Rafu Wire and Staff Reports

TOKYO — Tennis sensation Naomi Osaka lit the cauldron for the Tokyo Olympics on Friday, taking on the prestigious role in an opening ceremony held without spectators in the 68,000-capacity National Stadium.

Born in Japan to a Haitian father and a Japanese mother and raised in the U.S., the 23-year-old has become a leading voice for racial and gender equality despite her reluctance to enter the spotlight.

The torch passed from a trio of Japanese baseball legends to a doctor and nurse to a Paralympic athlete and a group of children from an area in the Tohoku region devastated by a massive earthquake and tsunami in 2011 before finally reaching Osaka, who climbed a set of stairs to light a cauldron in the shape of the sun atop Mt. Fuji.

“Undoubtedly the greatest athletic achievement and honor I will ever have in my life,” Osaka posted on social media. “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. It was definitely the greatest thing and honorable moment I have ever experienced. I can’t describe the feeling of the day, but I’m sure it’s a cup of gratitude.” 

Rui Hachimura carried the flag for the Olympic host country during the opening ceremony, like Osaka, demonstrating that Japan is finally embracing a new identity and moving away from its long and well-guarded history of homogeneity.

The 203-centimeter U.S.-based basketball player, a member of the NBA’s Washington Wizards, was born in Toyama to a Japanese mother and a Beninese father. 

Other Japanese OIympians representing diverse backgrounds include U.S.-born and raised surfer Kanoa Igarashi and Ghanaian-Japanese sprinter Abdul Hakim Sani Brown.

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