The Just-Okay Olympic Opening Ceremony Somehow Warmed My Pandemic-Hardened Heart

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I’m officially on the record as being, well…not the biggest fan of the Olympics. Sure, I love Simone Biles and Megan Rapinoe as much as the next person (or maybe more, given that I somehow own not one but two copies of Rapinoe’s autobiography), and I’m thrilled to see skateboarding and surfing make their way to this year’s Games, but overall, I’d describe myself as something of an Olympics Grinch. That’s why I was shocked to find myself watching the Olympic opening ceremony at the crack of 7 a.m. EST this morning, and actually…feeling things?

To be honest, this year’s opening ceremony was pretty boring, with even the New York Times calling the proceedings “subdued.” The small number of spectators (about 1,000 in a space designed to seat 68,000) made the event decidedly less lively, and despite the presence of First Lady Jill Biden, athletes in Japan National Stadium were seen “lounging on the floor, examining their phones,” according to the Times’s chief fashion critic Vanessa Friedman. There were bright spots, such as Liberia’s amazing team outfits (which were created by Liberian American designer Telfar Clemens), the presence of basketball star Sue Bird as flag-bearer, and Naomi Osaka—who represents Japan at this year’s Games—lighting the Olympic cauldron; but overall, things were pretty meh.

What surprised me, though, was how excited I was to see athletes from almost every nation waving their flags and gesturing joyfully at the stands. I’m definitely an Olympics viewer of the “watch USA Gymnastics in a bar with my friends” variety, and not someone you’d expect to be moved by international pomp and circumstance, but one thing I really appreciated was seeing how many of the teams were masked. This, as it turns out, is what I really want to see; normalcy, with caution appended to it. Yes, Tokyo’s infection rates are still surging, and a good chunk of Team U.S.A. still hasn’t been vaccinated—but after the last year-plus of pandemic life, I’ll take what I can get.

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