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Tokyo Olympics Begin with Subdued Opening Ceremony; Team USA Athletes and Competitions to Watch; Crew Makes Narrow Escape as Flames Lap Their Fire Engine. Aired 11:30a-12p ET

Aired July 23, 2021 - 11:30   ET




DANA BASH, CNN AT THIS HOUR: Let the games begin. After a year delay because of the pandemic, the Tokyo Olympics are finally underway. The opening ceremony kicked off the competition this morning but these games already look far different than we've ever seen. Less than 1,000 people attended today's opener and there will be no spectators in the stands for the Tokyo competitions.

CNN's Selina Wang is live in Tokyo with more. So, let's talk about this and what you're seeing and you're hearing from the athletes, from the few spectators who were there?

SELINA WANG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Dana, the opening ceremony did have some memorable moments despite all the challenges up against these games, including Naomi Osaka lighting that Olympic flame, as well as from outside, we could see a stunning fireworks display and 1,800 drones flying in the sky forming a global.

But it was surreal to see just about 900 VIPs -- 950 VIPs in the stands, including Jill Biden, Japan's emperor, in a Olympic stadium that fits 68,000 people. And there were somber moments as well, including a moment of silence to remember those who have died from COVID-19, and as well the athletes who could not make it because of the pandemic.

Now, Dana, more than 20 athletes who are out of the games because of the pandemic, but partly overshadowing that pomp and circumstance was a large group of protesters outside that were chanting for hours, calling for these games to be canceled. I've been talking to protesters, to residents for months now and, today, I spoke to several bystanders who said they have mixed feelings about the games. Some say it is not the right time to be having a festival when COVID-19 cases are surging here, when just about 20 percent of the population is fully vaccinated. They said these games should not be the priority. But others said that they are excited to finally have something to watch on T.V. that celebrates unity and hope and they wish that they could be in the stands.

Now, only a fraction of athletes from many of the countries were able to be in this parade of athletes. And from the U.S., more than 200 athletes were there and out of the 613. We've also learned that 83 percent of the U.S. athletes are vaccinated here in Japan, but that does mean, Dana, that more than 100 of them here in Tokyo are unvaccinated.

BASH: Really important numbers and a very cool assignment that you have. Selina Wang, thank you so much. I appreciate it.

And let's talk more about Team USA athletes and the key competitions to watch. Joining me on the phone from Tokyo is Christine Brennan, CNN Sports Analyst and Columnist for USA Today. Hey, Christine.

So, I want to talk to you about the athletes to watch. First, we have got to talk about Simone Biles. She's so dominant that Twitter has bestowed her with her own emoji, it's a leaping goat wearing a gold medal because she is the greatest of all time, get it, goat, for people who don't know this as part of your lexicon. So, expectations are very high, Christine, for her.

CHRISTINE BRENNAN, CNN SPORTS ANALYST (voice over): Yes, Dana, they are. And hello from Tokyo. And, you know, she is the biggest name by far going into these games. There is going to be so much pressure on her. She's 24 years old, of course, won four gold medals and a bronze medal just five years ago in Rio.

So, the question is can she do it again. And she is the one athlete who we would say, yes, for sure, she can. She's got four routines, moves, the movements named after her already. There could be a fifth. She's also, of course, the voice of her sport, a survivor of the horrors of Larry Nassar.


I mean, can we imagine anything more, the greatest of all time, Dana, who also endured the worst sex scandal, sexual abuse scandal in sports history and became the voice of her sport in trying to lead it out of those terrible times.

So, a remarkable young woman and we'll get a chance to see her very soon and see how she does.

BASH: Absolutely remarkable is an understatement. Let's look at track. American sprinter Allyson Felix is one medal away from being the most decorated female track and field runner of all time. It is also her first Olympics as a mother, which inspired her to make an impact off track as well. Tell us more about her.

BRENNAN (voice over): Yes, I've been covering Allyson Felix for a long time and has been around a long time. She's a mom now. And what we're seeing is because of Title 9, a law, of course, signed by Richard Nixon at the end of '72, which changed the playing fields of American, opened the floodgates for girls and women to play sports.

Now, almost 50 years later, the fruits of that include women who could be professional athletes well into their late 20s and 30s who want to be moms, who have children and continue competing. This would have been, Dana, unthinkable even a generation ago. And so Allyson Felix has really been the voice for these women.

And there was a time that Tokyo organizers were telling women with young children they could not bring them to breast feed or to take care of them. That changed and Allyson Felix was one of the voices that helped make that change to allow the mom -- the female athletes to have their kids here, and, again, just one of those wonderful story where sports intersects with our culture and makes it a fascinating conversation.

BASH: Okay. So, Simone Biles, Allyson Felix, never mind the U.S. women's basketball team going for the seventh Olympic gold medal, a theme here that you see, that we all see, the dominance of American women athletes in these Olympic Games. Talk about that as a female journalist who has been covering sports for a very long time.

BRENNAN (voice over): Absolutely. Well, and for the third straight summer Olympics, Dana, there are more women than men on the U.S. Olympics team. 54 percent of the U.S.'s team is women. And, again, a testament to having girls and women playing sports, and this really is the Super Bowl for female athletes. And that's why we see our best female athletes here and usually leading the medal count and obviously being the dominant team.

So, yes, the U.S. women's basketball team has not lost a game in the Olympics since 1992, unbelievable. And they are favored obviously to win again. Women's soccer obviously had a tough time losing the other day but they also certainly could be in the mix for medals. They could right the ship there. And softball is back and they have won their first two games after a 13-year absence from the Olympics. So, U.S. women's team sports are strong once again.

BASH: Christine Brennan, have fun over there. I look forward to reading all of your columns an your tweets and seeing you here on CNN reporting. I appreciate it.

BRENNAN (voice over): Thank you, Dana. Take care.

BASH: Thank you. And back here in the United States, thousands of firefighters are battling wildfires across the west. Up next, a narrow escape from the raging fires closing in.



BASH: The funeral for Haiti's assassinated president, Jovenel Moise, is underway at this hour with pallbearers in military uniforms. It's been a little bit more than two weeks since Moise was killed in his home by a group of armed gunman at his private residence.

Reuters is reporting that a U.S. delegation in attendance was whisked away from the funeral moments ago after gunfire was heard in the area. We're going to continue to monitor this story and bring you any updates.

Meanwhile, here in the United States, we are getting a look at what it is like for some 21,000 firefighters on the job across the country right now. A close call as a crew in California made a narrow escape on an unpaved road with flames coming in on both sides of their fire engine.

The numbers are stunning. 83 large fires already burned nearly 1.5 million acres of land with no end in sight. In Southern Oregon alone, more than 2,000 people are still under some form of evacuation orders.

And still ahead, it turns out what we eat is having a huge impact not just on our health but on the health of our planet. A preview of a CNN special report is next.



BASH: What we eat always comes with a cost. It is not necessarily how much you're paying at the grocery store, how many calories you're consuming. Our food is having an increasingly dramatic effect on the climate crisis and that has scientists working on alternatives to some of our popular foods.

And in a CNN special report, Eating Planet Earth, the Future of Your Food, CNN's Bill Weir takes a look at the efforts underway to change the way we eat.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're going to go do a classic patty melt, we're going to show you some meatballs for the beef. And then the pork variety, we're going to do some bell buns, as well as some and pork bolognese.

BILL WIER, CNN CHIEF CLIMATE CORRESPONDENT (voice over): All of this will be made with heme-flavored plants, and in five years, a guy with no experience in food or business took impossible from one restaurant to over 30,000, including Burger King and Starbucks and 20,000 stores.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Here we go, the moment of truth.

Lots of burgers.

WEIR: Oh, yes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mid-rare to medium.

WEIR: May I?


WEIR: Okay.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You ever heard of a burger test? This is all we do. WEIR: This is what you do?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We test the burger.

WEIR: Cheers.

Wow, that's really good.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Got to go in for seconds.

WEIR: And since everything is political these days, don't take my word for it. Get a load of conservative firebrand and ranch owner Glenn Beck.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I would say A is a -- that's meat, is meat. B is a fake burger.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: B is the real burger. A is the impossible burger.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That is insane.


BASH: And joining us now is CNN Chief Climate Correspondent Bill Weir. He is the host of that new CNN report, as you saw, Eating Planet Earth, the Future of Your Food, which airs tonight at 9:00 P.M. Eastern.

So, Bill, what did you find?

WEIR: Dana, I found it is a brave new world when it comes to what we're going to be filling our bellies with going forward right now. Of course, this starts with the idea that there are about 1.4 billion cows on the planet now. And if you put them all together, they would be third behind the United States and China as the biggest emitter of climate cooking pollution.

And so there is this booming new movement for alternative protein, not just in Impossible, where they used plant-based stuff. There are lab companies where they're going to take cells, a few cells from a cow or chicken and grow that meat in labs. There is a new company that we're going to profile, where they found a new form of protein in the geyser water at Yellowstone National Park.

But Pat Brown, who is the head of Impossible, really set out to disrupt big meat in typical Silicon Valley fashion. He was a Stanford Medical School professor who looked at the amount of pollution, air pollution, water, the deforestation that comes with all of us trying to have steak for lunch and dinner, and said, the only way we're going to break this cycle and pretty much not eat ourselves out of our planet is to come up with something that is just as tasty, just as juicy and just the same price, or even cheaper now, and I think we're sort of on the cusp of that. But, that, of course, has a real ramification for ranchers and farmers.

So we look at kind of the whole system tonight to see all the waste that's in there and these insanely crazy new ideas that may just help fix this.

BASH: Yes. Impossible burgers are very, very good. I can attest to that.

Before I let you go, I don't want to give away the ending of your special, but, generally speaking, is swearing off meat completely, is that the big solution here?

WEIR: Well, I think some people would say yes. Those who are very sort of serious about veganism for different reasons would say yes. I think I met a lot of other people who believe there is sustainable ranching that can happen, but it can't happen the way we're doing it right now.

And others suggest, you know, maybe you don't want to have sausage for breakfast and a chicken caesar for lunch and a T-bone for dinner seven days a week and even sort of transitioning out of that would be healthier both for you and the planet.

BASH: Bill Weir, next time, can you find a better backdrop for your live shot? You know, it's not pretty enough.

WEIR: Pretty ugly, huh?

BASH: Yes. Thank you so much, Bill. And you can watch our new CNN report, Eating Planet Earth, the Future of Your Food, tonight at 9:00 P.M. Eastern only on CNN.



BASH: It may seem like mowing the lawn is a chore most kids would prefer to avoid, but one man has convinced hundreds of young people across the U.S. to volunteer and help people in need.

This week's CNN Heroes salutes Rodney Smith Jr., who created the 50- Yard Challenge. Smith made a name for himself by traveling the country mowing lawns and inspiring people one yard at a time.


RODNEY SMITH JR., CNN HERO: Our 50-Yard Challenge is a challenge that we have issued to kids nationwide and worldwide to mow 50 lawns in their community. They'll make a sign saying, I accept the 50-yard Challenge. And in return, we will send them a T-shirt and then with safety glasses and ear protection. And once they mowed 50 lawns, I drive to where they are, I present them a brand-new mower, weed eater and blower.

To date, we have about 2,000 kids nationwide. Kids are responsible for mowing their own lawns. So that's another way they can go in their community and meet people they probably normally wouldn't have met.

At a young age, I used to mow lawns as a chore and I disliked it. But God took something disliked and turned it into something I love to do. And every single day, I get to mow free lawns and I get to encourage kids around the world to get out there make a difference one lawn at a time.


BASH: Very cool. To get the full story of Rodney's journey, go to And while you're there, nominate someone you think should be a CNN Hero.


Thanks so much for joining us this hour. Inside Politics with John King starts right now.