As countries across the world gather in Tokyo for the Olympic Games, all eyes turned to tennis superstar Naomi Osaka as she lit the Olympic cauldron during the opening ceremony Friday night.
The first two torchbearers were former Olympic athletes Tadahiro Nomura and Saori Yoshida, who passed it off to baseball legends Shigeo Nagashima, Sadaharu Oh and Hideki Matsui.
Hiroki Ohashi and Junko Kitagawa, a doctor and a nurse, carried the flame to seven-time Paralympian and wheelchair marathoner Wakako Tsuchida, who was the first Japanese athlete to win gold in both Summer and Winter Paralympic Games.
The Paralympian passed the flame to six young athletes from middle and high schools from regions devastated by the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster. They had the honor of passing the torch to Osaka.
"Undoubtedly the greatest athletic achievement and honor I will ever have in my life," she tweeted. "I have no words to describe the feelings I have right now but I do know I am currently filled with gratefulness and thankfulness. love you guys thank you."
The four-time Grand Slam winner was originally supposed to kick off her tennis campaign in Tokyo this Saturday, but the International Tennis Federation confirmed it was delayed one day. Thus, the rumor mill sparked as fans speculated whether Osaka would be the one to light the cauldron.
The Games mark Osaka's comeback after withdrawing from the French Open in May, when she detailed her battles with anxiety and depression. It came after she previously announced she would not be participating in media availability, which resulted in her being fined $15,000.
The 23-year-old made history as she graced the cover of Sports Illustrated's Swimsuit edition. She joined two other models for the SI Swimsuit cover—rapper Megan Thee Stallion and activist Leyna Bloom—to mark three separate covers.
“There’s no question that Naomi is one of the best athletes in the world, and a cover spot felt obvious. She’s spent her formative years racking up titles and is headed to the Olympics. But we celebrate Naomi for her passion, strength and power geared towards consistently breaking barriers when it comes to equality, social justice and mental health,” says SI Swimsuit editor-in-chief MJ Day.
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