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7 things to know about the Olympics opening ceremony, including Naomi Osaka’s big moment and Pita Taufatofua making another shirtless — and oiled — appearance

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TOKYO — The Tokyo Olympics officially are underway with the completion of the opening ceremony.

But for those of you stateside who didn’t watch the event live, here are seven things to know before you catch the replay.

1.

The cauldron lighter

The Olympic cauldron is lit during the opening ceremony of the Tokyo Olympics on July 23, 2021 at Olympic Stadium.
The Olympic cauldron is lit during the opening ceremony of the Tokyo Olympics on July 23, 2021 at Olympic Stadium. (Brian Cassella / Chicago Tribune)

The honor went to Japan’s Naomi Osaka, a four-time Grand Slam tennis champion. The Games will mark her first competition since taking a mental health break two months ago.

The cauldron lighter’s identity always is the biggest secret at any opening ceremony. Some suspected she had been tapped for the job after Olympic officials announced her Saturday match had been rescheduled to Sunday.

Former New York Yankees outfielder Hideki Matsui — the first Japanese person to be named World Series MVP — also took part in the torch passing. His selection was voted on by the Japanese public.

2.

The new motto

The opening ceremony begins July 23, 2021, at the Tokyo Olympics in Olympic Stadium.
The opening ceremony begins July 23, 2021, at the Tokyo Olympics in Olympic Stadium. (Brian Cassella / Chicago Tribune)

After the athletes entered the stadium, the new Olympic motto flashed on the floor: “Faster, Higher, Stronger — Together.” The International Olympic Committee amended the slogan this week in an effort to stress the importance of unity during difficult times.

“We have to adapt the motto to our times,” IOC President Thomas Bach said earlier this week.

3.

The flagbearers

The United States delegation is introduced during the opening ceremony of the Tokyo Olympics on July 23, 2021, at Olympic Stadium.
The United States delegation is introduced during the opening ceremony of the Tokyo Olympics on July 23, 2021, at Olympic Stadium. (Brian Cassella / Chicago Tribune)

In a break from tradition, each country had the opportunity to select two flagbearers: one male and one female.

Basketball star Sue Bird, a four-time gold medalist, and former Chicago White Sox prospect Eddy Alvarez, who won a silver medal in short-track speedskating in 2014 and is a member of the U.S. baseball team, carried the American flag together.

“I know it’s been a tough year and a half for all of us, but we’re so excited to represent our country right now and we’re just going to enjoy the moment,” Alvarez said.

Most countries selected two people for flag duty, but not all of them did. United Arab Emirates, Oman, Brunei, Mali, Mauritania, Libya, Ethiopia, Samoa, Djibouti, Suriname, Tajikistan, Vanuatu, Bermuda and Bangladesh did not have a female bearer listed.

Meanwhile, no male flagbearers were listed for Cameroon, Guinea-Bissau, Congo, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and Trinidad and Tobago.

4.

The Tongan was shirtless. Again.

Pita Taufatofua, one of the flag bearers from Tonga, walks with his country at the opening ceremony of the Tokyo Olympics on July 23, 2021, at Olympic Stadium.
Pita Taufatofua, one of the flag bearers from Tonga, walks with his country at the opening ceremony of the Tokyo Olympics on July 23, 2021, at Olympic Stadium. (Brian Cassella / Chicago Tribune)

If you’re wondering if Tongan Pita Taufatofua carried his country’s flag, the answer is yes.

And if you’re wondering if Pita Taufatofua was shirtless, you obviously don’t know who he is and might want to skip to the next bit.

A taekwondo athlete with an unremarkable international record, Taufatofua caught the world’s attention in 2016 when he entered the Rio de Janeiro Games in traditional Tongan garb. Social media instantly fixated on his bare torso, which had been heavily coated in coconut oil.

Taufatofua qualified for the 2018 Winter Games in cross-country skiing despite having little experience in the sport. He finished 114th out of 119 skiers but is considered an Olympic treasure.

Fun fact: I ran into him at a bus stop in Rio the day after the opening ceremony. After seeing Friday night’s coconut oil application, I’m beginning to think Rio’s sheen wasn’t the fault, as he said, of the Brazilian woman who rubbed it on for him.

5.

The athlete delegations were incredibly small

Athletes mingle on the infield after being introduced at the opening ceremony of the Tokyo Olympics on July 23, 2021, at Olympic Stadium.
Athletes mingle on the infield after being introduced at the opening ceremony of the Tokyo Olympics on July 23, 2021, at Olympic Stadium. (Brian Cassella / Chicago Tribune)

COVID-19 protocols resulted in some seriously small athlete delegations.

Per the rules, Olympians cannot enter the athletes’ village until five days before their competition, so a lot of them aren’t yet present.

Ethiopia, for example, had just one person enter with its delegation despite having 54 Olympians qualified. The entire team is set to compete in track events that do not begin until next week, so they wouldn’t be eligible for the village right now.

6.

That background music

Performers take part in the opening ceremony of the Tokyo Olympics on July 23, 2021, at Olympic Stadium.
Performers take part in the opening ceremony of the Tokyo Olympics on July 23, 2021, at Olympic Stadium. (Brian Cassella / Chicago Tribune)

Athletes entered the stadium to an orchestral medley of songs from Japan’s most famous video games, one of the country’s most beloved exports.

The medley included snippets from ’80s songs such as “Xanadu” by Olivia Newton-John and Electric Light Orchestra and Rick Astley’s “Never Gonna Give You Up.”

7.

Who wore it best?

The United States delegation is introduced during the opening ceremony of the Tokyo Olympics on July 23, 2021, at Olympic Stadium.
The United States delegation is introduced during the opening ceremony of the Tokyo Olympics on July 23, 2021, at Olympic Stadium. (Brian Cassella / Chicago Tribune)

No one dressed better than the Aruban Olympic team, whose female members entered the stadium in flowy caftans. Their look said beach comfort — perfect for a day in which temperatures soared into the 90s.

Meanwhile, Ralph Lauren sent the U.S. athletes down in navy blue blazers.

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