Nearly 700 of the best athletes in the United States including 18 from New Jersey will compete against the world during the Summer Olympics in Tokyo, which got underway Friday with opening ceremonies.

The games will be like no other thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic as no fans from other countries were allowed at the games to provide that intangible support that Olympians feed off of.

The athletes themselves are under tight restrictions that limit their interactions with each other.

Friday's opening ceremonies which took place at 7 a.m. Eastern time gave fans the first indication of the virus's impact when 5,700 masked up athletes marched into a nearly empty stadium during what is usually a vibrant, exciting ceremony.

The ceremony will air on NBC starting at 7:30 p.m. Friday night.

Olympic athletes from NJ competing in Tokyo 2021

After the pandemic sidelined world-class athletes in 2020, at least 18 Olympic contenders with New Jersey roots have qualified for the Tokyo Olympic games. Some are returning after an appearance in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in 2016 — while others find themselves in their first Olympics.

Here's the roundup of contenders, grouped by sport, with the opening ceremony set for July 23.

The city of Trenton on Thursday unveiled a banner at City Hall of Olympian Athing Mu, a Trenton native who is representing the United States in the 800-meter dash. It will hang for the duration of the games.

"We are truly proud of Athing’s accomplishments, and she is a terrific inspiration to our youth," Mayor Reed Gusciora said. "We will continue to cheer her on throughout the Games. Trenton makes champions, and the whole world will witness it next week in Japan."

Banner celebrating Trenton olympian Athing Mu at Trenton City Hall (City of Trenton)

Five time women's basketball Olympian Sue Bird and baseball player Eddy Alvarez were among the flag bearers that led the U.S. team into the stadium. An array of singers, including John Legend and Keith Urban, performed the John Lennon classic “Imagine” during the ceremony.

"We’re not the first to say ‘Imagine no countries’ or ‘Give peace a chance,’ but we’re carrying that torch, like the Olympic torch, passing it hand to hand, to each other, to each country, to each generation," Lennon once said. "And that’s our job."

The music also included an orchestral medley of songs from iconic Japanese video games including Roto's Theme from the Dragon Quest series.

Tennis star Naomi Osaka lit the Olympic cauldron after it was brought in to the stadium by Japanese baseball greats Sadaharu Oh, Shigeo Nagashima and former Yankee Hideki Matsui.

Japanese network Asahi reported only 950 VIPs will be present, including First Lady Jill Biden and Japanese Emperor Naruhito. The olympic stadium has a capacity of 68,000.

"After nearly five years of planning, we found ourselves suddenly having to rethink everything. This was the biggest challenge," Tokyo 2020 Organizing Committee executive producer of ceremonies Takayuki Hioki told CNN.

(Includes material copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

Contact reporter Dan Alexander at Dan.Alexander@townsquaremedia.com or via Twitter @DanAlexanderNJ

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NJ teachers and educators caught in sex crime busts

Over the past few years, state lawmakers have taken on the challenge of dealing with accused child predators among the ranks of teachers and educators.

In 2018, the so-called “pass the trash” law went into effect, requiring stricter New Jersey school background checks related to child abuse and sexual misconduct.

The follow individuals were arrested over the past several years. Some have been convicted and sentenced to prison, while others have accepted plea deals for probation.

Others cases are still pending, including some court delays amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

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