8 Must-See Moments From Past Olympic Opening Ceremonies

From Gisele Bündchen's runway return to Muhammad Ali's torch lighting, here's a look back at these memorable Olympic moments.

The long-awaited Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo are officially upon us! On Friday, the opening ceremony took place in Japan and did not disappoint. Some standout moments included tennis legend Naomi Osaka lighting the torch to kick off the Games, Tonga's oiled-up flagbearer, Pita Taufatofua, once again becoming a trending topic on social media and first lady Jill Biden cheering on the U.S.A. team from the stands. 

The big event, established in 1920, was created to showcase the host country's culture before introducing the world's best athletes, and while many have gone off without a hitch, just a few have knocked it out of the park -- and onto another planet.

Naomi Osaka of Team Japan carries the Olympic torch towards the Olympic cauldron during the Opening Ceremony of the Tokyo Olympic Games on July 23, 2021. - Hannah McKay - Pool/Getty Images
First Lady Jill Biden waves during the Opening Ceremony of the Tokyo Olympic Games on July 23, 2021. - Dylan Martinez - Pool/Getty Images
Tonga's flagbearer Pita Taufatofua during the opening ceremony of the Tokyo Olympic Games on July 23, 2021. - Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Now that the Olympic Games, which were supposed to take place last year but were postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic, are underway, here's a look back at some of the most memorable moments from past opening ceremonies.

8. Rio 2016 -- Gisele Bündchen Returns to the Runway

Though the Brazilian supermodel officially retired from the catwalk in April 2015, she walked one final time at the opening ceremony in her home country.

Making the strut even more memorable, Bündchen walked the length of the stadium accompanied by the classic Brazilian samba, “Girl From Ipanema,” which was performed by Daniel Jobim, grandson of the song’s composer, Antônio Carlos Jobim.

7. Moscow 1980 -- Human Pyramid

This one may be a bit unfamiliar to Americans, as 1980 was the year of the U.S.-led Olympic boycott. Nonetheless, this belongs on the list. The former Soviet Union pulled out all the stops -- and probably all of their citizens -- as they stacked gymnasts and dancers on top of each other to form a crazy human pyramid.

6. Los Angeles 1984 -- Jetpack

The Soviet Union responded to America's boycott four years later, by refusing to take part in the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles, but that didn't stop the U.S. from showing them exactly what they were missing -- jetpacks! Up, up and away!

5. Atlanta 1996 -- The Greatest

He's not "the Greatest" for just any reason! Certainly not the wildest thing to ever happen, but a surprise that will go down in history. During the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia, Muhammad Ali surprised onlookers when he walked out to light the torch to start the Games.

4. Sydney 2000 -- Deep Sea Adventure

Australia put on a quite a show for the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, wowing the masses with its deep sea dreaming segment -- and confusing everyone when a young Nikki Webster conked out in the middle of the stadium to start the performance.

3. Beijing 2008 -- Lip-Sync Battle

Beijing's critically acclaimed opening ceremony was full of show-stopping illusions, including computer-simulated fireworks and having a girl lip-sync to a recording by another singer. Nine-year-old Lin Miaoke mimed her performance of "Ode to the Motherland," recorded by another young girl, Yang Peiyi. The swap was apparently a last-minute decision, following an objection to Miaoke's voice and a decision that Peiyi was a little too "chubby". International Olympic Committee executive director Gilbert Felli even defended the use of a more "photogenic double."

2. London 2012 -- The Queen Parachutes

Never has there been a more shocking entrance by an Olympic opener than Queen Elizabeth II's seeming descent into the stadium via parachute, with a little help from her royal corgis and James Bond himself, Daniel Craig.

1. Sochi 2014 -- Russian Police Officers "Get Lucky"

Nothing can ever top the Russian Police Choir's totally jazzin' rendition of Daft Punk's "Get Lucky." Nothing.

Honorable mention: London 2012 -- An Army of Mary Poppins Fight a 40-Foot Voldemort

Getty Images

Looks like Harry Potter could've saved himself a couple years by giving Mary Poppins a call -- at least according to London's opening ceremony segment dedicated to British children’s stories.

The 2021 Tokyo Olympics run from July 21 to Aug. 8, and will be broadcast on NBC, NBCOlympics.com, on the NBC Sports app, and on Peacock, NBCUniversal's streaming service. In the meantime, stay tuned to ETonline.com for complete Olympics coverage.