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Naomi Osaka lights Olympic flame to open 2020 Tokyo Games

Jul 23, 2021; Tokyo, Japan; Naomi Osaka lights the Olympic flames during the opening ceremony for Tokyo 2020 Olympic Summer Games at Olympic Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
Jul 23, 2021; Tokyo, Japan; Naomi Osaka lights the Olympic flames during the opening ceremony for Tokyo 2020 Olympic Summer Games at Olympic Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Home-country tennis star Naomi Osaka lit the Olympic cauldron Friday, signifying the opening of the delayed and controversial Tokyo Games.

Osaka was the final person to touch the torch, which has been traveling through Japan since March 25.

Olympic champions Nomura Tadahiro (judo) and Yoshida Saori (wrestling) carried the torch into Japan National Stadium near the end of the Opening Ceremony and passed it to Japanese baseball icons Hideki Matsui, Shigeo Nagashima and Sadaharu Oh. From there, a pair of first responders took the flame, and passed it to seven-time Paralympian and three-time gold medalist Wakako Tsuchida.

A group of Japanese students carried the torch before passing it off to Osaka, the four-time Grand Slam winner who is making her Olympic debut. The 23-year-old climbed the stage replicating Mt. Fuji to light the cauldron.

The torch lighting capped a subdued Opening Ceremony that took place against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic, which delayed the 2020 Tokyo Olympics by one year. The virus is on the uptick in Tokyo, leaving most events to be contended before no spectators in empty venues designed to host thousands of international spectators.

As a result, the Opening Ceremony accommodated only about 950 VIP spectators and journalists. First lady Jill Biden was in attendance, leading the American delegation.

Osaka’s role in the ceremony was significant, reserved for the most revered people and athletes in a nation. Gold medalists Muhammad Ali, Rafer Johnson and the 1980 Miracle on Ice team have held the honor in Olympics held on American soil, while Wayne Gretzky was called upon in 2010 in the Vancouver Winter Games.

As the spectacle went on inside the stadium, protestors took to the streets of Tokyo to protest the games being held amid surging cases of the coronavirus in Japan. They blamed the Tokyo 2020 planners and the International Olympic Committee for bringing delegations from across the globe into Japan, risking further spread.

On Thursday, Tokyo reported COVID-19 cases at the highest level since January.

–Field Level Media