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The Olympic Flame burns after the lighting of the Olympic Cauldron during the opening ceremony. Photo: FRANCK FIFE/AFP via Getty Images

The Olympics opening ceremony kicked off Friday in a near-empty stadium in Tokyo.

The big picture: The ceremony, which featured fewer performers than usual, started with the idea of being apart but not alone, "recognizing and conveying the emotional connection for athletes training around the globe for the last 17 months, doing much of that in isolation," NBC's Mike Tirico said.

What they're saying: "Today is a moment of hope, yes? It is very different from what all of us had imagined. But let us cherish this moment," said Thomas Bach, president of the International Olympic Committee.

  • Olympic athletes "had to face great challenges on your olympic journey. Like all of us, you were living with great uncertainty through the pandemic ... You persevered. You never gave up. And today, you are making your Olympic dream come true."
In photos:
A view into the stadium before the opening ceremony starts. Photo: Michael Kappeler/Picture alliance via Getty Images
A performer is seen acting during the opening ceremony of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. Photo: Clive Rose/Getty Images
In a performance called "Connecting the Dots," dancers use elastic rope to convey the inner workings of the body and the heart. Photo: Cameron Spencer/Getty Images
Performers dance during the opening ceremony. Photo: Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images
First lady Jill Biden arrives to attend the opening ceremony. Photo: Dylan Martinez/AFP via Getty Images
The Japanese flag is carried past the Olympic cauldron during the opening ceremony. Photo: Cameron Spencer/Getty Images
The centerpiece of the cauldron represents Mt. Fuji and, at the summit, a representation of the sun. Photo: Richard Heathcote/Getty Images
The Japan Flag is raised as the national anthem is performed. Photo: Richard Heathcote/Getty Images
Olympic rings are brought together during the opening ceremony. Photo: Jan Woitas/picture alliance via Getty Images
Flag bearers Cecilia Carranza Saroli and Santiago Raul Lange of Argentina lead their team in the parade of nations. Photo: Clive Rose/Getty Images
Flag bearers Hanna Minenko and Yakov Toumarkin lead team Israel in the parade of nations. The country is taking a run at team sports for the first time since 1976. Photo: Matthias Hangst/Getty Images
Athletes from Sardinia. Photo: Ina Fried/Axios
The Great Britain team with flag bearers sailor Hannah Mills and rower Mohamed Sbihi enter the stadium. Photo: Michael Kappeler/Picture alliance via Getty Images
Iran's delegation enters the Olympic Stadium. Photo: Hannah McKaya/AFP via Getty Images
Flag bearers Isabella Maegli and Juan Maegli — the first sibling flag bearers — lead team Guatemala during the opening ceremony. Photo: Patrick Smith/Getty Images
Flag bearers Malia Paseka and Pita Taufatofua lead team Tonga out during the opening ceremony. Photo: Hannah McKay - Pool/Getty Images
A member of Democratic Republic of the Congo's delegation enters the Olympic Stadium. Photo: Hannah McKay/AFP via Getty Images
Mireia Belmonte and Saul Craviotto carry the flag for team Spain. Photo: Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images
Delegation of the ROC (Russian Olympics Committee) Team takes part in the parade of nations at the opening ceremony. Russia cannot use its name, flag or national anthem during the games due to sanctions over the country's doping scandal. Photo: Stanislav Krasilnikov/TASS via Getty Images
Flag bearers Karen Leon and Antonio Jose Diaz Fernandez lead Team Venezuela out. Photo: Maja Hitij/Getty Images
Flag bearers Sue Bird and Eddy Alvarez lead Team USA in the parade. Team USA has a total of 613 athletes, the second largest Olympic team in U.S. history. Photo: Maja Hitij/Getty Images
General view inside the stadium as fireworks are set off during the opening ceremony of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. Photo: Maja Hitij/Getty Images
An overview shows athlete delegations taking part in the opening ceremony, with the Olympic slogan projected in the middle. Photo: Francois-Xavier Marit/AFP via Getty Images
The team from Japan with flag bearers wrestler Yui Susaki and basketball player Rui Hachimura enter the stadium. Photo: Michael Kappeler/picture alliance via Getty Images
General view inside the stadium during the opening ceremony. Photo: Cameron Spencer/Getty Images
A drone display is seen over the top of the stadium during the opening ceremony. Photo: Dylan Martinez - Pool/Getty Images
Drones fly together to create the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games' emblem. Photo: Franck Fife/AFP via Getty Images
Photo: Atsushi Tomura/Getty Images
Thomas Bach from Germany, president of the International Olympic Committee, speaks next to Seiko Hashimoto, president of the Organizing Committee for the Olympic and Paralympic Games in Tokyo. Photo: Jan Woitas/picture alliance via Getty Images
The Olympic Flame is carried into the stadium. Photo: Maddie Meyer/Getty Images
Naomi Osaka lights the Olympic flame. Photo: Michael Kappeler/picture alliance via Getty Images
Naomi Osaka of Team Japan lights the Olympic cauldron with the Olympic torch. Photo: Matthias Hangst/Getty Images
General view inside the stadium as Naomi Osaka lights the Olympic cauldron with the Olympic torch during the Opening Ceremony. Photo: Maja Hitij/Getty Images

Go deeper

Updated Sep 11, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Harris, Bush preach unity at Flight 93 memorial, 20 years on from attacks

Vice President Kamala Harris speaks during a 9/11 commemoration at the Flight 93 National Memorial in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. Photo by Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

Vice President Kamala Harris joined former President George W. Bush at a ceremony on Saturday to honor the lives lost 20 years ago on United Airlines Flight 93.

Driving the news: The vice president and the 43rd president devoted much of their remarks to remembering the unity that brought Americans together after the 9/11 attacks.

Updated Sep 11, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Biden attends wreath-laying ceremony at Pentagon

President Biden, first lady Jill Biden, Vice President Harris and second gentleman Doug Emhoff attend a wreath-laying ceremony at the National 9/11 Pentagon Memorial on Sept. 11 in Arlington, Virginia. Photo: Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images

President Biden participated in a wreath-laying ceremony at the Pentagon on Saturday to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.

The latest: Biden and first lady Jill Biden arrived at the Pentagon after visiting the Flight 93 memorial in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, and Ground Zero in New York City.

Updated Sep 11, 2021 - World

Taliban raises flag at Afghan presidential palace on 9/11

Photo by Karim Sahib/AFP via Getty Images

The Taliban on Saturday raised their flag over the Afghan presidential palace, the Associated Press reports.

The big picture: The milestone coincides with the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks in the United States and comes less than one month after the Taliban took control of Afghanistan.