while the rest of us were struggling. #Olympics #Olympics2021 #Tokyo2020 #Tokyo2021— Nikhil watches stuff (@your_hier_alt) July 23, 2021 @your_hier_alt
Naomi Osaka Lights Olympic Flame to Start Games
After defending herself against Megyn Kelly's criticism over her Sports Illustrated cover, Naomi Osaka triumphantly lit the Olympic flame with her torch to symbolize the beginning of the Summer Games. The United States tennis star, playing in the Olympics for her home country of Japan, called the moment "the greatest athletic achievement and honor I will ever have in my life."
Naomi Osaka lights the Olympic cauldron 👏 #Tokyo2020— Complex Sports (@ComplexSports) July 23, 2021 @ComplexSports
Undoubtedly the greatest athletic achievement and honor I will ever have in my life. I have no words to describe the feelings I have right now but I do know I am currently filled with gratefulness and thankfulness ❤️ love you guys thank you. pic.twitter.com/CacWQ5ToUD— NaomiOsaka大坂なおみ (@naomiosaka) July 23, 2021 @naomiosaka
Naomi Osaka, Japan's 23-year-old tennis star, was the final carrier of the Olympic flame. The Tokyo Olympics will be her first competition since dropped out of the French Open in May, citing intense anxiety caused by mandatory news conferences. https://t.co/JGhgJLSMpT pic.twitter.com/Y8MP0AESMT— NPR (@NPR) July 23, 2021 @NPR