Naomi Osaka makes four-hour Olympics opening ceremony slog worth it

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Then there was the Seven commentary, which provided the main sport for an online audience who made merciless hay with the efforts off McAvaney et al.

This is the hardest, most scrutinised gig in broadcasting.

Even the commentators aren’t entirely sure what’s coming next, and this year’s event was shrouded in more secrecy than usual. It left the world wondering: how would the Japanese handle this massive moment, a global jamboree delayed a year but still taking place in the middle of a pandemic, and in the middle of an empty stadium?

Seven’s team did its best to get us as excited as they were – which is to say very excited indeed. Bruce McAvaney is at his extravagant sports-nerd best in such moments. An Olympic ceremony gives him endless scope to observe that an Icelandic shot-putter you’ve never heard of once painted a fence in under 12 minutes or that a particular Italian knitted his first canoe out of rigatoni. Bruce is an endless font of such essential trivia, and we are mostly all the better for it.

Fireworks light up the sky at the Tokyo 2020 opening ceremony.

Fireworks light up the sky at the Tokyo 2020 opening ceremony. Credit:Getty

On Twitter, the commentary on the commentary was less generous, and a compendium of gaffes was quickly gathered by bored viewers in a manner that often made it impossible to tell what was real and what was made up.

Did the Seven team really observe of Abu Dhabi that it was a city of “tall buildings and fast camels”?

Yes. Yes, they did.

And did we hear a commentator lament “various Iraq-related wars”.

Yes, again. I’m very much afraid we did.

Early on, the light relief was welcome as the ceremony began in rather bleak fashion, with more than a nod to the devastation wrought by the pandemic amid which the event was taking place. That background – and the spooky absence of a raucous crowd – conspired to make proceedings sometimes feel like a slog.

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Even the parade of nations, typically a boisterous and celebratory affair, was scaled back, as small pools of athletes wearing masks made their way in. The order of nations was dictated by the Japanese alphabet, making it a crap-shoot for non-speakers to guess when particular teams would make their entrance. Twitter wags suggested it was determined by a country’s position in the vaccine race and that Australia would arrive sometime next week.

As it was we came in 38th, squeezed between El Salvador and Austria.

It was a long wait, but the sight of the national team on this peerless stage can still make even the most cynical heart swell. And for Japan, its big moment as host was an emotional one for all concerned as its team marched in. Seven’s guest commentator Kumi Taguchi, poached from SBS for the night, said: “Shivers running down my spine. I’m thinking of the Japanese people, inside their homes, wishing they were on the streets …”

Oddest surprise of the night? That would have to be the video montage featuring none other than Caboolture’s own Keith Urban, listed as the musical representative of Oceania, singing John Lennon’s Imagine along with American John Legend and other luminaries.

But it was the flame we were all waiting for.

An inspired choice: Naomi Osaka.

An inspired choice: Naomi Osaka.Credit:Getty Images

And after some interminable speeches, we got it, with the inspired choice of Osaka to bring the cauldron to life. She is one of those rare athletes who transcends sport as well as cultures and countries, and the moment managed to quiet even the commentators for the most part.