Tokyo 2020 Opening Ceremony honours those on the frontline of the coronavirus pandemic

23 Jul 2021
IOC News Tokyo 2020

The Opening Ceremony of the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 – postponed by a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic – has honoured those who dedicated their time and talent to support their communities at this difficult time.

© Getty

During one of the most symbolic moments of the Ceremony, six athletes – five representing the five continents, and one representing the IOC Refugee Olympic Team – carried the Olympic flag into the Olympic Stadium.

The flag was then passed on to eight residents of Tokyo who acted as essential workers during the pandemic, providing daily support to those most in need.

A guard of honour, representing thousands from around the world who have put the needs of others above their own, witnessed the playing of the Olympic anthem and the raising of the Olympic flag.

Inaugurated in 1914 to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Olympic Movement, the Olympic flag features the Olympic rings, one of the most recognisable symbols of the Olympic Games. It represents the union of the five continents and the meeting of athletes from around the globe at the Olympic Games – symbols that have taken on special significance of hope and solidarity in the face of the pandemic.

The Olympic flag enters the stadium during the Opening Ceremony of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games © 2021 Getty Images

Below you can find the list of the athletes chosen to carry the Olympic flag, and their stories:

ASIA

Name: Kento Momota 

Age: 26

Country: Japan

Sport: Badminton

Key sporting achievements:

- Ranked number one in the world for men's badminton

- Gold medallist, Basel 2019 World Championships

- Gold medallist, Nanjing 2018 World Championships

Momota has been a strong advocate for best hygiene practices throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, posting positive messages on social media. He donated JPY five million to the Tokyo Medical Association and 2,000 masks to Fukushima Prefecture, where he was at school. He was unable to participate in international badminton tournaments earlier in 2021 as he contracted COVID-19, but he returned to the international competition stage in March.

AFRICA

Name: Mehdi Essadiq

Age: 35

Country: Morocco

Sport: Triathlon

Key sporting achievements

- Gold medallist, mixed relay, 2021 Africa Triathlon Championship, Sharm el Sheikh

- Sixth place, elite men’s discipline, 2021 Africa Triathlon Championship, Sharm el Sheikh

Profession: Doctor

Competing in his first triathlon at the age of 15, Essadiq decided to take the sport more seriously. Having missed out on qualification for London 2012 and Rio 2016, he now makes history as the first Moroccan triathlete to compete at the Olympic Games. He says it will also be his last Games, due to the rigours of juggling training and finding sponsorship alongside being a doctor and father.

The Olympic flag is carried into the stadium during the Opening Ceremony of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games © 2021 Getty Images

AMERICAS

Name: Paula Pareto

Age: 35

Country: Argentina

Sport: Judo

Key sporting achievements:

- Olympic champion, Rio 2016 (-48kg)

- World champion in 2015

Bronze medallist, Beijing 2008 (-48kg)

Profession: Traumatologist

Olympic champion Pareto has won almost 50 medals across international competitions, including 20 gold medals. She made history at Rio 2016 by becoming the first Argentine woman to win a gold medal. Tokyo 2020 will be her fourth Games. Alongside her sporting achievements, she is a hospital traumatologist – with frontline experience in battling COVID-19 during the pandemic.

 © IOC / Greg Martin

OCEANIA

Name: Elena Galiabovitch
Age: 31

Country: Australia

Sport: Shooting

Key sporting achievements:

- Gold medallist, 2018 ISSF World Cup, Korea (25m pistol)

- Bronze medallist, 2018 Commonwealth Games (10m air pistol)

- Silver medallist, 2018 Commonwealth Games (25m pistol)

Profession: Doctor

In early 2020, Galiabovitch put her professional training to be a urological surgeon on hold to focus on her preparations for Tokyo 2020. But with the outbreak of the pandemic, she shifted her focus back, working on hospital wards and at COVID-19 screening clinics in Melbourne. She is coached by her father and, due to long periods of lockdown, much of her training has been via a simulator.

©  IOC / Greg Martin

REFUGEE OLYMPIC TEAM

Name: Cyrille Fagat Tchatchet II 

Age: 27

Sport: Weightlifting (96kg)

Key sporting achievements:

British and English weightlifting champion – 2017, 2018 and 2019

Profession: Nurse

A weightlifter from the age of 14, Tchatchet came to the UK from Cameroon in 2014 as an asylum-seeker. He says sport helped him through some of his lowest moments at that time. He recently graduated with a first-class degree in mental health nursing and sees caring for others as a way of “giving back”. These are his first Olympic Games.

EUROPE

Name: Paola Ogechi Egonu

Country: Italy

Age: 22

Sport: Volleyball

Key sporting achievements:

- Bronze medallist, 2019 European Championships

- Silver medallist, 2018 World Championships

- Ninth place, Rio 2016

- One World Club Championship and two Champions League wins with her club team

Egonu was born in Italy to parents of Nigerian nationality. At 6ft4 (1.93m), she plays the position of spiker and opposite, boasting the Italian record of points scored by a player in a single Serie A1 match (47). During the pandemic, she volunteered to take part in a campaign to support doctors and nurses, thanking them for their efforts. She says she is “very honoured” to be carrying the flag.

The Olympic flag is raised in the stadium during the Opening Ceremony of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games © IOC / Jason Evans

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