The Tokyo night sky lit up as the outer rim of Japan’s National Stadium exploded in a shower of blue and white sparks, and the most unusual Olympic Games in decades were declared open. Inside the stadium, which can seat up to 68,000 people but where the stands were empty, spotlights picked out isolated athletes — one running on a treadmill, one on a cycling machine — to signify the tribulations the roughly 11,000 athletes at Tokyo 2020 have had to endure to get to this moment. Lockdowns, quarantines, the cancellation of entire sporting seasons — training through it all, often alone at home, in the hope of making it to a Covid-era Olympics, which, for long, were under threat of not happening at all. In keeping with the times, the ceremony itself was quicker and quieter than usual — instead of the usual torrent of celebrity performances and high-wire acts, it involved relatively low-key dance routines and fewer songs. When there was a pause in the music, the stadium was first engulfed in eerie silence, before noise from the hundreds of protesters gathered outside, demonstrating against the Games, seeped in. Then it was time for the athlete’s parade, where everyone who walked out was unified by a common accessory — the face mask. Boxer Mary Kom and India hockey captain Manpreet Singh carried the Indian flag, followed by a small group of 16 athletes from the 207-strong contingent, the largest ever. This is the first time each nation nominated not one but two flagbearers (each contingent was encouraged to name one man and one woman).