Jim Souhan
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TOKYO — The Tokyo Olympics fired the director of the Opening Ceremony a day before it took place because he joked decades ago about the Holocaust.

After watching the ceremony at Olympic Stadium on Friday night in Japan, I would suggest that the organizers rehire him so they can fire him again.

It's going to be a weird few weeks, folks.

It was a weird night at the Olympic Stadium,a night that frequently asked the musical question, "Do we have to stay for this?''

The Tokyo Games have already experienced a series of serious problems, even before you consider that they were postponed a year because of the pandemic and earlier this week one of the Games' executives suggested that the Olympics could be canceled if COVID-19 cases continue to rise.

French investigators already were probing alleged bribes paid to International Olympic Committee members to persuade them to vote for Tokyo, a scandal that led to the resignation of the Japanese Olympic Committee head, Tsunekazu Takeda.

Friday night the athletes walked across the field, waving at empty stands, and often exited quickly,the field remaining sparsely populated, instead offilling and staying fullas is the case at most Olympics.

By the time the cauldron was lit and fireworks filled the sky over Tokyo, most of the athletes had left or were leaving.

The choreography and "entertainment'' portions of the ceremonies were odd, the atmosphere flat, deserving of the sound of one hand not clapping. Much of the music was derived from popular video games invented in Japan, but the first song heard on the PA system before the ceremony was "I've Got You Under My Skin" — now known as the perfect pandemic anthem.

Yes, the Olympic flame made an appearance, lighting a bland-looking cauldron. But is there an Olympic spark?

The pianist Hiromi performs at the Opening Ceremony.
The pianist Hiromi performs at the Opening Ceremony.

Petr David Josek, Associated Press

It all felt like an Up With People concert, and it should be remembered that Up With People was the main reason the NFL transitioned to musical acts for halftime of the Super Bowl.

That's right, Up With People's mediocrity led directly to Prince playing in the rain in Miami.

To coin a never-before-used phrase: Thanks, Up With People.

Later in the program, there was a skit that included a laugh track in an empty stadium. That might have been the definitive sound of sadness.

Earlier in the day, the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee held a leadership news conference and, amid much optimism about the strength of the U.S. team and the viability of these Olympics, admitted that 17% of the American athletes in Japan are unvaccinated.

Friday night, there were protesters outside the Olympic Stadium, yelling about the IOC. Inside the stadium, IOC chief Thomas Bach repeated the word "solidarity'' at least a dozen times, but true solidarity during a pandemic would be proved by all athletes getting vaccinated.

The United States contingent entered late in the program, not long after Liberia's small contingent made its way across the field.

Joe Fahnbulleh, thesprinter from Hopkins who became an NCAA champion at Florida, was one of the Liberian flagbearers.

Given the worrisome run-up, athletes like Fahnbulleh are going to have to cut through the worries and distractions clouding these Games.

The good thing is, they probably will.

Midway through the odd, overlong production, a young woman took a seat at a piano and played with a beguiling combination of artistry and intensity. She was Hiromi Uehara. Let's hope to see more irrepressible talent like her in Tokyo over the next few weeks.