Ahead of her return to tennis, Naomi Osaka was chosen to light the cauldron during the opening ceremony of the Tokyo Olympic Games. It was fitting not only because Osaka is one of the biggest athletes in the world right now, but she was born in Japan and is representing Japan at the Olympics.
The cauldron lighting was Osaka’s first appearance following the hiatus she took from playing tennis while focusing on her mental health. Osaka is the very first tennis player to have the honor of lighting the cauldron and she is one of a few active athletes to have the opportunity.
The ceremony itself was beautiful. The flame had been on quite the journey from Greece to Tokyo. Once the flame arrived in the stadium it was handed to a doctor, Hiroko Oohash, and a nurse, Junko Kitagawa, in recognition of the work that doctors and nurses are doing amid the COVID-19 global pandemic. They then passed the flame to Wakako Tscuhida, a Paralympic athlete. Tscuhida then passed the flame to a group of students that represented regions that were affected by Japan’s earthquake and tsunami disaster that took the lives of 18,000 people. Those students finally met Osaka at the base of the stage where she walked the flame up the Mount Fuji inspired structure’s stairs. A spherical structure opened like a flower and Osaka ignited the cauldron. As the music swelled, so did the fire from the center of the cauldron.
“Undoubtedly the greatest athletic achievement and honor I will ever have in my life,” Osaka shared on social media with a picture of her during the ceremony. “I have no words to describe the feelings I have right now, but I do know I am currently filled with gratefulness and thankfulness.”
Osaka went on to win her opening match against Zhen Saisai from China. Osaka talked to the press post-match saying, “the Olympics has been a dream of mine since I was a kid, so I feel like the break that I took was very needed. I feel definitely a little bit refreshed, and I’m happy again.”
Across social media platforms Osaka posted pictures of her looking joy-filled on the tennis court and captioned, “I’m here for a good time.”
The good time was short lived as her quest for gold was cut short after a surprising loss to Marketa Vondrousova of Czech Republic.