A red-clad contingent of 30 athletes represented Canada in an understated opening ceremony at the Tokyo Olympics.
Led by flag-bearers Miranda Ayim and Nathan Hirayama, the small Canadian contingent walked out dressed in white pants and red jackets with a white Maple Leaf on the back — and mandatory grey face masks.
The Canadians waved to their fellow athletes already gathered on the stadium floor, and the few people in the stands. They clapped and chanted “Canada” as they marched. Others took videos and selfies with their phones.
Canada’s contingent included tennis player Felix Auger-Aliassime but was otherwise light on star power, as many athletes were unavailable to participate due to being close to competition, or not yet being in Japan.
“Today, the entire world will unite for the official opening of the Tokyo Olympic Games in Japan,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in a release. “This is an opportunity to celebrate athletes’ excellence, sportsmanship, and dedication in Canada and across the world.”
While the smiles on the faces of the participating athletes were apparent, the cavernous atmosphere in the largely empty Tokyo Olympic Stadium sapped the energy usually found in an Olympic opening ceremony.
Tokyo is under a state of emergency due to COVID-19 complications that will remain in place throughout the Games.
The Canadian Olympic team’s top doctor, however, says he’s confident in measures designed to reduce the risk of the spread of the novel coronavirus among the team and in the athletes’ village.
“We have not had any positives on the Canadian team,” Dr. Mike Wilkinson said at a virtual news conference held by the Canadian Olympic Committee.
“There have been positives within the village in other teams. These positives have shown that the system is working and importantly there have not been any instances of any transmission within the village.”
It was a light day of competition on the official opening day of the Games. Canadian rowers were in action on Tokyo Bay, with Jessica Sevick of Strathmore, Alta., and Gabrielle Smith of Unionville, Ont., finishing their women’s double sculls heat in a time of six minutes 57.69 seconds over 2,000 metres to comfortably qualify for Monday’s semifinals.
In other action on Tokyo Bay, Trevor Jones of Lakefield, Ont., won his heat in the men’s single sculls to advance to the quarterfinals, while Carling Zeeman of Cambridge, Ont., was second in her women’s sculls heat.
Zeeman, 30, is at her second Games following a 10th-place finish in Rio five years ago.
“Each Games in their own rights are pretty special,” she said after battling temperatures that felt like 36 C with the humidity. “It’s been a long journey getting here. I’ve had a pretty tough year with a couple injuries, a few setbacks.”
The first medals will be handed out Saturday, with Ottawa cyclist Michael Woods having a good shot at a podium finish in the men’s road race.
Canada has a team of 370 athletes in Tokyo, which is its largest since the 1984 Los Angeles Games.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 23, 2021.