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5 to Watch at the Tokyo Olympics on Day 1: Opening Ceremony, Parade of Nations, Rowing

The Tokyo Olympics begin on July 23, 2021. Here’s a list of some highlights to watch on the big day – including a couple with San Diego connections.

1) Tokyo Olympics: Opening Ceremony

The Tokyo Olympics in Japan kick off Friday with the traditional Opening Ceremony at Olympic Stadium. Many familiar faces on Team USA will walk in the ceremony, including athletes with ties to San Diego and the Chula Vista Elite Athlete Training Center. You can watch the Opening Ceremony live on NBC 7 and on NBCOlympics.com on the morning of July 23, beginning at 3:55 a.m. PT – the first-ever live morning broadcast of an Olympics Opening Ceremony (Tokyo is 13 hours ahead of the East Coast, 16 hours ahead of the West Coast, so it’ll be 8 p.m. in Japan when the Opening Ceremony starts). After the ceremony, NBC will air a special edition of TODAY. NBC’s primetime coverage on July 23 will replay the Opening Ceremony overnight, too.

Here’s where to watch the 2021 Olympic Opening Ceremony on NBC live at 3:55 a.m. PT on July 23, 2021.

2) Opening Ceremony: The Parade of Nations

The Parade of Nations is the centerpiece of the Opening Ceremony.

Olympics fans will note that Greece will go first. This is a tradition at the Opening Ceremony, as Greece is the birthplace of the Olympics. From there, we will see athletes from all over the world take turns in the Olympic spotlight.

You may notice that every year during the Olympic Opening Ceremony the marching order of the parade of nations is slightly different. This is why…

Nations will march in the parade according to alphabetical order in Japanese, following the custom of using the host country’s language to determine the order. But this year’s Parade of Nations will have a few special features as well. 

The United States will be featured at the end of the parade order. Japan will be the parade’s grand finale, and future Olympic host countries will march just before the host nation. France, host of the 2024 Paris Olympics, will precede Japan, and the United States, hosts of the 2028 Los Angeles Olympics, will go before France. 

3) Opening Ceremony: The U.S. Flag Bearers

Women’s basketball star Sue Bird and baseball player Eddy Alvarez have been chosen as the U.S. flag bearers for the Opening Ceremony. The athletes will lead Team USA out of the tunnel and Bird said it’s an absolute honor she does not take lightly.

This will mark the first time in Olympic history that countries will each include both a male and female athlete carrying the flag for the Opening Ceremony.

USA Basketball star Sue Bird discusses being named a flag bearer for Team USA at the Tokyo Olympics. She will share flag bearer duties with USA Baseball player Eddy Alvarez.

So, who is Sue Bird? The 40-year-old, four-time WNBA champion is one of the most decorated women’s basketball players in history. She’s guided Team USA to four Olympic gold medals in women’s basketball and four gold medals at the FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup. Learn more about Bird here.

Alvarez, 31, is an infielder for the Miami Marlins – and he’s also a really good speed skater. So good, that at the Sochi Olympics in 2014, he won a silver medal in short track speed skating. Read all about Alvarez here.

Bird and Alvarez were chosen by their peers to be the U.S. flag bearers in Tokyo.

4) Opening Ceremony: Torch Traditions, Which Athletes Will March?

During the Opening Ceremony, we’ll get to see how the cauldron is lit and who will be the final torchbearer — moments that are traditionally kept a surprise unveiled on the big day.

More than 600 American athletes are expected to be in Tokyo but not all of them will take part in the Parade of Nations, as many events are already underway or will take place the morning after the Opening Ceremony.

In San Diego, we’ll be keeping an eye out for any possible Opening Ceremony cameos of Olympians connected to our region like BMX pro racer Alise Willoughby, skateboarders Heimana Reynolds and Bryce Wettstein, Santee water polo player Alex Bowen, and rugby stars like Perry Baker and Abby Gustaitis, just to name a few familiar, local faces.

BMX racer Alise Willoughby recounts the physical toll the sport has taken on her body and all the broken bones and scars she’s accumulated on her way to Tokyo.

NBC 7’s Steven Luke caught up with an East County Olympian who never had to look far for a mentor.

Skateboarding will be making its Olympic debut in Tokyo this year. Rutledge Wood previews the new Olympic sport alongside Olympian Heimana Reynolds.

This past year, athletes had to virtually reveal their lifelong dream of making the Olympic team had finally come true. Watch as their families react to the news and prove that despite the circumstances, the emotion and excitement are still real.

5) Rowing: Which Heats Are On, How to Watch

Rowing is also among the first sports at the Tokyo Olympics on Friday. The heats for the men’s and women’s single sculls, pair, double sculls, and quadruple sculls start at 9 a.m. PT from the Sea Forest Waterway. At 4:30 p.m. PT, fans can watch the men’s and women’s four and lightweight double sculls heats, plus single sculls and double sculls repechages, also from the Sea Forest Waterway in Tokyo.

Watch live at 4:30 p.m. PT on NBCSN or on digital platforms by clicking here.

Although no American men qualified in sculls, the American women could make it to the medal podium in both the single and double sculls. Kara Kohler is competing in the single, in which she won the world championship in 2019, and hopes to add a medal to her bronze from the quadruple sculls team in 2012. Kohler is from Clayton, California, and went to the University of California, Berkeley.

Gevvie Stone, who was the silver medalist in single sculls in Rio, is teaming up with Kristi Wagner in double sculls. 

On the quadruple sculls team, Ellen Tomek and Meghan O’Leary — who won doubles together in 2016 — are joined by newcomers Alie Rusher and Cicely Madden. 

The rowing competition on Day 1 of the Tokyo Olympics is preliminary heats. Medals for rowing won’t come until July 27.

The women of Team USA dominated the games in Rio and are expected to do the same in Tokyo. Here’s how, according to Corey Robinson.


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