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Everything You Need To Know To Enjoy This Year's Parade Of Nations

Jul 23, 2021
Originally published on July 28, 2021 10:42 am

The most anticipated part of any Olympic opening ceremony is the Parade of Nations — when athletes from each competing country enter the stadium together, marching under their flag.

Here's everything you need to enjoy this year's event, including some flag bearers to keep your eye out for.

When did the Parade of Nations begin?

The first Parade of Nations took place at the London Games in 1908.

Why isn't the Parade Of Nations in alphabetical order?

With a few key exceptions, they do arrive in alphabetical order — just not according to the English alphabet (unless an English-speaking nation is hosting!)

The order is alphabetical by the names of the nations as they're spelled in the host country's language. So for the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, Iceland came before Azerbaijan.

There are two exceptions to this though:

Greece always enters first. The modern Olympic Games began in Athens in 1896. So Greece gets the honor of starting in the Parade of Nations.

The countries that are hosting the next few Games go at the end, with the host country last. So for this 2020 Summer Olympics, the last three countries will be the U.S. (the hosts of the 2028 games); France (the 2024 hosts); and finally this year's host, Japan.

Flag bearer Sema Nancy Ludrick Rivas of Team Nicaragua.
Maja Hitij / Getty Images

Who are the flag bearers in the 2020 Summer Olympics Parade Of Nations?

Athletes from the 205 participating countries (and the refugee team) carry their country's flag into the opening ceremony. For the first time, this year each nation was represented by two flag bearers each: one male and one female athlete.

Here's the full list of countries and flag bearers.

But as you're watching this year's opening ceremony, here are a few to keep your eye out for:

Flag bearers Sue Bird and Eddy Alvarez of Team USA lead their team during the opening ceremony.
Maja Hitij / Getty Images

U.S. flag bearers Eddy Alvarez and Sue Bird: As NPR's Merrit Kennedy puts it, Alvarez is a first-generation Cuban American, 31, is competing on the U.S. baseball team. He won a silver medal in speed skating at the Sochi Winter Games in 2014 and is aiming to become just the sixth athlete to medal in both the Winter and Summer Games. Alvarez was selected by his fellow athletes to be one of Team USA's two flag bearers. The other is U.S. women's basketball legend and five-time Olympian Sue Bird.

Jamaica's flag bearers Ricardo Brown (L) and Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce lead the delegation.
Hannah McKay / AFP via Getty Images

Jamaican sprinter Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce: The legendary sprinter has won the 100-meter final in two previous Olympics and aims to become the first woman to win three gold medals at this distance.

Flag bearers Hannah Mills and Mohamed Sbihi of Team Great Britain lead their team out.
Jamie Squire / Getty Images

British rower Mohamed Sbihi: Sbihi is making history as the first Muslim to carry the British flag at an Olympic opening ceremony. He won a gold medal at the Rio Olympics.

Flag bearers Yui Susaki and Rui Hachimura of Team Japan lead their team.
Patrick Smith / Getty Images

Rui Hachimura of Japan: Hachimura, 23, became the first Japanese player ever selected in the first round of the NBA Draft in 2019, when he was picked by the Washington Wizards, for whom he still plays.

Flag bearers Malia Paseka and Pita Taufatofua of Team Tonga lead their team out.
Patrick Smith / Getty Images

Tonga's shirtless sensation, Pita Taufatofua, is back. Tongan Taekwando athlete Pita Taufatofua first set the internet aflame at the opening ceremony of the Rio Summer Games in 2016, where he won hearts and blew minds as a bare-chested, oiled-up flag bearer. Two years later, he competed in the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics as a cross-country skiier (after just 12 weeks of training in snow) and reprised his role as shirtless flag bearer once again. He's back in Toyko to compete in Taekwando. And ... he's done it again (this time carrying the flag with fellow Taekwando athlete Malia Paseka).

This story originally appeared on the Morning Edition live blog.

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