Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce is among the standout Caribbean athletes expected to do flag-bearing duties at the Olympic Stadium here in Tokyo, Japan, today.
The Tokyo 2020 opening ceremony comes a year later than planned. For many athletes, last year's unprecedented postponement of the Games in response to the Covid-19 pandemic was a huge disappointment. For others, the decision represented opportunity: to qualify; recover from injury; train some more.
What we had all hoped for was a Games unaffected by the global pandemic that had forced the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to abandon plans for a 2020 staging of the Olympics. No such luck! Tokyo 2020 officially opens with Covid-19 still very much in the conversation, many Japanese citizens opposed to the Games as the host city deals with large case numbers.
Caribbean athletes, however, cannot be distracted by Covid-19 and its impact on the Games, including an absence of fans at competition venues. Instead, they must remain focused on their goals.
For Fraser-Pryce, carrying the Jamaica flag at the opening ceremony - scheduled to start at 7am TT time - is recognition of an extraordinary career. The fact that she has been given the honour for the second time in as many Olympics speaks to the impact the two-time women's 100 metres gold medallist has had on global sport.
With the IOC allowing each country the option to have a flag-bearer of each gender, super heavyweight boxer Ricardo Brown will share the honour with Fraser-Pryce.
St Kitts and Nevis sprinter Jason Rogers, British Virgin Islands hurdler Kyron McMaster, Surinamese sprint cyclist Jair Tjon En Fa, triple jumper Thea La Fond of Dominica, and Trinidad and Tobago sprinter Kelly-Ann Baptiste are also among the Caribbean flag-bearers for the opening ceremony.
A couple swimmers will do the honours for Barbados - Danielle Titus and Alex Sobers. An Olympic debutant in 2016, Sobers is back for the Tokyo Games, and excited about the opportunity to compete in the men's 200m freestyle as well as the 400 free, here in Tokyo.
A standout swimmer for Emmanuel College, in the United States, Sobers is now a grad school student and volunteer assistant coach at Boston College. The Barbadian swimmer was featured this week in an article on the Boston Eagles website, www.bceagles.com.
"(Olympic) swimming is very different from the NCAA meets or from dual meets," Sobers said. "You can be walking out to the pool deck, and the people next to you are the best in the world. That alone is crazy to me, but then there are all of these people from your country and around the world watching you perform. That's pretty exciting, and I know I tried to live in that moment. So to have build and build to get back to compete and qualify was pretty special.
"It's been a long five years," Sobers continued. "There's all of the challenges, and practicing every day, swimmers come in and play through their pain to go through those challenges. They sacrifice and overcome heartbreak. But you can't make long term decisions based on temporary feelings."
All hard work brings profit, and Sobers will have the satisfaction of not only diving into an Olympic pool once again, but also carrying "The Broken Trident" with pride in front of a massive television audience.
Bermuda has opted for one flag-bearer, Dara Alizadeh. The 27-year-old rower has a diverse background. Alizadeh's British-born mother moved to Bermuda at an early age. His father is Iranian. And Alizadeh is actually a dual citizen-Bermuda and the US. In fact, he represented USA at the 2015 World U23 Championships, in Bulgaria, earning silver as part of the men's eight team.
Alizadeh made the long trek to Tokyo to compete in the men's single sculls. Even before flag-bearing duties at the opening ceremony, he was in action at Sea Forest Waterway.
Alizadeh competed after press time, last night (TT time), in the fourth of six heats. He was drawn in lane five, and squared off against Saudi Arabia's Alireza Husein, Turkey's Onat Kazakli, Canadian Trevor Jones and Lithuania's Mindaugas Griskonis.
Dominican Republic's Jorge Vasquez also competed in the men's single sculls. He rowed in lane three in heat two. The top three finishers in each race progressed automatically to the quarterfinal round, while the others will row again in the repechage.
The Caribbean had three representatives in the women's single sculls heats. Trinidad and Tobago's Felice Aisha Chow rowed in heat two. Puerto Rico's Veronica Toro did battle in the third qualifying race. And in heat five, Cuban Milena Venega took on Austrian Magdalena Lobnig, Qatar's Tala Abujbara, Canadian Carling Zeeman and Namibian Maike Diekmann.
Aruba flag-bearer Philip Elhage is among 36 marksmen who will test their accuracy in men's 10-metre air pistol qualifying at midnight tonight (TT time). The top eight shooters will advance to the final.