TOKYO — It was delayed by the pandemic. Then it was staged with few fans; those who were not permitted to attend could click a “virtual cheer” button from home. Protesters decried the costs and risks. Athletes were hustled out of the country after their events.

And in the end — after all the upheavals, uncertainties, oddities and, of course, glorious moments of competition — the Games got its send-off from Tokyo on Sunday the way it opened: with the only sounds in a near-empty stadium the blaring music and the applause and cheers of athletes and volunteers.

What to know

  • Olympic Stadium was mostly empty due to coronavirus distancing restrictions. Fewer than 1,000 guests attended the Opening Ceremonies in a stadium that can hold about 68,000.
  • During Sunday’s handoff, organizers for the Paris 2024 Games broadcast an image of the “biggest flag ever raised,” which used the Eiffel Tower as a flagpole, to welcome the Olympics. (The actual hoisting of the flag was reportedly canceled due to weather.)
  • The ceremonies featured about 4,600 athletes and representatives from the 206 participating Olympic committees, who were invited to relax in a faux-park area designed to help them feel as if they were hanging out in Japan, after being largely restricted to the Village during their time in Tokyo.
  • More than an hour before the ceremonies began, Tokyo residents lined up outside the Olympic Stadium to secure the best spots to view fireworks and listen to music. Protesters gathered nearby to chant in opposition to the Games being held here.
  • Tokyo 2020 officials acknowledged weaknesses in measures limiting the flow of people in and out of the Olympic “bubble” and preventing Japanese residents from gathering publicly to get a glimpse of the Games. Officials will review and update guidelines for the Paralympics.

The Closing Ceremonies began with a video looking back at the two weeks of the Games. It acknowledged that there was “more tension than usual” due to the impact of the coronavirus and featured scenes that reflect “how we were able to bring these unprecedented Games to a peaceful close,” according to officials. “The main focus of the video is not records and scores but the valiant efforts of all the athletes.”

Organizers set up a grassy field in the middle of the stadium, in an effort to make athletes feel as if they were at a Tokyo park, organizers said. The move acknowledged that the Olympians could not spend time hanging out in the city, as they normally would have, due to covid-19 restrictions. Performances, such as jumping rope and yoga, re-created what it feels like to be in a park in the capital, a slice of life that organizers hope to convey to the athletes.

The Japanese flag was carried in at the top of the ceremonies, with the six flag bearers consisting of four athletes, a person with a disability and a health-care professional — nods to the upcoming Paralympic Games and the efforts of medical workers in the pandemic.

A joyous parade of about 4,600 participants, the majority of whom were Olympians, unfolded after each of the 206 participating members’ flags were marched into the center of the stadium. Athletes milled about after entering, and they clapped, danced and took photos while a row of volunteers greeted them, waving and clapping along. A ska band and a DJ played music to create a lively mood.

Sixty-two flags were carried in by volunteers because delegates had to go home, according to the BBC. (Most athletes were required to leave within 48 hours of completing their competition because of the pandemic.) The athletes who attended Sunday night had to spit into vials every day to test for the coronavirus so they could train and compete in their events.

Activists had requested that the International Olympic Committee hold a moment of silence on Aug. 6, the anniversary of the 1945 Hiroshima atomic bombing, but organizers declined. Instead, the ceremonies included a “moment of remembrance,” featuring performances highlighting Japanese culture. It was also meant as a space for athletes to pay tribute to those in their lives who have died.

The moment of remembrance included a video showing a sequence of dances hailing from various parts of Japan, including the traditional dances of the Ainu, as well as the Ryukyu Eisa, Nishimonai Bon Odori and Gujo Odori forms. Then, dancers gathered to perform the traditional Tokyo Ondo.

Health — both physical and mental — was at the forefront of the Tokyo Games. Athletes had trained an additional year because of the rescheduled Games. And several competitors, notably gymnast Simone Biles, spoke out about the mental health toll of the training regimen, pressures of the world stage and the pandemic.

This year, 88 national Olympic committees medaled — three more than in Rio de Janeiro in 2016 and London in 2012. Some countries received their medal of any kind. And the host nation of Japan won a record number of medals.

Despite the remarkable moments of athleticism and camaraderie on display over the past two weeks, the Games also were overshadowed by the rapid spread of the coronavirus in and around Tokyo.

Tokyo logged a record number of coronavirus cases this week, burdening the hospital system amid a slow vaccine rollout, an increasingly apathetic public and the government’s unsuccessful efforts to restrict the spread of the delta variant. On Saturday, Tokyo reported 4,566 new coronavirus cases, after a record of 5,042 just two days prior. Japan’s positive daily cases exceeded 15,000 for the first time Thursday.

Olympic officials maintain that they have successfully prevented Games-related infections from spreading throughout the Japanese public, but some public health experts say the atmosphere around the Olympics has undermined public understanding of the severity of the virus.

Japanese public opinion toward the Olympics remains mixed, with polling from last week showing that opposition toward the Games began declining once the competitions began. (The host country’s haul of gold medals may have helped.) But a plurality of the public still opposes the Games, and discontent grew once the virus cases reached record levels in Tokyo.

On Sunday, the mixed public response was in plain view outside the stadium. An hour before the ceremonies began, residents lined the street across from the empty stadium — the closest they could get to it due to barriers and police officers blocking the venue — to listen to music and watch fireworks. Meanwhile, protesters nearby were heard yelling anti-Olympic chants.

“No matter how difficult the situation, you were able to rise to the challenge and put on a smile on everyone’s face,” said Seiko Hashimoto, president of the Tokyo Olympic organizing committee, thanking volunteers, staff members and athletes.

To the Olympians, she added: “There are no words to describe what you have achieved in Tokyo. You have accepted what seemed unimaginable, understood what had to be done and, through hard work and perseverance, overcome unbelievable challenges.”

The ceremonies concluded with the handoff to the 2024 Paris Games, and a handover of the Olympic flag to Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo in Tokyo. In the French capital, organizers broadcast an image of a large flag with the Eiffel Tower as a flagpole. (The actual hoisting of the flag was reportedly canceled due to weather.)

A cheering crowd gathered near the Parisian landmark, before a stage featuring break dancers. The flag’s fabric will be reused for a clothing collection that marks the Paris Games.