It's been a long countdown to the Tokyo Olympics.
When the Closing Ceremony of the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro capped off close to five years ago, there was no telling then that the next Summer Games would be delayed by a pandemic.
But as anyone who has experienced the past year and half can attest, 2020 was a year of tragically life-changing events that robbed people of one of simple joys of life: Celebrating together.
On Friday, July 23, the world came together at the Opening Ceremony of the 2020 Olympic Games where Tokyo 2020 President Hashimoto Seiko reflected on a year unlike any other.
"Hopes have been connected one by one by many hands, and we are now in a position to welcome this day," she shared. "The whole world has faced immense challenges with COVID-19. I would like to express my gratitude and respect to all essential workers including those in medical services and others around the world who have shown such determination in overcoming these challenges."
During her speech, the president looked back 10 years ago when Tokyo first bid to host the Olympic Games. At the time, many people in Japan faced difficulties from the Great East Japan earthquake and tsunami. "People from all over the world extended a helping hand, encouraging us to 'move forward together!' Hashimoto said. "Now, 10 years later, we can show you the extent of Japan's recovery. We are most grateful to all of you."
Despite COVID-19 still affecting much of the world including Tokyo, Friday's speech focused on unity and coming together as the world's best athletes compete in a variety of sports for the next two weeks.
"Here is a vision for the future, one that embodies ‘Unity in Diversity,' one of peace and respect for one another," Hashimoto shared. "This is the power of sport, and an expression of the fundamental values of the Olympic Movement. This is its essence."
And while the coronavirus pandemic continues to be felt in Tokyo—the overall number of Olympic related cases now stands at 106, according to NBC News—the president gave special recognition to athletes who continue to dedicate themselves to their respective sport.
"Thank you for gathering here on this stage," Hashimoto shared. "We have been encouraged by your commitment in spite of all the difficulties you've had to endure. You have always moved forward and done your very best."
The president continued, "As a fellow athlete, I offer you my heartfelt gratitude. You have always believed in yourselves, and you have made tremendous efforts in what you do. You will treasure these moments forever."