23 Jul. 2021
The Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 began on Friday evening with a spectacular Opening Ceremony during which the world celebrated the arrival of the long-awaited event, which is taking place more than one year after the originally scheduled start date due to the COVID-19 pandemic that swept the globe and saw the unprecedented rescheduling of the Games. It was a fitting ceremony to welcome the Games that the world has waited so long for and that are expected to serve as a unifying and celebratory event in the highly challenging period.
While many handball teams elected to miss the Opening Ceremony due to the start of the handball competition on Saturday, with the men’s tournament the first to open, a number of handball players enthusiastically participated in the athlete parade.
A highlight for the global handball community was the fact that three handball athletes were chosen as their country’s flag bearers – Angola’s Natalia Bernardo, participating in her fourth Olympic Games; Bahrain’s Hussain Alsayyad, in his first as the handball team makes the debut for any team sport from the small Asian nation at the Games; and 2012 silver medallist Jovanka Radičević, carrying the flag of Montenegro together with water polo player Draško Brguljan.
“I will not say that it is the crown, because my wish with the team is to win another Olympic medal, but I can say that this is the peak of my career. First of all, it is a dream to participate in the Games, and it is a privilege and an honour to carry a flag in a competition like this. I think I showed how much I love my country with my attitude and games. I thank the Montenegrin Olympic Committee and I will do everything, together with Draško, to make the Montenegrin flag proudly fly at the Olympics,”said Radicevic of the honour.
Bernardo, Alsayyad and Radicevic brought the total of handball players selected as flag bearers in the Olympic Opening Ceremony to 25, after Icelandic Geir Hallsteinsson was the first to lead his nation into the stadium in 1972. For Montenegro, it is the second straight time a handball player carried the flag, with now women’s national team coach Bojana Popovic having the honour at Rio 2016. The Montenegro women’s handball team’s silver medal at London 2012 remains the only one won by the small European country.
Prior to the athlete parade, TV audiences around the globe were treated to a dazzling show, but the Ceremony was not an entirely joyous affair. The Opening Ceremony did not shy away from the reason for the delayed Olympic Games, addressing the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on the world through an emotional video and a moment of silence for all lost in the unprecedented global health crisis, as well as for other members of the sporting community who have passed away since the last Games.
Following the athlete parade, the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games were formally opened with addresses from President of the Tokyo 2020 Organising Committee Seiko Hashimoto and International Olympic Committee President Dr Thomas Bach. After His Majesty the Emperor Naruhito, the Emperor of Japan, had declared the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 open, the Olympic flag was carried in and raised.
Finally, the Olympic cauldron was lit by Japanese tennis star Naomi Osaka.
With the Games now open, throw-off in the Olympic handball competition is only a matter of hours away, with the men’s game Norway versus Brazil the first on the schedule on Saturday morning in Yoyogi Stadium.