TOKYO — Though we are still days away from meaningful shots being struck at the Tokyo Olympics, golf made its first appearance on the international stage Friday evening. Mexico’s Gaby Lopez and Paraguay’s Fabrizio Zanotti were golf’s loud and proud flag-bearers during the Opening Ceremony of the 32nd Olympiad.
Before they got any TV time, though, there were plenty of hints that things would be different at this Olympics. Outside the gates of Japan National Stadium there was a minor protest. And inside, little more than half of the competitors walked, in part to due Covid restrictions, with zero spectators in the stands. Much of the typical pomp and circumstance remained, with music and dancing and athletes looking to each other to pump themselves up.
Of the golfers, Zanotti arrived first, about two hours in, wearing perhaps the best outfit of the night: Straw hats and candy stripes. He’s the first golfer from Paraguay to lift his country’s flag at the Games since … Julieta Granada held the same honor just five years ago.
Ranked 312th in the world, Zanotti is one of just eight Paraguayan athletes competing in Tokyo. He and 59 other pros will begin practicing at Kasumagaseki Country Club this weekend.
Lopez’ appearance was a bit more surprising, if only because most of her female Olympic golf competition is on the other side of the world right now, competing in France at the Evian Championship. It was no qualifying issue for Lopez; she’s the 61st-ranked player in the world and has competed in the last 15 majors. But for someone who dresses in Mexico’s red, green and white during every one of her final rounds, it was an opportunity she couldn’t pass up.
“Being able to physically carry that flag, it just gives me chills,” she said in the lead-up to the games. “This is exactly what I play for. I play for my country, for my people, I play for the new generations to be able to inspire them and get them into golf.”
In order to do so, she arrived early to Tokyo and has been getting acquainted with the Olympic Village. The view outside her tiny bedroom, located on the newly developed Harumi wharf, is as soothing as it gets in this city of 14 million. Nevertheless, she awoke Friday morning at 3:30 a.m. local time with a bit of jet lag (and surely some anxious nerves).
A few hours later she bumped into Simone Biles in the Village before getting her nails touched up for the big night. Grinning constantly, she held an Instagram Live for her followers back at home, alternating between languages. After a fit of laughter, she switched back to English for one final note on what she was feeling: “Very f—king excited.”