Why Naomi Osaka’s Opening Ceremony Torch Lighting Was Such a Rare Honor

Although Friday’s Opening Ceremony at the Tokyo Olympics honored a wide range of athletes from around the world, the final focus of the event was on the Japanese-American tennis star. Naomi Osaka. With a beaming smile, the tennis star lit a fire inside a blooming flower, atop a pyramid shaped like Mount Fiji.

On Sunday, Osaka, who is currently the world’s No. 2 female tennis player, will return to the court after two months of playing for Japan. It marked the end of a tumultuous few months for athletes. In June, she withdrew from the French Open after her decision not to sit in front of the press disappointed tournament organizers. In a statement, she discussed her problems with depression and anxiety. A month later, she also withdrew from Wimbledon.

Tokyo organizers’ choice of Osaka reflects her famous status in her birth country, and she stands out as a beacon of hope among the torchbearers ultimately chosen for their connection. with the recent tragedies of Japan. Doctors and other essential workers who have served during the pandemic have brought the blaze, as well as children representing areas devastated when the November 3 earthquake and tsunami killed nearly 18,000 people in 2011. But the country’s legendary athletes also turn and follow the former Yankee Hideki Matsui Past the torch, there is a clear Japanese sports icon still waiting in the wings.

During the ceremony, Osaka posted a piece of music from the video game Soul Caliber to her Instagram story. An ensemble of the song accompanies Japan’s athletes in the Parade of Nations. She then shared a photo of the torch lighting with the caption, “I’m concentrating so hard not to mess up.”

Osaka can be forgiven for the stress. The final leg of the torch is the most visible moment of the Olympic fire relay and one of the game’s most elaborately choreographed pieces. For about a quarter of a century, since Muhammad Ali lit the torch at the 1996 games in Atlanta, it has often become the host nation’s most powerful sporting icon. One last time positive competitors were tasked with lighting the cauldron at the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, when the sprinter Cathy Freeman still stoic a few minutes of technical difficulty. She went on to win the 400 metres, becoming the first Aboriginal Australian to win an individual gold medal.

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