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In US, 17 Million Watched Tokyo Olympics Opening Ceremony

Fireworks illuminate the National Stadium during the opening ceremony of the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, Japan, July 23, 2021.

NBC says an estimated 17 million people in the United States watched the opening ceremony for the Tokyo Olympics, down 36% from the kickoff to the Rio de Janeiro Games five years ago.

Nielsen says the 17 million includes people who watched the ceremony live on NBC or online when it aired Friday morning and those who saw an edited version on NBC in prime time that night.

NBC was unable to break down how many people watched live and how many saw the prime-time version. The 26.7 million who saw the Rio opening ceremony included both television and online viewership.

Nine years ago, when the Summer Olympics were held in London, the opening ceremony drew a record U.S. audience of 40.7 million people.

Masks off, masks on

The faces of victory will be a bit more visible for the rest of the Tokyo Olympics.

On Sunday, the International Olympic Committee relaxed its health rules and said medalists can remove their masks on the podium for photos — for 30 seconds.

This, says the IOC, acknowledges “a unique moment in their sporting career.”

Health protocols agreed to ahead of the Tokyo Olympics to control COVID-19 infections had required all medalists to keep masks on for the whole ceremony.

But it's not all freedom and exposed mouths from here on out. Athletes have to stay on their own podium step. And group photos on the top step? Masks back on, please.